“I want everyone to say, ‘But why?,'” said Kathy Ferguson, director for women’s studies at the University of Hawaii. Ferguson was the keynote speaker at USF’s 30th anniversary women’s studies banquet Friday.
She wants Americans to question their acceptance of war and challenge the notion that war is normal.
The way in which war and the military are discussed “has an effect of recruiting us all into approving and accepting the idea that war is inevitable, and it’s glorious and wonderful,” said Ferguson.
“The first step in changing that is to see the carefully calculated ways war is presented in the media, history books and monuments,” Ferguson said.
War has been normalized by directing Americans to view the enemy in several ways, Ferguson said. The government portrays the enemy as someone who “is mad (and) outside the boundaries of civilization, one who has no comprehensible point of view.”
The enemy is someone “with whom we cannot speak,” said Ferguson. “As Sharon says, ‘We have no partner for peace,’ or (George W.) Bush proclaims we will not negotiate and declares bin Laden wanted dead or alive.”
The main point Ferguson emphasized was the way Americans are told to look at the enemy.
“We are given directions to find an absolute other, someone nothing like us,” said Ferguson. “Someone dark where we are light. Mysterious and impenetrable, for we are reasonable. Someone who causes the violence to which we readily and regrettably must respond.”
Another way the government shapes Americans’ acceptance of war is the way they direct people how to feel about it, she said.Americans are supposed to feel “selectively vulnerable,” said Ferguson. “Fearful enough to support the Patriot Act without reading it too closely. Confident enough to get back on an airplane.”
Also, Americans are supposed to feel morally superior, said Ferguson.
“Citizens of Israel and the United States are expected to set our moral compass by understanding that they are bad. So we must be good,” she said.
Finally, Americans must focus solely on their own suffering, said Ferguson.
“Israelis and Americans must be willing to work hard at seeing only the suffering inflicted upon us, while cultivating a consistent blindness to the damage our nations do to others,” she said.
To get Americans to feel and view war in certain ways, the government uses national security and other means to cultivate and maintain these ways of thinking, Ferguson said. National security serves as an excuse to act in ways the government deems suitable.
“National security is the military’s trump card used successfully most of the time to move people, claim resources, seize land, infiltrate education, shape popular entertainment, expand the arms trade, militarize production and install and extend always new and better technologies of war,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said national security has enabled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to kill Palestinians, enabled state officials and appointed trustees to fire tenured professor Sami Al-Arian for speaking against the Israeli occupation, and enabled President Bush to provide tax cuts for corporations.
War cemeteries, such as Punchbowl Cemetery in Hawaii, act to glorify battles while silencing the destruction it leaves behind, Ferguson said. It neither provides an alternative explanation for the war nor allows for disorder.
“The intense detail and precision in each of the mosaics help to codify and regularize the war and to make it rational and strategic,” Ferguson said.
“The story of World War II starts with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The war ends in Hiroshima. Yet there is no representation beyond a very brief mention at the bottom panel of one of the mosaics. No account of the massive civilian death interrupts the saga of loyal brothers in arms confronting an armed enemy.”
Ferguson would like for Americans to be like the Israeli men and women who have protested Ariel Sharon’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“If hundreds of U.S. active duty soldiers and officers refused to participate in the war on terrorism; if high-ranking American military officials point out in the national press that the war on terrorism is actually likely to produce more terrorism; if The New York Times publishes consistent critical critiques of Bush’s axis of evil and his plan for an indefinite war; if critical intellectuals in the U.S. universities speak to a concerned and open-minded public about the complex circumstances of these wars without fear of retaliation or dismissal; then perhaps we can all be Israelis now,” Ferguson said.
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