The "Heroic Narrative'' of the War of Good Against Evil
By Philippe Pons
Monday 05 May 2003
In the "Annales'' of the "Ecole des Hautes Etudes des Sciences Sociales'', an American historian describes the "terrifying simplification'' and the "wildly nationalistic perspective'' of the "war against terrorism''.
The ideological staging of the "heroic narrative'' of the War of Good against Evil directed by the United States, in which the War against Iraq is an episode, began the day after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Columbia University historian Carol Gluck, author of "Past Obsessions: War and Memory in the Twentieth Century'' (to be released) demonstrates in the January/February issue of "Annales'' how this narrative that continues to play itself out fully today was constructed.
Like Thucydides who witnessed the Peloponnesian War, the author, who, as a New Yorker was present during these events, indulges in a deconstruction of the staging of the narrative of the "War against Terrorism'' through an ethnographic analysis of television coverage.
A narrative "terrifying in its simplification''. Carol Gluck first takes note of the "wildly nationalistic perspective'' of television news from September 11. She demonstrates how the attacks rapidly became an "act of war'', rejecting any notion of legal proceedings against the guilty to privilege the concept of military reprisals.
Terrorism is a new enemy, faceless, and rootless. However it is simple to assimilate to it familiar figures: first the Taliban, then Saddam Hussein, who would become in turn the "priority'' of the Bush administration. The spontaneous ubiquity of references to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 would suggest that America had "once again lost its innocence'', but that it "would succeed again to respond and to triumph in a war of Good against Evil''. This "heroic narrative'' was in place from the collapse of the second tower of the World Trade Center.
Subsequently, television focused on the "personal tragedy'' angle with emblematic stories of the victims: "By creating a public therapeutic sphere, television fused the television audience through a bombastic identification with the victims. (S) and so a convergence of political opinion was established that had a premonitory fascist smell.'' What intrigues the historian is that those voices which try to depart from the consensus, to investigate the cause of the attacks, never manage to make themselves heard, and, still more seriously, that they balk at doing it at all through self-censorship, so as not to appear to disassociate themselves.
"The experience is frightening and provides an understanding of what it means to be caught under an avalanche of general consensus. (S) To concern oneself with the roots of terrorism implied backing up to before September 11, that is, upstream of the narrative that justified the war (S) That risked depriving the United States of their status as absolute victim.''
Viewed from this angle, "the heroic narrative of the events of September 11 is in the direct line of those we know altogether too well in the twentieth century'', she writes.
In her analysis of the media coverage of the War in Afghanistan- illuminating for the one unfolding at present-, Carol Gluck shows that coverage was simultaneously overdone and at the same time "largely invisible''. Official control of the news was in any case more severe and more restrictive than ever during the Vietnam War or even the Gulf War; moreover official "news'' circulated in a sort of continuous media loop. ""The technology as well as the technique of this war was not meant to be seen for military reasons, but also for propaganda motives.''
For Carol Gluck, a second plot grafts itself onto the heroic narrative of the struggle against Evil in Afghanistan: "The liberation of this country, which becomes linked to the initial heroic narrative.'' And so the fall of the Taliban "metamorphoses into a triumph of American freedom''. Perhaps the reality in Iraq will lend itself less easily to this ideological construction.
Translation: TruthOut French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)