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Jennifer Terry, Attachments to War: Biomedical Logics and Violence in Twenty-First-Century America

Constantine Chatzipapatheodoridis

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1Jennifer Terry, Attachments to War: Biomedical Logics and Violence in Twenty-First-Century America

2Durham and London: Duke UP, 2017.

3Constantine Chatzipapatheodoridis

  • 1 Blast-related multiple traumas afflicting parts of the body, psychological and emotional state, eve (...)

4Opening on a personal note about her father’s engagement in the US Army during the combat operations of World War II, the Korean War, as well as a double duty for the Vietnam War, Jennifer Terry remarks on the impact her father’s enlisting history and, by extension, war per se had upon their family. Terry quickly shifts from personal to political to establish her thesis on attachment to war, be it psychological, corporeal, social, or financial, and its implications on both a micro and a macro scale, ranging from everyday routines and local media, to national politics and world affairs. A critical inquiry into American warfare, Attachments to War predominantly addresses the discursive nature of US war politics by laying important emphasis on biomedical tactics and social containment strategies carefully cloaked within a greater salvation narrative arc. As its focal point the project marks the post-9/11 military affairs following the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions (under the Bush Jr. administration) in 2002 and 2003, respectively. At the same time, it wishes to remain historically relevant and contemporaneous since the nation’s war history is inextricably anchored to its past and reaches well into its present and future politics. Terry successfully traces the discursive, socio-political, and economical entanglement of biomedicine with war by laying particular emphasis on the concept of biomedical salvation, its destroy-and-built logics as well as the accruing biowar corporative profiteering. In exploring this intricate nexus, the writer undertakes an analysis of biomedicine’s three areas of key interest that concern war-generated polytrauma,1 bionics, and pathogens as defense and/or terror mechanism. Terry’s project is geared towards an ethical examination of warfare, one though that is firmly grounded upon discourse analysis and social theory, and, most importantly, eschews sensationalisms.

5Terry elaborates on the political and ideological implications behind the connection of biomedicine with war in the first chapter, entitled “The Biomedicine-War Nexus.” Arguing how defending national safety or emphasizing the need to regulate—usually by means of military intervention—other nations’ policies for the sake of that safety, the writer postulates that a process of militarization is necessary in preparing societies for war or perpetually keeping them in a state of alertness by rationalizing, legitimizing, or euphemizing acts of violence. A vocabulary of sanitizing metaphors is utilized by political and institutional agencies in foregrounding a politics of cleansing over the alleged enemy. Terry outlines specific cases that demonstrate how narratives of biomedical salvation are at work, which often uphold techno-scientific advancement as a defensive strategy, albeit at the expense of vulnerable strata. Examples of US counter-insurgency policies in Afghanistan and Iraq that relied on biomedical interventions are effectively presented here towards building Terry’s argument on rescuing narratives. Also factored in are economical and gendered parameters that indeed expose the ever-coercive and multiply complex ideological nature of these narratives. “Bio-inequality” is ultimately what Terry identifies to be embedded in the politics and poetics of biomedical advancement, stressing that its benefits are always “selectively distributed” depending on social hierarchies (50). The writer underlines that biomedical salvation prioritizes some groups through racialized tactics and promotes the expendability of the weakest or less able-bodied groups as an utterly necessary stepping stone towards advancement.

  • 2 Whitehead, an audio artist, undertakes the concept of woundscape in his work Display Wounds. Accord (...)

6Promises on Polytrauma” is the second chapter centering on the effects of regenerative medicine upon war veterans. Terry uses media coverage of polytrauma as her primary source to once again navigate readers through the complex rhetorics of biomedical salvation. The writer views polytraumatic conditions as woundscapes, a term cited from Gregory Whitehead who proposes wounds as an interpretive template encoded with multilayered stories and experiences.2 What is emphasized is how polytrauma-inflicted patients are featured in media stories thus shaping the woundscape of the condition through their private stories. Of course, it is key to understand that these stories are mediated and filtered through a sensational lens prior to reaching audiences. Terry argues that the significant omission of women, children and non-combatant men injured in blasts inevitably adumbrates the woundscape of war-generated polytrauma as hegemonic; its accounts, according to the writer, more often than not tilt toward white heterosexual male stories of resilience and survival, thus monopolizing ideals of “patriotic heteronormativity” (63). Terry rounds off the chapter by stressing that scientific advancement should not thrive on the ethics of warfare and by no means perpetuate the circle of violence that attaches human progress to war.

7In the third chapter, entitled “We Can Enhance You,” Terry delves into the field of prosthetics. The subject matter of this chapter is personified as the writer brings attention to high-profile and media-promoted medical scientists, such as David Hanson and Hugh Herr, whose work on regenerative surgery and bionic engineering on war amputees has widely popularized prosthetics and limb reconstruction as a promising future for body modification and enhancement. Terry underscores that the work being done on bionics has significantly been accelerated by war since the latter allows more funding to flow into the research fields of biomedicine and regenerative medicine. For the writer, biomedical progress seems to only perpetuate the linking of human life with war narratives as it continuously fuels fantasies of biosalvationism by heralding an evolution of the weak, amputated or destroyed body into a victoriously superhuman one. “Damaged bodies, if successfully rebuilt would recast war as a source of vitality rather than of death and destruction,” a truly unsettling paradox that Terry effectively lays emphasis upon (91). In addition to that, the means by which body regeneration is materialized abide by hegemonic representations of an ideal body—typically a white Western one—which does not significantly deviate from past doctrines on eugenics. Finally, the writer reiterates how the veteran body is framed by the media as a spectacle of violence and the grotesque which, after being compensated for with bio-scientific treatment, emerges as triumphant, and always haloed as patriotic. Suffice it to say, concurring with Terry, that bodies are differently evaluated and only selected ones are worth the triumph.

8Pharmaceutical war profiteering is the topic subject matter comprising the book’s final chapter on “Pathogenic Threats.” Here, Terry centers on the social, discursive, and economical impact of biological threats, arguing how easily potential epidemic/pandemic risks can fit paranoia narratives that eventually benefit pharmaceutical corporations and serve political expediency. Contrary to an actual military threat against one’s nation, which is more often than not materialized through the deployment of armed forces or the usage of weaponry, pathogenic attacks stir esoteric fears of dissolving one’s defenses from within; their imminence to human biology is what renders them perilous. Terry argues how terrorist narratives linked with pandemic incidents became popular in twenty-first century America, citing as an example the mass disruption triggered by the anthrax letters at the dawn of the new millennium. The writer underlines that discourses on a potential viral outbreak are usually connected to contamination from exogenous factors invading one’s national safety, thus framing immigrants as the primary source of anxiety. As a result, xenophobia and racism are in concert with pathogenic war, which, in Terry’s words, is “characterized ubiquitous, a menace that is indifferent to national boundaries and that may be microscopic” (147). Accurately, the writer explicates how the poetics of imminent bio-threats have historically been a part of the US domestic control’s arsenal which has selectively performed biological experiments on social groups, typically minorities; for instance, Terry identifies the African-American community as being a covert target of disease testing in the mid-twentieth century. The chapter concludes with the writer specifying public-private company partnerships that profited from pathogenic politics and turned pharmaceutical science into a lucrative field.

9In the Epilogue section, Terry does not simply recapitulate the core arguments of her thesis, but takes a chance to propose actual social channels through which one can oppose war and violence, in general. She brings attention to social organizations, activist groups, and collaborative movements that take a stand against warfare politics and “offer perspectives for loosening attachments to war and for living in and with a different ethic of care” (186). Moving from personal to political and from theoretical to practical, all analytically approached, Terry’s book is a socially aware project providing critical insight into the poetics of war by shedding light onto the raw reality of war and its mechanisms. Attachments to War adds importantly to war studies, social studies and critical studies on terrorism, but can as well stand as an informative textbook on the broad topics of capitalist profiteering and American politics.

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1 Blast-related multiple traumas afflicting parts of the body, psychological and emotional state, even behavioral activity (57).

2 Whitehead, an audio artist, undertakes the concept of woundscape in his work Display Wounds. According to Terry, “[Whitehead] takes up the role of the ‘vulnerologist’ faced with the impossibility of translating the literal meaning of individual wounds, especially in contexts of catastrophic collisions or mass killings” (55).

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Electronic reference

Constantine Chatzipapatheodoridis, « Jennifer Terry, Attachments to War: Biomedical Logics and Violence in Twenty-First-Century America », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2018-2, Online since 25 July 2018, connection on 13 December 2018. URL :

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Constantine Chatzipapatheodoridis

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