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Occupation: Dreamland (Ian Olds, Garrett Scott, 2005)

Occupation: Dreamland (Ian Olds, Garrett Scott, 2005)

© GrenHouse Films/Photofest

  • 1 Many people have helped organize the conferences and peer-review the articles on which this issue i (...)
  • 2 Bruce E. Fleming, Bridging the Military-civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know about, Washin (...)
  • 3 Benoît Durieux, “What is the purpose of military action, a century after 1917?”, Inflexions, vol. 3 (...)
  • 4 Katrina West, Agents of Altruism: The Expansion of Humanitarian NGOs in Rwanda and Afghanistan, New (...)

1Whether in peacetime or in wartime, joining the armed forces is a professional choice that results in a divide between civilians and enlisted individuals.1 Bruce E. Fleming observes growing “mutual incomprehension between the military and civilian worlds”2 in the U.S. since the late 1960s, which he blames on the secrecy code of the military and its higher moral claims. To civilians’ eyes, the military is first and foremost an icon of war even when it is deployed to prevent destructive confrontations. Retracing the evolution of military action after 1917, Benoît Durieux contends that “Between 1918 and the end of the 20th century, the powers marked by the First World War successively sought to make war unjustifiable, unthinkable or unusable.”3 The war has given way to “peacekeeping operations” redefining soldiers’ military activities, which sometimes end in failures to respond adequately as shown in the 1994 Rwandan genocide which the French humanitarian troops did not stop.4

2Repeated military failures or strategic errors have widened the gap between the military and civilians, leading soldiers themselves to even question the sense of their mission(s). The experience of war, which separates the military and the civil population, also makes transition from war to peace more difficult. The silence surrounding some events testifies to the trauma of war, complicating the return of the ex-soldier to civilian life and undermining civilians’ acceptance of the veteran.

  • 5 Paul M. Haridakis, Barbara S. Hugenberg, Stanley T. Wearden (eds.), War and the Media: Essays on Ne (...)
  • 6 Delphine Letort, “The War Tapes: Documenting the Iraq War with Digital Cameras”, InMedia, 4 | 2013, (...)

3The role of the media, allowing civilians to discover front line realities, shifts from propaganda to criticism, often serving as a counterpoint to official narratives by uncovering hidden stories. The media shape perceptions of war by supporting pro-war or anti-war communication; they may “serve as conduits of necessary and desired information”5 during time of war. Governments’ efforts to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the media led to embedded reporting during the Iraq War, which however failed to undercut other means of communication used by the soldiers themselves.6 While U.S. Civil War and First World War soldiers wrote diaries and letters to convey their experience of war – primary sources that provide us with an intimate insight of their life on the front line –, today’s soldiers send emails, tweet messages, take photographs and film their own digital diaries with mobile devices. Their testimonies often remain as memory artefacts that challenge the dominant media and even military narratives by casting a personal and subjective gaze at the conflicts documenting the unsaid of wars.

  • 7 John Taylor, Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War, Manchester: Manchester University P (...)

4Indeed most civilians’ perceptions of war are based on a proxy experience transmitted through testimonies and images that circulate in the press or on social media. Photojournalism has developed “the professional use of the camera […] to look at indecent subjects”7 whereas social media have proved instrumental in providing unfiltered images of the war. To take on a recent example, TikTok has allowed many Ukrainian influencers to share videos capturing the daily drama of living under the bombs before fleeing to Western Europe. Not only do they show Ukrainian cities targeted and ripped apart by Russian missiles, but the Tiktokers also recount the ordinary struggles of surviving with the sense of humor that characterizes the application. Some of the videos are even made by Ukrainian soldiers themselves, inciting TikTok users to sympathize with their fight. The videos broaden knowledge about the experience of war, making it an awkward reality among the daily feeds on TikTok. While TikTok videos mediatize intimate images of Ukraine by using trendy musical scores that allow their creators to gain more visibility thanks to algorithms, journalists’ reports of the war aim to convey a broader overview that uncovers other unknowns.

5Moreover, the narratives of wars are subject to adjustments, orientations and points of view that give a particular flavor to wars fought by the populations (anonymously and/or hidden in an organization, secret or not) and by the military (from high command to the ‘unknown soldier’). The narratives of wars evolve with the benefit of hindsight, the writing of history textbooks and the constant (re)interpretations of archives (newly discovered or already known) and the official version one country wants to put forward according to its political agendas and visions of patriotism. The narratives of wars vary with the context and the need for men and women to express their inner feelings when faced with the torments and human atrocities of war; they may also reflect the place of individuals within a group and the issues of group cohesiveness. Narratives of wars may be further distorted by silence, for instance through the reticence of veterans and victims to share their experiences.

6This issue of LISA e-journal focuses on the “unsaid” of wars by delving into a variety of sources that spotlight the trauma of war among the military and civilians. Rather than focus on war narratives as ideological constructions playing out military strategies, this issue aims to retrieve the human voices of victims whose life stories are intertwined with wars. These war stories may be related to professional experiences that place their authors on the front line. Significantly, this issue opens with a homage to Professor Dr. Denis Mukwege who specializes in repair surgery to help Congolese women survivors of rapes regain control over their lives. Women (and even little girls) have become battlefields of war and conflict as sexually assaulted and mutilated survivors, whom Dr. Mukwege unfailingly supports in Panzi Hospital founded by himself in Bukavu (DRC). The gynecologist, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, was our guest of honor in the 2021 War Memories conference.8 The text of his conference is prefaced by Renée Dickason, whose commitment to reflections on war crimes, abuses and human aggression, has underpinned her research activities since 2010. Pr. Dickason has united a network of researchers around the memorial construction of war phenomena in order to fight against barbarity, to reveal and confront atrocities committed in wartime with the hope of establishing and maintaining peace.

7The first part consists of three articles aiming to question the political rhetoric of war as a source of distrust among civilians. The aforementioned divide between the military and civilian spheres is rooted in a series of scandals that has shaken Western societies since the 1960s’ commitment to the Vietnam War and its Cold War framing. Nicole Cloarec sheds light on Tell Me Lies, a British film made by Peter Brook in 1968, which mixes fiction and documentary techniques to question viewers’ responses to war images. Aiming for the “confrontation” that Peter Brook devised through staging his plays, the film uses disruptive effects to unsettle the spectators and raise awareness as to the precariousness of his/her position in the face of lies used to cover the horrors of war. The war images inserted in the film recall both the realities of war on innocent children civilians and the distance of viewers staring at the first so-called “living-room war.” The film enhances the gap between watching and acting at a time when involvement into the Vietnam War was becoming unpopular. Stephen Whitfield’s article on the Pentagon Papers retraces how the press asserted its role as the Fourth Estate by publishing a critical investigation into the U.S. government’s Vietnam War lies. Detailing the justice embroilment (including an espionage trial against Daniel Ellsberg who decided to leak the Top Secret documents after realizing that President Nixon had consciously engaged his country on “the trajectory of a moral and military disaster”), Whitfield offers an interesting case study of whistleblowing that foretold the Watergate scandal. The focus on Ellsberg’s transformation from hawk to dove in the span of a few years calls attention to the fragility of truth in times of war. The Pentagon Papers nowadays resonate as a warning against all war lies. Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet furthers the argument that some wars are more controversial than others by focusing on the representation of the Falklands War (April 2-April 14, 1982) in British cinema. Although few British directors have actually engaged with the stories of the war itself, Marin-Lamellet provides an overview of the films tackling the subject and demonstrates that the veteran is a recurring figure of discontent, exposing the discrepancies between official speeches and realities. The war may have been a victory for Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister who ordered the Falklands intervention, but Marin-Mellet argues that most veterans express resentment at a government that abused their naiveté with false promises. In the last article of this section, Delphine Letort explores the issues of ethics raised by fiction and nonfiction films that plumb the moral depths of drone warfare. Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood, 2016) and The Good Kill (Andrew Niccol, 2014) redefine the war film by slowing down the narrative to open up space for debating the “remote killing matrix” that transforms the rules of war. By turning the members of the drone operating teams (including the image analysts and the operator expected to carry out the “targeted killings”) into the spectators of their own acts, the films enhance the time left for them to ponder the meaning of their acts. The urgency felt by soldiers risking their lives on the ground dissolves into the mental conflicts which drone operators are confronted with, obliged as they are to make decisions of life and death from positions that put them at a safe distance from the conflict zones. When the ‘just war’ principles no longer prevail, confusion sets in and makes room for trauma.

8The second part examines several artistic or cultural projects that question the human impacts of war. Mathilde Rogez focuses on South African writer Craig Higginson’s The Landscape Painter (2011), a novel that intertwines two timelines through the memories of its protagonist Arthur Bailey. While the story is set in post-war London where the narrator lives his old days, the painter also reminisces events of the Boer War in the late 1800s. Higginson uses the dual time frame to draw connections between the two periods, using photographs as prompts to re-frame the past. The painter’s memories keep haunting the present and the author aptly captures the details of the traumatic Battle of Spion Kop by delving into the visual imagination of his character-narrator. Rogez highlights the aesthetic impact of the Boer War on Bailey whose painterly gaze cannot reconcile the Sublime with the spectacle of empty landscapes to be colonized. Richard Tholoniat sets aside fiction to read the Carnet de Campagne (1902) written by Colonel Georges de Villebois-Mareuil and published two years after his death in South Africa. Tholoniat uses the diary to better understand the colonial and personal mission that motivated Villebois-Mareuil, a decorated veteran who believed that Dreyfus had tarnished the honor of the French army. Volunteering to command a Boer regiment during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Villebois-Mareuil was soon promoted General commanding the International Legion. Hailed as a hero in some circles, including among the Action Française anti-republican sympathizers, Villebois-Mareuil is now a contested historical figure and the statues commemorating his bravery at war are regularly degraded. Simona Tobia studies the oral archives left by former women prisoners of war who testified about their experience of interrogation by Nazi soldiers on immigrating to the U.S. Analyzing the sound archives of the Veterans History Project within the Library of Congress, and at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, DC, which both hold records of these testimonies, Tobia sheds light on the vulnerability the women expressed in the face of rape used as a weapon of war during interrogations. Their testimonies are integral to their healing process as women moving to a new life in the U.S., an empowering process that Tobia illuminates through a close analysis of their words. Subarno Chattarji’s contribution is based on two novels by Dương Thu Hương, a former member of the Women's Youth Brigade who tended to wounded soldiers during the Vietnam War and believed in the communist ideals of the revolution. Yet Novel Without a Name (1995) and Memories of a Pure Spring (2000) reveal her frustrations at postwar Vietnam where the dominant narratives of war left no place for the enduring trauma the writer could not silence as a witness. Her novels use fiction to convey “granular descriptions of war horrors” and its terrible aftermaths. This led to her being imprisoned, demonstrating the controversial aspects of the Vietnam-American war memories at a national level within Vietnam.

9The last part of this issue moves from the topic of war to the construction of peace. Slimane Hargas explores the essays written for the British Council funded project Lives Entwined (2000), which assembled an array of authors from Ireland and the UK to discuss the cultural and historical ties between British and Irish people. Examining these primary source materials in detail to assess the significance of cultural and political assumptions about British and Irish populations, Hargas is able to decipher how the colonial and postcolonial British-Irish relations have evolved in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, allowing for a complex discussion of anti-Irish and anti-British stereotypes. Lives Entwined includes testimonies, political analyses, academic essays, artistic works, articulating a variety of perspectives that help the scholar comprehend the long-term stakes of a ‘dormant’ conflict. Lives Entwined provides a platform for a better understanding between British and Irish people. Drawing on the British feminist magazine Spare Rib, which published a series of articles about the Greenham Women’s Movement fighting against the presence of American nuclear weapons at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, Florence Binard examines the strategies and political beliefs behind the women’s collective determined to bring change through protest. The women’s action started in 1981 and continued until the last missiles were removed in 1991. Binard evokes the media response to shed light on the diversity of motives among the women committing to the nuclear free world. Michel Prum concludes this issue with an article that provides a challenging reading of war through Darwinist principles. Prum demonstrates that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution encompassed in the “survival of the fittest” formula may be misleading as regards the notion of war, for the laws of Nature do not provide a code of morality and politics. Prum thus posits a critique of social Darwinism by arguing that Darwin’s evolutionary thought cannot be appropriated to justify war, which he abhorred.

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Notes

1 Many people have helped organize the conferences and peer-review the articles on which this issue is based. We would like to express our warmest thanks to Florence Binard, Nicole Cloarec, David Haigron, Franck Barbin, Cécile Perrot.

2 Bruce E. Fleming, Bridging the Military-civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know about, Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc, 2010, 1-2.

3 Benoît Durieux, “What is the purpose of military action, a century after 1917?”, Inflexions, vol. 36, no. 3, 2017, 213-226, < https://www.cairn.info/revue-inflexions-2017-3-page-213.htm>, accessed 10 May, 2022.

4 Katrina West, Agents of Altruism: The Expansion of Humanitarian NGOs in Rwanda and Afghanistan, New York, 2018 [Ashgate Publishing, 2001].

5 Paul M. Haridakis, Barbara S. Hugenberg, Stanley T. Wearden (eds.), War and the Media: Essays on News Reporting, Propaganda and Popular Culture, Jefferson, Norch Carolina & London: McFarland, 2009, 3.

6 Delphine Letort, “The War Tapes: Documenting the Iraq War with Digital Cameras”, InMedia, 4 | 2013, <http://journals.openedition.org/inmedia/729>, accessed on May 8, 2022.

7 John Taylor, Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018, 13.

8 <https://warmem2020.sciencesconf.org/?forward-action=index&forward-controller=index&lang=en>, accessed May 8, 2022.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Occupation: Dreamland (Ian Olds, Garrett Scott, 2005)
Crédits © GrenHouse Films/Photofest
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/13859/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 730k
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Delphine Letort, « Introduction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 20-n°53 | 2022, mis en ligne le 09 juin 2022, consulté le 25 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/13859 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.13859

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Auteur

Delphine Letort

Delphine Letort is Professor of film and U.S. studies at the University of Le Mans (France). Her research focuses on the intertwining of history and politics, analysing the power of cinema to shape memorial processes by producing or revising historical narratives and stereotypes. She has published Du film noir au néo-noir : mythes et stéréotypes de l’Amérique 1941–2008 (L’Harmattan, 2010) and The Spike Lee Brand: a Study of Documentary Filmmaking (SUNY, 2015). She has co-edited L’Adaptation cinématographique : premières pages, premiers plans, 2014; La Culture de l’engagement à l’écran, 2015; Social Class on British and American Screens. Essays on Cinema and Television, 2016; Women Activists and Civil Rights Figures in Auto/Biographical Literature and Film, 2018 and is the editor of two thematic issues for the CinémAction series (Panorama mondial du film noir, 2014; Révoltes armées et terrorisme à l’écran, 2019). She serves on the advisory editorial board of Black Camera (Bloomington, Indiana) and as editor-in-chief for Revue LISA/LISA e-journal (https://journals.openedition.org/lisa/). She is the director of the 3L.AM research center – Langues, Littératures, Linguistique des Universités d’Angers et du Mans (http://3lam.univ-lemans.fr/fr/index.html).

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