Chapter Two: "Society Must Be Defended" (Social Theory)

Michel Foucault’s social philosophies illustrate the cultural and psychological forces underlying the silence so many war orphans experience. In his seminal lecture series of 1975-76, Foucault lays out his foundational arguments underlying what would soon be published as Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1977). In these lectures, published in English in 2003 as “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the College De France, Foucault refers not to a nation’s protective military complex, but to the internal mechanisms by which we control our own thoughts, beliefs and behaviors in an attempt to restrain impulses that, if enacted, we believe would be harmful to society. He traces the development of civil defense from the royalist knights of medieval times to the modern surveillance and self-monitoring systems that we create and participate in today. In essence, Foucault argues that modern individuals not only willingly allow themselves to be constantly scrutinized by each other but also freely engage in self-control (disciplinary) measures that will eventually eliminate the need for external punishment. Fear of punishment has been replaced by fear of ostracism. Society must indeed be defended, not solely from external enemies, but from internal perpetrators of rebellion (including deviant thoughts and behaviors) that threaten our sense of safety and identity (which are defined by social constructs that we agree to adhere to). The lines of defense have been redrawn, as we battle with our Selves, guided by guilt and fear, to monitor our own actions against some socially-constructed set of approved behaviors, whether real or imagined.
These behaviors function as inter-connected practices that create and define the relationships between dominant and subjugated individuals. This interplay, these actions, are like a power dance. Power, for Foucault, is not an abstract force that acts upon inert bodies; it is a function. It is “exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit and to exercise this power” (Society 29). Individuals both enact and submit to the mechanisms and technologies of power, as manifest in strategic socio-political power constructs such as nations, families, communities, schools, and military defense units.
According to Foucault, an individual’s life, health, well-being and very existence are not only governed by these socio-political constructs, but are also threatened by them. This threat stems from two areas: the potential removal or absence of the laws that dictate behavior (for example, when one is ignored or abandoned by a social group) and the possible rebellion of the individual against the constructs that had formerly supported him. In either case, the threat of death looms, either in the form of actual biological death or the death of citizenship and cultural identity. When the living can no longer function within the social matrix that molded him, he then must either die or be exiled to a prison or to the life of an outcast. Those who desire to continue to function as part of a group must conform their thinking and behavior in a way that eliminates these threats and encourages cohesiveness. Those who have been abandoned by one social construct and are trying to enter a new one must learn the proper rules. Thus, the individual creates a set of appropriate behavior strategies that will increase the likelihood of participation and reward. If they are successful, they will be accepted and safe.
These techniques of power are centered on the individual body. A system of surveillance, record keeping, gossip and social invitations serve as disciplinary tactics that teach the individual the proper actions. While these minute exercises are focused on the individual, they at the same time function as important population and group controls (Society 242-45). This “biopolitics” or “biopower” is a technology of power and control that is mindful of not just social behavior, but also of birth and death, reproduction, fertility, longevity, illness, medicine, etc. (Society 243). These phenomena are not seen as epidemics that require sudden defensive measures, but as permanent and insidious forces endemic within the population and potentially inimical to happy, good lives. Renegades and madmen, illness and death serve as potentially dangerous forces that must be reckoned with. The state must control and conscript life into tightly controlled categories. Only certain types of life, certain lifestyles, are allowed to flourish under the state’s watchful eye. And since the state cannot maintain constant vigilance, each living citizen must ultimately be convinced to hold vigil over themselves. Biopower is now the state’s interest and responsibility; all must be protected from problems. Proper life is encouraged and improper life is vilified. Death and grief must be hidden, and the bereaved must quickly and stoically get back to normal.
According to Foucault, death in particular has lost its former element of public spectacle, and “the great public ritualization of death…began to disappear” in the late 18th century:
Death…has ceased to be one of those spectacular ceremonies in which individuals, the family, the group, and practically the whole of society took part – has become, in contrast, something to be hidden away. It has become the most private and shameful of all (and ultimately, it is now not so much sex as death that is the object of a taboo). (Society 247)
Foucault explains that death was once spectacular because it was a manifestation of one’s transition from being subject to the control of one power (the sovereign of this world) to the next (the sovereign of the next world). In addition, death marked the "transmission of power" from the dead person to the survivors in the form of ritualized last words and wills and testament (Society 248).
Now, however, the focus is not on honoring death but on preventing it. Our interest in improving life by eliminating accidents, randomness, and inefficiencies, has come with the realization that death ultimately cannot be controlled. “Death is beyond the reach of power…power has no control over death…Power no longer recognizes death …Power literally ignores death” (Society 248). Thus, death is privatized because biopower is now only concerned with the regulation of life.
Foucault then asks the question, “How can the power of death, the function of death, be exercised in a political system centered upon biopower?” (Society 254). His answer involves the State’s capacity to oblige its citizens to risk their lives willingly, to engage in self-sacrifice and martyrdom. “A biopower that wished to wage war had to articulate the will to destroy the adversary with a risk that it might kill those whose lives it had, by definition, to protect, manage, and multiply” (Society 258). This martyrdom was enacted during WWII to protect innocent civilians from evil forces that wished to undermine all that was good in humanity. Positing the Nazi and Japanese enemy as inferior and the U. S. as superior was easy during WWII, and the citizenry willingly complied by engaging in practices that supported the happiness and well-being of the American way of life. The discipline and training of the entire population had to coincide with that of the soldier. Total mobilization and focus required the binary mindset of good versus evil and the belief that one must kill or die in order to live.
Biopower's focus on correct life and its need for martyrdom also demanded the elimination of subversive and degenerate influences, thoughts, or actions. During WWII, the citizenry exemplified positive civilian-military relations. The public glorified military culture and denied any display of weakness. A military mentality prevailed wherein all citizens were expected to engage in mission support. State rhetoric of loyalty and patriotism informed private and public narratives and behavioral expectations. Almost one-quarter of all Americans either fought in uniform or had a family member who did. Millions of others worked in the enormous defense industry. Entire kinship groups actively supported the war effort. Everyone endured rationing of basic supplies such as food (sugar, meat, canned goods, etc.), shoes, gasoline, and tires. This shared sacrifice and hardship on the heels of the Depression served to create a social culture that glorified military strength, service, and stoicism, especially since the enemy all were fighting together was so obviously horrendous. Military service and culture was glorified in popular movies. Long-term sorrow was not popular and even unpatriotic. Thus, the dominant culture had the mentality of a large military installation. Public support of WWII was also illustrated by the economic support Congress provided for it. Total defense spending grew to comprise 45 % of the Gross Domestic Product budget in 1945 (Burke 255). The G.I. Bill, with its education benefits for veterans, widows, and orphans, helped thousands of Americans go to college and join the middle class.
Clearly Congress believed that it was important to regulate society by providing for survivors. This huge social engineering plan both acknowledged and soothed the loss and sacrifice of veterans and their families. Schools became a great social crucible by which grateful individuals could be trained to be productive members of the economic machine. By encouraging the earning strength and hard work of grieving and damaged individuals, and by emotionally ostracizing those who exhibited too much grief, the orphans became docile bodies of self-discipline with the state as their new father and care-giver. According to Foucault,
The art of government …is concerned with…how to introduce economy, that is the correct manner of managing individuals, goods and wealth within the family…how to introduce this meticulous attention of the father towards his family, into the management of the state.” (“On Government” 8-10)
If government was now the father of the individual, then the children were expected to show respect to the father and not go against his wishes or attempt to undermine his authority. These disciplined bodies learned to follow excruciatingly specific rules of behavior, and were, in effect, both subservient and powerful at the same time. A disciplined person organized his or her behavior in service of a proscribed goal, generating a highly defined message. Judged by insidious and ever present surveillance – at home, in schools, and in public – individual roles were known and observed by the community (Discipline and Punish 193-94). An orphan’s proper role was to serve as the embodied representation of either the success or failure of the state. This embodied representation functioned as a biopolitical mechanism which could only be allowed to represent success of the military mission. Sorrow was unacceptable; gratefulness and pride were the approved reactions of the orphan of WWII.
The grieving, traumatized WWII orphan stood somewhere outside of this public orthodoxy. They quickly learned that their grief should be private, and their public actions in their communities, at school, and within their family units should only show support for the war effort, effectively ignoring the fact that the war had decimated their lives. These orphans report keeping silent so they would not feel judged by civilians who approved of the war and who did not wish to acknowledge its trauma. The public wished to maintain patriotic fervor without blood on their hands. As several orphans explain in their memoirs, it was difficult to express gratefulness for their father’s death. The WWII orphans felt guilty for feeling sad.
The Vietnam War orphans, raised inside the post-WWII military complex of the Cold War, also expressed guilt. Although Foucault was referring to a different place and time, he perfectly described the social transition that occurred between WWII and Vietnam. "A society completely permeated by warlike relations was gradually replaced by a State endowed with military institutions" (Society 267). Just fifteen years after the end of WWII, when the build-up to the Vietnam War began, many of the same patriotic Americans who had mobilized during WWII remembered their duty to support their military protectors. During the post-WWII years, many Americans believed that the military was their safeguard against global (communist) aggression, and militarism remained fashionable. According to military sociologist Orrin Schwab, when the Vietnam War began, “American society had acculturated an entire postwar generation to support large military operations in the defense of ideological goals” (11). Schwab claims that the “global war[s] in the [early] twentieth century had militarized American society and culture” (10). This supportive attitude toward global military activity was operative when the U.S. began deploying ground troops to Vietnam in the 1960’s. Early in the Vietnam War, many civilians supported the war, especially in light of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. As in WWII, civilians supported an active military response to perceived aggressors who were characterized as evil. Although the nation did not share in sacrifice at the same level as during WWII (only one-fifth the number of U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam compared to WWII), my investigation indicates that patriotism was very much alive in many American communities during the Vietnam War.
In addition, although total federal spending on defense has diminished since 1945, patterns emerged in regional defense spending and military presence. Between WWII and the Vietnam War, the military built many large, full-service military bases – Cold War by-products of the nation's largest standing peacetime armed forces. These military bases provided a myriad of services for family members, such as housing, schools, child care, recreation, and medical help. Between 1955 and 1996, the number of enlisted military personnel grew in the South (Burke 260). These large military bases in the Southern states played a central role in the creation of huge military towns. Loyalty to the state was still expected in communities near military bases where many widows and orphans lived. Both Zacharias and Gilberg had lived among a populace whose main economic engine was the U.S. Defense Department.
This new and separate military complex was a totalitarian system which controlled the family unit and the psyches of the family members. The military child was raised inside a fortress-like environment where the constant threat of war, frequent moves, authoritarian parenting and schooling styles, and expected behavior were informed by a militaristic can-do attitude. In this climate of high-stakes Cold War surveillance, improper behavior could distract the soldier from his constant state of readiness. The child was expected to approach the constant turmoil with no signs of disturbance: no rebellion, no embarrassing behavior, neither in private nor in public. The child was trained to maintain a mental state of denial and acceptance that was rewarded by simply being included, and not excluded, from the proper group. Eventually the child learned that to be taken care of meant to follow a set of strict behavior rules.
The lives of military families are illustrated in etiquette manuals of that period. During the Cold War, a series of unofficial advice manuals for military wives were published. These manuals, such as The Army Wife written by Nancy Shea, were like portable deportment and etiquette lessons for military wives. Shea’s books were revised and updated every few years for nearly three decades. She gives helpful upbeat advice about how the military wives and children should behave. In her 1956 version of The Air Force Wife, Shea advises military wives about childrearing. Shea cheerfully proclaims that military children are “tough, resilient, and self-reliant” (214). But these independent souls were heavily constricted in their daily activities. Warnings about staying away from restricted areas and danger zones are listed, along with the admonition to avoid making noise or playing in any way that could annoy anyone, especially neighbors or superior officers. She warns parents that “little pitchers have big ears,” and that one off-hand bit of official information could end up being repeated to the wrong person (237). Shea warns:
…realize that [your] husband may be judged…largely on how the children behave. This is true whether you live on a base or in a civilian community. You would not like to have your husband passed over [for promotion]… the CO [commanding officer] might think that an officer or NCO [non-commissioned officer, i.e. lower in rank] with such children must be lacking in some essential quality of leadership and discipline, even though the behavior might be due to your laxness and misguided mother love in spoiling Junior. (238)
Children and wives were clearly under scrutiny.
Shea also devotes a section of her manual to proper funeral and mourning etiquette. Claiming that the Air Force is like “one big family,” Shea relates the proper way to send flowers and write condolence letters. She reports that after a plane crash “there is no hysterical outburst or display of emotion. Life on the base goes on as usual in a dignified manner, and it is considered very bad form to discuss the crash openly…with base personnel or with civilians” (Shea 336). However, a few paragraphs later, she advises “It is well for the bereaved not to fight their grief or repress it…it is better to bring emotions out in the open rather than to have trouble from them later on” (Shea 337). The proper person for the widow to talk to is the base chaplain. As for the mourning period, she advises the widow to keep busy, since “a morbid preoccupation with one’s own tragedy is…distressing to others” (338). It seems that an initial display of grief is acceptable; any continued display is morbid and selfish. A widow with children is lucky, since she “must keep so busy that she has little time to think of herself and her loneliness” (343). There is no mention at all about how the children might be feeling.
Once the sponsor was dead, however, the family unit no longer served the system. But the family members had internalized the importance of remaining loyal to the party line. The high stakes placed upon the proper behavior of the family were then carried on into the post-military life. These habits were further exacerbated by the pressures placed upon them from civilians who expressed attitudes ranging from demanding patriotism at all costs to wishing away reminders of war and refusing to support it. Both Zacharias and Gilberg reported that the civilians they encountered near Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Bragg, North Carolina seemed ignorant of the war. I believe the civilians who lived near military bases ranged from those who were either former military themselves who knew how to pretend everything was fine to those who did not support the war at all, but who still worked in businesses which depended on the military economy. The state-sanctioned national amnesia and child-like innocence of its citizens who were being protected could not be breached by too much crying and sorrow. Thus, the military orphan remained silent and struggled to negotiate the impossible psychological combination of fear of ostracism, the throes of grief, and the desire to be accepted by their new civilian social group.
As the result of these external and internal pressures, orphans from both wars learned that silence was the primary approved behavior. They learned to self-monitor and hide any emotions that caused discomfort in others. The children also discovered that curiosity about their fathers was the immediate (if not the actual) cause of discomfort for their mothers. The children soon stopped being curious. They learned to withhold questions from those who did not want to be reminded.
Children who lost fathers to both wars had been operating within the construct of the family unit, however it was defined, until war destroyed that unit. Due to the absence of the former family system, the child experienced identity loss. The sociological strategies and coded behaviors of the family structure were abolished. The children were abandoned by the father and removed from his love and support. In his place, the mother (and the state) tried to step in and fill the void. The child had to learn the new rules, often coded and non-verbal, so they would be loved and cared for. In addition, the children felt shame at not having a father in communities where they were often the only fatherless one. They and their mothers were seen as damaged individuals. The widow had her own demons. She, too, had lost the family unit along with all her dreams for the future. She was forced to begin again, often with meager or no emotional or financial support. Her attitude was key.
Widows and orphans face ostracism should they continue to grieve – thus refusing to fulfill society's expectations that one should not grieve too visibly or too long. They are divided from the norm when they do not behave normally. This social division arises from the repulsion the public and other family members feel toward the reminder of loss and error – the war must have been a mistake if it caused too much grief. By indulging in protracted grief, they become objectified and labeled as abnormal. Grief becomes equated with mental illness, furthering the impression of being permanently damaged and worthless.
In Madness and Civilization Foucault explores the role of mental illness in society. In his essay "The Birth of the Asylum," illness serves not only as a threat to the living body, but also to the state. Mental illness is a sign of degeneracy and social failure. He relates an experiment in which mentally ill people were subjected not to chains and physical incarceration, but to silence. The doctor instructed everyone to ignore and not speak a word to a particular madman. This individual was perfectly free to move about, but the "denial of attention" and "the indifference and silence of all those around him confined him." By continuing to give voice to his delirium, the madman found himself communicating "a truth which was not acknowledged and which he would demonstrate in vain." Ultimately he felt humiliated and became "a prisoner of nothing but himself…caught in a relationship to himself…and in a nonrelation to others that was of the order of shame. The others are made innocent, they are no longer persecutors; the guilt is shifted inside" (“Birth” 151). The doctor related that the patient eventually decided to stop his rants and join the society of the other patients (“Birth” 152). By accepting his position as a shameful and sick person, responsible for his own illness, the madman can socialize in subservient silence and peace.
Similarly, the silence politely awarded to the grieving orphan does not comfort, but instead disciplines and controls. The public averts its gaze, neither speaks nor listens, and gives no opinion or information. Thus the orphan learns the sting of isolation early on. Feeling guilty for desiring to express emotions that are not welcome, the orphan then internalizes this nonrelationship and separates from his own grief. He understands that grief is disturbing and will not lead to warm open arms but to ostracism. So the division becomes willfully internal; the orphan categorizes his grief within his psyche as being forbidden or secret, personal and unexpressed. The orphan feels that only he suffers from this internal plague, and the isolation of the problematic emotion is complete. The result of this is silence, both internal and external.
This now silenced body has been objectified and also acts as an objectification of emotions. The act of public silence serves to posit the child as a thing, a dependent to ignore, not as an emotional human being. The orphan's internal act of secrecy serves to objectify the emotion of grief, which can now be seen as a dangerous thing to be controlled and eventually eliminated. Expressing grief only draws disapproval or pity upon one's self; neither is nourishment for a growing child's soul. The orphan learns and chooses to control his own emotions because his status as a symbol of loss and error upsets people and creates divisions that are not in the child's self-interest. This forceful nexus of biopower operates to support the public's perception of itself as innocent and deserving of the soldier's sacrifice, and serves to silence and marginalize the orphan who might disturb that perception and bring guilt and responsibility where it is not welcome. Excessive grief is treated as a psychological disorder; the orphan is expected to find inner strength, to silence his outbursts, and to join the others. This pressure to eliminate grief comes not only from society, but from the widow and extended family as well. They do not wish to be seen as unable to control, assuage, and heal a damaged child.
In addition, the nation’s health depends upon correct mental states and correct behavior: the happy, healthy citizen avoids negativity even when traumatized by the policies of the very state that purports to protect him. The school and home are the mechanisms of power and surveillance as well as the judges of aberrant behavior. The school especially is an apparatus of discipline that "clears up confusion" and "neutralizes the effects of counter-power" such as revolts or unproductiveness (Discipline and Punish 219). Controlled by either the State or the Church, schools served as apparatuses that subjugate and train children to be producers of labor and wealth. Maximum efficiency is sought by the strict control of knowledge, time, physical movement, and emotions. In the same way that illness must be cured, so is grief an illness that must be treated, heavily controlled, and proscribed as to place and frequency.
Further proof of the control and categorization of grief about war loss can be seen in the national remembrance days of Veterans Day and Memorial Day. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault analyzes the institutions that create "docile bodies" that can be used by the state. By controlling the orderly expressions of grief from the fallout of war in both time and space (parades, graveyard speeches, and rituals on those days), the state restricts potential for subversion. At the same time, these rituals force any subversions to be separate from nationalistic approved discourse about the war. All expressions of grief outside these ordained and sanctified parameters can be seen as subversive (Cindy Sheehan, for example) or ignored completely. Sympathy is only allowed during politically proscribed times, or grief expressions are used for political or economic gain - to sell newspapers, or to influence elections or policy decisions.
If an orphan seeks solace, pity will be given. But even pity functions to train the child in the correct way to feel and act. Feelings of being pitied, the constant state of being pitiable, causes shame for the orphan. Pity is the yoke the orphan bears, and is a kind of power-knowledge that holds the orphan in a state of subservience. Pity always has a tinge of resentment, because the feeling of pity is uncomfortable for many – it is a reminder of error. The orphan desires to participate in a power dynamic that "induces pleasure, forms knowledge, and produces discourse" of the kind that creates easy relationships (“Truth and Power” 61). Their goal is the lack of need for pity, which is felt as the condition of having been healed. When one is not crying, sad or angry, then one is healed. The path to healing is silence. Once silence is maintained, the orphan receives love and support as if they were normal. When orphans are silent, citizens can rest easy that they did not make a permanent mistake, and that sacrifice does indeed lead to growth.
The external battle between the orphan's need to grieve and the public's interest in silence creates an internal battle within the psyche of the child. It is this intersection between internal self-monitoring behavior and external power/control structures that the war orphan must negotiate. Like walking through a mine-field, the orphan (the one who was supposedly protected – whose life was an object worthy of blood sacrifice) risks an encounter with extensive emotional danger. No longer a member of the family or military society, and not a part of the institutionalized civilian/citizen society either, the orphan is an “other,” marginalized into silence. The irony of ignoring the uncomfortable realities of those children who also sacrifice for war, who should be honored for their own patriotism and sacrifice, and who understand that expressing sorrow will only bring rejection, is not lost upon the child who grows up knowing first hand the pain and suffering that war brings.
American society has come to believe that wars should be fought off site, and that the protected should remain safe within the cocoon of the nation-state. This happy state of affairs is akin to constantly feeling protected by unseen angels. The public feels comfortable knowing that danger has once again been diverted, thwarted, contained and beaten; peace once again prevails. The crying orphan blasts open that cocoon. As Foucault said, "Politics is the continuation of war by other means" and "peace itself is a coded war" (Society 48-51). The two armies in this particular war fight over truth. They both use perceived truths as weapons to win what they need (Society 52). They both engage in "lapses of memory, illusions and lies" that they use to justify their positions (Society 51). Forced silence is a "technical procedure that [is] used to perpetuate the victory" (Society 55). The orphan, whose grief could disturb the public's illusion of innocence, is subjugated through silence into a position of weakness. The truth used to silence them is the specter of exile and abandonment should they not comply. By remaining silent, the orphan develops a secret identity and thus, gains acceptance.
The raw emotions of the oral histories of the war orphans discussed in this thesis are effectively weapons of empowerment that could awaken our consciences. Speaking from the bottom of ignored historical voices, these individuals express a "fundamental…crude and naked irrationality…which proclaims the truth" (Society 55). They express the "confusion of violence, passions, hatreds, rages, resentments, and bitterness" of their experience (Society 54). Their personal struggles are political, and they battle for the right to be heard, fighting against their own internal fears and a public that keeps its hands over its ears, refusing to hear.


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