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DEEP VIOLENCE by Joanna Bourke


Military Violence, War Play, and the Social Life of Weapons

by Joanna Bourke

Pub Date: March 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-463-2
Publisher: Counterpoint

A dense treatise on the evil that men do to one another in the name of war.

Although she is certainly an idealistic thinker, Bourke (History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; The Story of Pain, 2014, etc.) gets to some dark places. Her output has included scholarly examinations of murder, fear, rape and pain. Here, she turns her unflinching gaze on the militarization of society. The book was originally titled Wounding the World, which is in some ways more accurate since it is as much about the mindsets of victims as it is about those who fight. Bourke examines the nature of military violence through a variety of lenses, including economics, language, law, big business and the very nature of our humanity. After a clear introduction, she examines the language we use to describe warfare, and this may be one of the most complex sections for a general audience. “These four ways of talking about violence—aestheticizing it, converting it into an abstract formula, ignoring pertinent aspects and giving weapons agency—overlap….But converting violence against others into something attractive, abstract or absent makes it easier to bear,” writes the author. The next section examines the psychology of violence, both on the parts of the (mostly) men who perpetrate it, from the drone pilot in Nevada who feels “like God hurling thunderbolts from afar,” to those wounded inside and out. In a somewhat dated section, Bourke examines the “fetishization of authenticity” in games and other media, essentially positing portrayals of military violence as pornography; refreshingly, however, she rarely blames the creators, instead focusing on motive and audience. The most challenging section may be the summary, which posits that protests and other societal interventions could bring an end to war, a proposal some readers may find too modest to be realistic.

A thoughtful but sometimes overly academic consideration of why thousands of people are, or should be, marching in the streets.