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Histories of Violence II: Suffering for the State: Touring and Commemorating Sites of Militarized Violence

Fri, October 9, 10:00 to 11:45am, Sheraton Centre, Chestnut West

Session Submission Type: Paper Session: Traditional Format


Suffering, pain, and death are the essence of war. Yet, the commemorative practices of militarized events tend to emphasize the heroic and triumphant over the pain, illness, or fear that soldiers and civilian populations experience. Even when pain and suffering are foregrounded in these narratives, the inability for the public to experience the physical and emotional sensations of the moment affects how that memory is taken up. This panel evaluates museums, national parks, and other sites of collective memory in which the absence or selective inclusion of pain underscores larger structural issues of how militarized violence becomes in/visible in national memory and discourse. Drawing on insights from trauma theory, disability studies, history, critical military studies, and cultural studies, the panelists will consider how militarized sites participate in the creation of a myth of disembodied, body-less, or “victimless” conflict.
The papers on this panel approach the commemoration of state-sanctioned violence from a variety of methodologies and points in time. Ashley Bowen-Murphy’s paper, “Remains After War: The Politics of Bodily Display in the Army Medical Museum’s Ford’s Theater Location, 1867-1885,” examines how 19th century veterans and agents of the state negotiated ownership of soldiers’ damaged bodies. The panel will move into the 20th century with an analysis of World War II sites in the north Pacific. In his paper, “Suffering in the Aleutians: Military and Unangan Memories of War,” Rusty Bartels analyzes the different representations of war experiences between the military and the indigenous Unangan in the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Visitor Center in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The panel will close by pivoting to an analysis of competing epistemologies of trauma of those inflicting militarized violence. In “Militarized Violence is Miserable-Making,” Hilary Berwick asks what is at stake in allocating emotion to populations that inflict violence on behalf of the state, analyzing memorials of fallen soldiers and police killed in the line of duty to show how the work of memorials of suffering changes when those memorials are to the suffering of the violent themselves. Elizabeth Son, Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, will provide comments.
As a group, the papers on this panel grapple with how to display signs of pain long past. If, as Elaine Scarry argues in The Body in Pain, “whatever pain achieves, it achieves its part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language,” we might expect the richer, immersive environment of a museum or memorial site to better present stories of pain. Can public historians, curators, and activists do with objects, images, or sound what text cannot? This panel will grapple the complexity of representing suffering while acknowledging the sometimes-morbid curiosity that makes these popular tourist sites.

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