Fascism a
Empty Boots/ Missing Body Politics
~by Sady Sullivan

 

http://www.afsc.org/human-face/us/boots.htm#top . Viewed on 4/20/04.

On January 21, 2004, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) staff placed more than 500 pairs of empty army boots in Chicago's Federal Plaza to honor U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Next to the boots, largeplacards listed the names of the dead soldiers.

This photo recalls photos taken of fascist/Nazi assemblies in Germany. It even appears to be in black and white/Empty Ideology(although taken in color): the black boots against the grey stone plaza, bystanders in the distance wearing grey and black, the dark black distant building surrounding the plaza. However, there is a marked difference between this formation of empty boots and the Nazi military rallies. Rather than the fascist state's One Body, a militarized united people (at the exclusion of Others), this photo shows a unified absence of bodies. The effect is almost exactly opposite the intent of the fascist rally. Here, the repetition of the standard-issue army boots, the regimented display, and the visible loss of bodies, painfully highlights the real deaths of all these individual human beings hidden under fascistic "language rule" euphemisms like "troops," "casualties," and "collateral damage". We are shocked out of the news of numbers and forced to confront each worn-leather, frayed-lace, scuffed-sole boot and think about the actual person who is dead now (killed, shot, exploded) and will not return home to their family and friends.

[As of February 5, 2004 there have been 547 American soldiers killed (and 95 members coalition forces killed). There have been 2,578 wounded. The CNN Special Report offers glossy bar-graph breakdowns according to Country, Service, Race, Age, and Gender -Class/Economic Status (prior to enlisting) is not included as a category of analysis even though that is probably one of the most determining factors in military recruitment. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2003/iraq/forces/casualties/

Civilian casualties in Iraq are between 8,245 and 10,089 as of February 10, 2004. http://www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm]

"When the people have taken violent part in the national liberation they will allow no one to set themselves up as 'liberators'." (Fanon 74)

"As long as the Liberal state and capitalist market offered enough substitute pleasures, the cult of individualism could prevail." (Berghaus 46)

"Not only did bureaucracy and military apparatus determine the course of history, but also mass media." (Kuhnl 31)

"Fascism can be interpreted as a pathological response to a severe ailment of the body politic." (Berghaus 48)

This action of the AFSC could also be read as a demonstration that the U.S. body politic is sick. People are not engaged with their national government and their government is conducting an experiment in "democracy" on the people of Iraq, while ignoring (or paying dismal attention to) the basic domestic needs and survival priorities of people in both countries. The Bush administration, an oligarchy, is similar to the fascistic hierarchies but instead of one charismatic leader at the top, the aim is to be closest to the biggest, strongest, most resilient capitalist industry: weapons/military manufacturers. The current prevailing political idealogy in the U.S. is without a body. The empty boots represent the lives lost -for what reason?- an empty ideology. The presence of this collection of empty boots in a public (federal) plaza also illustrates/implicates witnesses to the actions of our government on people to whom we may have no "personal" connection. The people of both Iraq and the U.S. are divided within themselves regionally, and by race/ethnicity/language, and class. These bodiless boots, in formation, in shared public space, can be seen to erase some of those individual identity boundaries, reminding us of some universal connections. We can all understand the end of a life, the loss of a loved one.

Hannah Arendt, in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), sets up the argument that when a state organizes itself around Violence, acts of violence then become the status quo and thus there is a flip in the average citizen's moral thinking (away from human dignity): "he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to do." (Arendt 25) This echoes Fanon's statement: "Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence." (Fanon 48)

In the U.S. it seems that "moral" activity is now anything that bolsters this military industry. And yet we are calling this a Democracy. And we are implanting this form of Democracy in Iraq -at the cost of many lives. And again, in both countries the actual voices of the actual people are silenced, ignored -an empty/missing body politic. This is what this photo speaks to me.

"There are revolutions from above and revolutions from below. Those from above generally have a limited life-span, for it is difficult, if not impossible, to force a new system of rules onto a people from above." (Joseph Goebbels, 1939) (Griffin 134)

 

 

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