Military Optics and Bodies of Difference

Thursday, Feb 27, 2014 - Thursday, Feb 27, 2014 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall

Military Optics and Bodies of Difference
Reading Domestic Uses of Military Aerial Perspective: Domestic Abuse Photography and the Framing of Terror
Kelli Moore, Rhetoric
Our experience of the Iraq war is conditioned by frenzied production of documentary images of war on one hand and the rational, administrative suppression of images of gender and
sexual violence by the U.S. government on the other. This paper contributes to work in feminist studies of surveillance technology that examines the discourse of empire by tracing specific incursions of military techniques and artifacts into everyday life. I inquire about the development of two overlapping bodies of institutional photography in the post-Cold War era: aerial photography taken by unmanned military aircraft and images of battered women taken by police investigating intimate partner or family violence claims. Both forms of photography use aerial perspective to establish control over geography and the body thereby tying together conceptually the adjudication of domestic violence and controlling the threat of global terror.
Photographs that document domestic abuse contribute to what Sally Engle Merry terms a new “regime of domestic violence governmentality.” Images of battered women, mandatory arrest, and no-drop prosecution policies are localized expressions of global anti-terrorism strategies that construct new behavioral standards of masculinity and femininity by establishing legally actionable evidence of violence. Images taken by unmanned aircraft provide central data points for war maneuvers actionable by the military. States increasingly use military technologies such as GPS tools to monitor “high risk” domestic violence offenders. By examining the rhetorical codes structuring both bodies of photography, I ask how categories of domestic and global terror are negotiated through hegemonic practices of seeing.
I focus on the development of post-Cold War interpretative practices surrounding images of battered women and drone aerial footage. I argue that the practice of judging the domestic abuse photograph in the U.S. courtroom is partially informed by the mechanical vision constitutive of unmanned military aerial reconnaissance photography. However, military aerial perspective can shift our attention away from asking more radical questions about the documentation of rape and other forms of gendered and racialized violence that are suppressed by the U.S. government in the interest of “good taste.”
Unmanning Politics: Aerial Surveillance 1960-1973
Katherine Chandler, Rhetoric
On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane was shot down over the Soviet Union while on a secret reconnaissance mission. The ensuing diplomatic fallout caused the cancellation of the Paris Summit between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev. Less well known, in April 1960, Robert Schwanhausser, an engineer for Ryan Aeronautical, briefed the United States Air Force on the possibility that its Firebee target drone, used at the time for air defense training, might be re-engineered as an unmanned reconnaissance plane. In the weeks following the Powers incident, the Air Force began wholesale negotiations with Ryan Aeronautical to develop a pilotless spy plane and, on July 8, 1960, the company was given funding to begin the project. Among the noted advantages were: “political risk is minimized due to the absence of a possible prisoner” (“Alternative Reconnaissance System,” 1960). I investigate the resulting Lightning Bugs, flown for three-thousand reconnaissance missions in Southeast Asia between 1964 and 1973.
Researching how aircraft were unmanned during the Cold War is instructive both in the ways they mimic contemporary unmanned combat aerial vehicles and trouble assumptions about them. I follow how unmanned systems operated within the logics of American Cold War politics and their perceived usefulness geopolitically – crossing borders as spy aircraft, collecting and jamming electronic signals, and gathering battlefield reconnaissance. I ask how conquest, and the ensuing assumptions of empire, colonialism and race, underlie the unmanning of military aircraft, even while these aspects were purposefully, although, unsuccessfully occluded through the idea that technologies could mitigate political risks. Moreover, unmanned reconnaissance projects were cancelled at the end of the Vietnam War and their failure provides clues about what might be left out of visions of aerial control and the ways politics, and human vulnerabilities, persisted in spite of efforts to engineer systems that would suggest otherwise.
The legitimacy of contemporary drone strikes relies on the ability of unmanned aircraft to “see” enemy targets. Yet, as Isabel Stengers has argued, any representation, gives value. Looking at the few available images from these early unmanned reconnaissance flights, I move between what is seen and unseen to examine how values, particularly, secrecy and control, are formed through unmanned reconnaissance. Claiming to produce a mechanical, rather than political, view of the territories surveyed, I show how the supposedly apolitical lens of the drone occludes how politics, industry and military come together to privilege certain positions and target others.
The Secret Sharers: Visual Culture and the Torture Archive
Anjali Nath, American Studies, UC Davis
My paper examines the rendition of detainee bodies within documents procured through the Freedom of Information Act shared online by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Security Archives (NSA). Since the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program began in 2002, torture and detention programs functioned efficiently specifically through the practice of nondisclosure. From within this context, calls for government transparency arose from human and civil rights organizations seeking to expose the torture unfolding in these dark geographies. These demands to disclose locations of black sites, data about extraordinarily rendered detainees, and interrogation practices in US government facilities were taken up by both the ACLU (and other civil liberties organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights) and Wikileaks. Visual metaphor infuses the very language used to talk about accessing secret government document – often we hear about the transparency of different agencies, bringing information to light, allowing the public to see what is going on, and so forth. My goal is to undo the common sense that the archive is a naturalized site for knowledge about detention; I argue that it a site where differing kinds of visualities of the racialized detained body are produced.
Invoking Joseph Conrad’s eponymous story, I suggests that activist organizations are quite literally secret sharers, legally (and, at times illegally) sharing in state secrets with the public. I frame interrelation between the digital public sphere and the secret through the interaction between Conrad’s main characters in The Secret Sharer. After being released or leaked, secret ceases to remain in the interior exclusive spaces, and becomes exterior, visible, shared with the public. As such, this paper proposes several ways we necessarily must consider the reading the “revealed” documents for how they produce the detainee as a racial subject. Though the documents can be red within a legal framework in order to challenge detention, I argue that they should be understood within a framework of subalternity. This reading borrows from postcolonial scholar Edward Said the notion of a “contrapuntal” form of reading – that is, reading against the intended meaning of the text. If we bring a contrapuntal reading to the document, we are able to more fully reveal the complicated ways in which detainees’ visual subjectivities are constructed through various modalities of sight. Reading with redaction (as opposed to in spite of it) suggests the significance of the document exceeds written text and its biopolitical function.

Open to the public. Location is wheelchair accessible.

Request Event Co-Sponsorship

CRG Forum Proposals

Interested in presenting as an individual or as part of a panel at CRG Forum Series?

Or have suggestions for future topics and presenters?