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Carol Cohn: Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense I

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Sophia Garrow

on 17 April 2014

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Transcript of Carol Cohn: Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense I

Carol Cohn: Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals
State I: Listening
"The discussions are carefully and intricately reasoned, occuring seemingly without any sense of horror, urgency, or moral outrage" (690).
"What hit me first was the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words" (690).
"collateral damage" vs human death
term "clean bombs" implies that "radiation is the only "dirty" part of killing people
Metaphors in language
Phallic worship and male sexuality
"patting" these "high-tech phalluses"/diminishing lethality (patting=both sexually/intimate and child-like)
disarmament= emasculation
sexual imagery/ competition for manhood
connections between masculine sexuality and the arms race" and "minimizing the seriousness of militarist endeavors"
Taking a country's "Nuclear Virginity", being deflowered by the nuclear world
fathers/sons : "The metaphor used was that of parents needing to set limits for their children"
Summary
Spent a year immersed in defense technology and arms control.
focused on formulating "what they call 'rational' systems for dealing with the problems created by nuclear weapons: how to manage the arms race; how to deter the use of nuclear weapons; how to fight a nuclear war if deterrence fails"
Became fascinated not by nuclear weaponry, but by the sense of abstraction and remove from the human element present in their discussions and terminology.
"how can they think this way?"
More Metaphors
"domestic bliss" -- domestic references removes speaker/listener from horrors of reality
weapons systems can "marry up". wiring between mechanisms of warning and response= "coupling". Nuclear bombs are not dropped, a "bus" "delivers" them.
implies a refusal of accountability
attempt to "tame the wild and uncontrollabe forces of nuclear destruction"
Male birth/creation: "before they were certain that the bombs would work, the scientists expressed their concerns by saying that they hoped the baby was a boy, not a girl--that is, not a dud" (701).
Religious imagery-male forces of creation
Stage 2: Learning to Speak the Language
sexiness of terminology
allures of power/benefits of white male privelage
"The more conversations I participated in using this language, the less frightened I was of nuclear war"
"Technostrategic language can be used only to articulate the perspective of the users of nuclear weapons, not that of the victims"
Stage 3: Dialogue
"No matter how well-informed or complex my questions were, if I spoke English rather than expert jargon, the men responded to me as though I were ignorant, simpleminded, or both" (708).
"Using the right phrases opened my way into long, elaborate discussions that taught me a lot about technostrategic reasoning and how to manipulate it. I found, however, that the better I got at engaging in this discourse, the more impossible it became for me to express my own ideas, my own values" (708).
"If I was unable to speak my concerns in this language, more disturbing still was that I found it hard to even keep them in my own head" (708). (could not keep human lives as reference point)
Stage 4: The Terror/Conclusion
Realization that not only that language that was abstract, but the whole conceptual system is abstract
As she spoke in new language her reference point changed: weapons vs. humans
we have a "deconstructive task" of dismantling technostrategi discourse: "The dominant voice of militarized masculinity and decontextualized rationality speaks so loudly in our culture, it will remain difficult for any other voices to be heard until that voice loses some of its power" (717).
We have a "reconstructive task" of creating compelling alternative visions of possible futures" (718).
Carol Cohn

director of the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights
Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
facilitates training and workshops for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325
has been active in working with the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security since 2001.
now working with the Social Science Research Council to design a Global Centre for Research on Gender, Crisis Prevention and Recovery for the United Nations Development Programme.
Has published book chapters, reports and papers regarding gender and defense.
Discussion Questions
Do you think it is possible to deconstruct and reconstruct the way in which technosctrategic discourses take place? Is it possible without first learning the technical language that composes these discourses? How so? Where do we begin?
Do you believe it is even necessary to change the nature of these discourses? Why or why not.
Are there any other examples of language distorting how we view reality, distancing society from the human aspect, or glorifying something that would otherwise be viewed in a negative light?
How does the sexist nature of this technical language influence our defense strategy?
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