This week’s readings were all about ideologies—how they are formed, enacted, and challenged—in relation to the United States’ engagement in various wars and conflicts. From these readings, it is clear that war powers in the United States draw much of their strength from the manipulation and propagation of specific dominant ideologies that hinder a more democratic approach to engaging in conflicts.
To understand the term “ideology” and how it factors into American conflicts, we must first examine the basic philosophy of the term that Althusser identifies. Central to Althusser’s argument is the notion that ideologies have “a material existence,” and that they “always exist in an apparatus” that is constitutive of the subjects who follow it (318-319). According to Althusser, an ideology is dependent upon the notion that a subject or follower can freely choose to subscribe to this ideology, and, to show that they do so, they perform in ways that reflect this ideology. Here is an additional explanation of how such an apparatus maintains the status quo in a society that enacts it. After working through Althusser before proceeding with the other readings, I found that Althusser’s theoretical stance provided an extra foundational layer of analysis for the rest of the weeks readings. In particular, I found it helpful to keep Althusser’s attention to material action in the “apparatus” in mind.
This theoretical background supplemented my understanding of Ivie’s chapter, which addresses the possibility of regaining American conscience and consciousness in wartime. The Atlantic has an interesting article by Dominic Tierny, which addresses American ideologies (it also propagates one: liberalism). This liberalism that Tierny extols, however, could be labeled as one of the “hardened public pieties etched deeply into sacred patriotic stone” that Ivie lists (204).
Biesecker’s article on the WWII Memorial on the National Mall broadens this week’s attention to American ideologies and conflicts by addressing the public and popular memory involved in commemorating wars, as well as how this memory can be manipulated to shape national ideologies. She discusses how the monument, as well as other commemorative and rhetorical texts like Saving Private Ryan, serve to “position” its American audience in an indentificatory way, one which serves to “cultivate a sense of oneness” (399). To Biesecker, popular and public texts like serve as “pedagogy for citizenship” that provide “conventional wisdom” (401, 403). I find it interesting that Biesecker brings the concept of the “Good War” into her analysis through addressing elements of World War II in popular and public culture; however, I also found her choice to discuss Saving Private Ryan to challenge some of the “Clean War” tactics that we have learned about in class. For example, she briefly describes some of the carnage that is recreated in the first few minutes of the film. How does deliberately showing this violence create identification among audience members, when in “clean war” violence creates distance and disgust?
Chris Hayes and Mike Dawson also address this era of World War II ideological memorabilia by explaining how the 90s—a relatively prosperous period in which the US faced few external threats after the fall of the Soviet Union—created and drew attention to a “vacuum” of heroism and epic patriotism, one which people in the U.S. became desperate to fill. Out of such imagery rose the “cult of the soldier,” which conservative media propagated. This ideology and the premises that comprised it (“if you’re not with me, then you’re against the troops) necessitated the kind of material action that Althusser describes.
Through these readings, we have a greater understanding of how the ideological “apparatus” of the War on Terror has acted on American society. How is the “cult of the solider” challenged, supported, or questioned in our news or popular media? What are the responses to this? What other sites/texts can you identify that serve as a “pedagogy for citizenship,” and what is their ideological apparatus?