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Shock and Awe as Sexual Fantasy

by MALINI JOHAR SCHUELLER

It is surely predictable that Harlan K. Ullman, the author of Shock & Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance (Published by National Defense University, 1996), has been named by D.C. madam, Deborah Palfrey, as one of her regular customers. Palfrey denies that her business provides sexual services for its customers and Ullman has simply labeled the claim “beneath the dignity of comment” and referred all questions to his lawyers. Nevertheless, Ullman’s possible use of Palfrey’s business, which her lawyer describes as “adult sexual fantasy” are a complete analogue to his military strategy which depends centrally on a misguided sexual fantasy of virile, masculinist domination as D/s.

That testosterone guided displays of manly vigor, more than military intelligence, have guided the botched invasion of Iraq, is not news. Reinforcing gender dichotomies has been central to the promotion of colonialism and imperialism for some time. Vowing cowboy-like to “smoke out” Osama, jumping atop a navy carrier with a “mission accomplished” speech, the dodge drafting President has encouraged marines to continue overzealous manly missions like “saving” Jessica Lynch with overwhelming, Rambo-like force.

Small wonder, then, that top advisers savored the male-dominance recipes of Shock & Awe as they pondered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Ullman became a regular on TV shows. No older George Bush wimp factor here. Ullman’s strategy is a competition for masculinity, an anxious display of virility. He writes: “Physical dominance includes the ability to destroy, disarm, disrupt, neutralize, and to render impotent.”

The doctrine is to apply “massive or overwhelming force” “in order to disarm, incapacitate, or render the enemy militarily impotent.” Hence Ullman describes the “shock” of Blitzkreig as male sexual penetration: “The image is that of a shaped charge, penetrating through a relatively tiny hold in a tank’s armor and then exploding outwardly…”

But Ullman didn’t simply follow the time-worn rhetoric of describing war through male conquest. The fantasy is that shock produces awe. Ullman wrote glowingly about the bombings of civilians in Guernica and the bombings of Hiroshima which the ordinary mind could simply not comprehend and which “produced a state of awe.”

Shock & Awe was nothing if not sadism written as a fantasy of D/s where the partner masochistically desires dominance, is awed by it. Little wonder that Ullman might well be the most regular customer of the sexual fantasy service. Our war strategists need the fantasy of shock and awe to continue keeping troops in Iraq.

Unfortunately, instead of “awe” what seems to be getting produced is a castrating “saw.” Time to bring the troops home.

MALINI JOHAR SCHUELLER is a professor at the department of English at the University of Florida where she teaches courses on American literature culture. Her latest book, co-edited with Ashley Dawson is titled “Exceptional State: Contemporary US Culture and the New Imperialism” and is forthcoming from Duke University Press in June 2007.

 

 

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