ne way to conceptualize the lived dynamics of modern militarism is through engaging the trope of attachments. How do people become attached to war and to the procedures of security that now render militarized societies as spaces of perpetual fortified conflict, even when these spaces (like the United States) are represented in International Relations discourse as being far from the actual sites of conventional combat? What do the attachments consist of? At the very least they are affective and material in character, psychological and embodied. They form a matrix of entanglements drawing together logics, institutions, processes, architectures, habits, sentiments, gestures, and, of course, excuses, for carrying out state-sanctioned violence. What interests me are the ways in which these entanglements with war are disavowed, deferred from consciousness, so taken for granted that, following McLuhan, we are like fish swimming in a tank that prevents us from knowing the saturations of Total War Society.

I am interested in the situation of biomedicine within Total War Society war (i.e. a society that is perpetually prepared for war). Modern modes of militarization and innovations in medicine are deeply entangled with one another and bound up in a relationship of mutual provocation. My focus is on how acts of wounding and killing provoke the expansion of medical knowledge to produce new techniques and technologies aimed at contending with and sometimes exploiting the damage done by war. This relationship of mutual provocation perpetuates and elaborates processes of militarization by redeeming war as a necessary condition for human advancement.

I am aided in this endeavor by scholars who analyze how and why modern wars are fought in the name of humanity. Vivienne Jabri foregrounds border security and racial profiling to show how these operate in an elastic fashion to make everyday life for those identified as “existential threats” profoundly precarious. In the name of defending those whose lives matter, the “global war on terror” participates in dehumanizing the Other. I extend her analysis to look at the realm of calculated costs and benefits that are evident in medical decisions about whose bodies should be cared for and whose are expendable. Melinda Cooper, through her analysis of how speculation operates in globalized financial markets, provides a way of thinking about how promissory gestures about the future of life are the currency through which new medical technologies function as investment portfolios, again with some bodies calculated to have greater value and others to carry intolerable risk. Extending Cooper, war is a gambling behavior, carried out in the name of augmenting life such as in the case, for example, of regenerative medicine that hopes to regenerate lost limbs and destroyed tissue of those whose battle wounds are deemed significant. Those whose wounds are not worthy are jettisoned from care. Didier Fassin observes that contemporary humanitarianism gives the illusion of a global moral community that may still be viable in the context of unprecedented inequalities around the world. It assumes that solidarity can bring redemption and requires a consciousness of inequalities. But, as Fassin points out, it is in the name of saving lives that inequalities become pronounced: whose life is worth saving and by what means? It is notable that wars waged by the United States against the Taliban in Afghanistan and against Saddam Hussein in Iraq were presented as humanitarian interventions by George W. Bush, not just matters of pre-emptive defense (an oxymoron if ever there was one). What are the limits and possibilities of revelation when it comes to specifying whose lives are valued and whose are not in the contemporary matrix of war? A key task is to defamiliarize the current picture of things by conducting a deeply contextualized and specific analysis of how things came to be as they are. Demilitarization is not the province only of arms control activism and treaty making. Stockpiled excuses for war are as toxic as the munitions and missiles that are developed to inflict violence in the name of humanity. Critically examining the practices and purposes of biomedicine is one place to start, especially for my students who imagine a future in the medical profession or in the growing sphere of humanitarian activism. 


Cooper M (2008) Life As Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Jabri V (2007) War and the Transformation of Global Politics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.
Fassin D (2009) Another Politics of Life is Possible. Theory, Culture, and Society 26(5): 44-60.