From Total War to Perpetual Interwar
The Carnegie Mellon University Lecture Series on War and the Humanities
(A joint initiative of the Humanities Center and the Center for International Relations and Politics)
Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Pennsylvania
What range of meanings is covered by the expression total war? What do we know about its origin and mutations? Does it have any currency in 2015? This talk traces the expression’s first use during the First World War, follows its coded elaboration by 1920s air power theorists, and tracks it from its reemergence in the shadow of the Second World War to its apogee in the nuclear condition. Of particular interest is the partiality of total war—its capacity to deny the status of war to military violence wrought against peripheral spaces and colonial, often raced subjects. Although the extensiveness of total war is largely a memory today, its intensiveness and partiality live on in our drone warfare. Yet the distances and asymmetries inherent in the drone split the temporality of war, placing operators in peacetime and targets in wartime. The talk ends by characterizing this split temporality, now the normative time of the state, as a perpetual interwar.
Sponsored by the Center for International Relations and Politics, the Humanities Center, and the Humanities Scholars Program.