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Life During War Time/Peace Time

Thursday, Feb 2, 2012

By Bronte Lawson Silverstein

Photos by Maria Iacobo

The USC Gould School of Law hosted a book launch symposium last week for Prof. Mary Dudziak, the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science.

Prof. Mary Dudziak

Dudziak’s newest published work, War * Time, An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, addresses how wartime and peacetime have become relatively indistinguishable in modern America and how this impacts the legality of national security.  
“We have to think about what we are as a nation and how we exist in the world,” Dudziak said to a crowd of students, staff and faculty. “What we see today is a greater isolation of the American people from the costs of war. War is waged in a way that doesn’t bother the American people.”
Dudziak discussed the primary factors that she believes led to this isolation – the lack of a military draft, the outsourcing of military jobs and the rise of technology.
“Far fewer Americans have a family member that is serving in the military today,” Dudziak said. “In Vietnam we had a 16 to one troops to contractor ratio. Today it’s one to one. Plus, smart bomb technology means that war looks clean, precise and has little collateral damage.”
Various speakers gave presentations at the symposium that addressed the principles of Dudziak’s book as well as gave personal reflections and responses to the subject matter.
Elaine Tyler May, Regents Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Minnesota and author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, began the symposium with a multimedia presentation on how the perception of war has evolved domestically.
“Mary’s book is profound, provocative, timely and original,” May said. “Over the last half-century war has become a way of life, yet the horrors of war are largely hidden.”
May complemented her presentation by showing the audience past presidential ad campaigns, old newspaper clippings and current Internet advertisements that illustrate the country’s obsession with national security, and how the term “war” has come to encompass such societal issues as drugs, poverty and even cancer.  Audience members erupted in laughter as May showed a current online advertisement for a “quantum sleeper” – a bulletproof protective chamber that can be installed in your home to protect against Bio-Chemical terrorist attacks.

Prof. Tushnet and Prof. Brown

“Wartime is the prevailing metaphor for domestic life,” May said. “The perfect symbol is the sport utility vehicle. Families often purchase them because they promise safety – however they are actually more prone to rollovers. Fear of crime far exceeds crime statistics.”
Lynn A. Hunt, Professor of History at UCLA and author of Measuring Time: Making History followed with a presentation on how ambiguity between war and peace affects the law.
“Mary addresses the legal and political consequences of the changing construction of wartime,” Hunt said. “This book enables us to think productively about the future rather than looking for a nostalgic anchor in the past.”
Hilary Schor, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies and Law and author of Curious Subjects: Woman and the Trials of Realism began her presentation by playing the song “Life During Wartime” by The Talking Heads and urged audience members to get up and dance.
“Mary has managed to write a book that is completely compelling yet has no love story,” Schor joked. “The question of how we came to live in perpetual warfare is not an easy question to answer.”
Patrick James, Professor of International Relations, Director of the Center for International Relations at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science and author of Religion, Identity and Global Governance spoke about how he thinks the book is invaluable for readers in all fields of study.
“I think we should make it extremely difficult for the government to use force,” James said.  “How far do we go in violating the constitution to preserve the constitution?”
Robert Rasmussen, Dean of USC Law served as a moderator for a panel discussion, where audience members questioned the speakers about their presentations.

Prof. May, Prof. James, Prof. Hunt and Prof. Schor

One audience member stood and gave a personal account of how the American people have become isolated from the military.  He recounted that when his son returned from tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan that he did not feel comfortable discussing his experiences with his family, claiming they “would not understand.”
“Nixon knew that if he ended the draft there would be no anti-war movement,” Prof. Elaine Tyler May said. “There would be nothing constricting the president from going to war.”
Dudziak later added that the isolation occurs because war doesn’t affect those at home.
“There are many different measures of isolation of the American people from the American wars,” she said. “This in part comes from the fact that for the United States, war happens somewhere else.”
Mark Tushnet, the William Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of The New Constitutional Order flew out to Los Angeles to speak at the symposium. He spoke about the book’s implications for constitutional law.
“There’s no difference between how we think of the constitution during wartime and peacetime because there is no difference between the two,” Tushnet said.
His presentation focused on how the metaphor of war pervades the American people’s general political discourse.  Finding a cure for cancer has become known as, “The War On Cancer.”  Keeping the nation’s youth away from drugs has become known as, “The War on Drugs,” he explained.
Tushnet used examples from current affairs to guide his presentation, including the recent Supreme Court ruling that limits the use of GPS tracking as a way for police to survey persons of interest.  He drew parallels from the ruling to illustrate the difference between ordinary administrative laws and national security laws.  Although the case involved the “War on Drugs” the Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of human rights, Tushnet said.
Rebecca Brown, USC Law’s Newton Professor of Constitutional and co-author of Constitutional Theory: Arguments and Perspectives added her personal insight to Tushnet’s presentation.
She began by making a metaphor of “Harry the Dirty Dog,” a children’s book.  Brown explained how the book follows a white dog with black spots named Harry that gets free from his family and goes on an adventure.  He rolls in dirt and ends up looking more like a black dog with white spots.  When Harry returns home to his family, he is unrecognizable.
“Mary has shown us that, like Harry, our nation as peaceful with moments of war is more likely a nation of war with moments of peace,” Brown said.
Brown questioned whether a set of constitutional laws and procedures should be created that deal exclusively for war and times of emergency. She predicts that the insight from Dudziak’s book will have a profound effect on constitutional law.
“There is one lesson to learn from Mary’s book,” Brown said. “Wartime is not the time to defer to the executive branch. Some of the biggest mistakes come from over-trusting the government during times of war.”
“If we de-sensationalize war we could see it as an administration problem and make rationalized decisions about it,” Prof. Schor interjected.
Dudziak concluded the symposium with responses to the presentations and by re-iterating an important facet of her book - how the American military has become a forceful global presence.  
“When we think about how we safeguard the nation and how we protect ourselves against threats,” Dudziak said. “It’s not through multilateral diplomacy. It’s not through multilateral anything really, and it’s not through the enforcement of limits on bad guys through international law. We keep ourselves safe through the projection of American force around the world.”
Dudziak recounted an experience she had at a recent presentation by a representative from the Department of Homeland Security. She asked the presenter, “What is the definition of homeland?” and he did not have an answer. The audience offered their ideas, and came to a consensus that what the “homeland” is “depends on what statue or regulation is at issue.”
Dudziak claimed that that experience inspired a project she is considering – to digitally map “the homeland.”
“It would take a couple of years, legions of students, a geographer and someone who knows how to do the computer work,” Dudziak said. “But if you can imagine all the layers, if we take all those statues and regulations, and we represent it in a 3D image then I think we would be able to see where it is exactly that the state exists in the world.”
Dudziak ended the symposium with an all-encompassing, provocative final thought for the audience members.
“I think the only way to re-shift the balance is to make the experience of war more intimate and painful to the American people so that they pay attention to what the state is doing in their name,” she said.  “That we take responsibility for it, that the American people come face to face with American war power and conflict management to make a decision of what we want to be in the world.”

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