Ostriches in America

Agnes Chauvet
Wednesday 29 July 2015

The only way one can know the world is through discourse, or the use of language. Objects do not exist as unit prior to language rather, language creates the objects it represents as it speaks about them. For example, Danger or Threat is not an objective condition that exists independently of the subject, it is an effect of interpretation. Everything is interpretation and representation and there is no such thing as an objective knowledge. How we represent objects such as threat is a result of complex relationships of power such as norms, institutions and economic processes. Therefore, knowledge (or the ability to create a consensus about the way to represent thins) is power.

How does this relates to international relations and our understanding of war ? If objects do not precede dicourse then what we view as threats to our security or the enemies of our nation, are not facts. Facts do not speak for themselves so rather they must be considered as a representations. Therefore, if we are to understand the causes of war we need to look at how the enemy and the threat are represented or created to legitimate military intervention.

Hence, my project looked at the representation of threat and the enemy in presidential speeches and visualmedia (mainly political cartoons) in the lead up to the Second World War and the War on terror. I attempted to draw parallels in the way war was legitimated through discourse at two different epochs.

What does this have to do with Ostriches ? One of the interesting findings of my research project was the way Franklin D. Roosevelt dealt with isolationsim at home in order to lead the US into the Second World War. In fact, isolationist did not see war in Europe as a threat to American interest. Therefore, FDR who wanted to help Great Britain and he delegitimized isolationists by portraying them as ostriches burying their heads into the sand, lacking the common sense to identify the growing threat in Europe. This was, I thought, a good illustration of the fact that threat does not exist objectively and independently of the people who interpret it, and of the ways resistance to official discourse was delegitimized.

Dr Seuss
We always were suckers for ridiculous hats…, April 29, 1941, Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons. Special Collection & Archives, UC San Diego Library

Overall, I have really enjoyed doing this research project, despite the ups and downs and the moments of self-doubt. I was surprised at the amount of similarities I found in the way enemies and threats were represented in presidential addresses at two different epochs. I was also amazed about the extent to which political cartoons did reproduce the official discourse. I am looking forward to the poster presentation to hear more about all the other projects and give you a broader insight on my findings!

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