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Venereal Disease Helps the Enemy: Biopower at War

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The first half of the twentieth century marked the apex of state power, particularly during the two world wars. Naturally, the drive to standardize, regulate, optimize, and if necessary, discipline and punish the individual members of the nation-at-war also extended to sexuality. From french hand-wringing over declining fertility to the clinical challenge of venereal disease, states sought with varying success to solve these problems by organizational and technological means. In so doing, they engendered serious and inevitable cultural contradictions.From the legal and design evolution of the condom to military sex trafficking of comfort women to the revelatory experiences of black American servicemen abroad, states and militaries wrought massive and unintentional cultural shifts as they sought to extend biopower over their subjects. This talk will describe a few of them.
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Venereal Disease Helps the Enemy: Biopower at War Adam Flynn @Threadbare September 30 th , 2011 1
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Page 1: Venereal Disease Helps the Enemy: Biopower at War

Venereal Disease Helps the

Enemy: Biopower at War

Adam Flynn

@Threadbare

September 30th, 2011

1

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Contents

Measurement, power, and fuck-ups

States and war: a very short introduction

The health of nations

Total war and its discontents

Aftermaths

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Measurement, power, and fuck-ups

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Seeing like a state

Certain forms of knowledge and control require a narrowing of vision. The great advantage of such tunnel vision is that it brings into sharp focus certain limited aspects of an otherwise far more complex and unwieldy reality.

This very simplification, in turn, makes the phenomenon at the center of the field of vision more legible and hence more susceptible to careful measurement and calculation.

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State

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Metis

The destruction of metis and its replacement by standardized formulas legible only from the center is virtually inscribed in the activities of both the state and large-scale bureaucratic capitalism.

As a ‘project,’ it is the object of constant initiatives which are never entirely successful, for no forms of production or social life can be made to work by formulas alone—that is, without metis. The logic animating the project, however, is one of control and appropriation. Local knowledge, because it is dispersed and relatively autonomous, is all but un-appropriable.

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States have been working on this for a while.

Would it not be a great satisfaction to the king to know at a designated moment every year the number of his subjects, in total and by region, with all the resources, wealth & poverty of each place; [the number] of his nobility and ecclesiastics of all kinds, of men of the robe, of Catholics and of those of the other religion, all separated according to the place of their residence?

[Would it not be] a useful and necessary pleasure for him to be able, in his own office, to review in an hour's time the present and past condition of a great realm of which he is the head, and be able himself to know with certitude in what consists his grandeur, his wealth, and his strengths?

Marquis de Vauban, proposing an annual census to Louis XIV in 1686

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States and war: a very short introduction

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States are strange, especially nation-states.

An entity separate from either the people or the current rulers

Identified with the nation • Nation: an imagined community (replaces actual community),

defined by:– common language (sometimes forced on it.)

– shared history (sometimes fabricated.)

– one cultural and ethic identity (actually many.)

Worthiness judged by outcome of struggle with other nation-states

Views the health and well-being of “the people” as a responsibility

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Clausewitzian trinity I

Rational Calculatio

n

Fear and Loathing

Chance and

creativity

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Clausewitzian trinity II

Government

People Army

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Transformations of War

From this moment until such time as its enemies shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies.

The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.

–French declaration of Levee en Masse, 1793

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The health of nations

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Health of nations

Eventually, it seems evident, a general system, whether private or public, whereby all personal facts, biological and mental, normal and morbid, are duly and systematically registered, must become inevitable if we are to have a real guide as to those persons who are most fit, or most unfit to carry on the race.

Havelock Ellis, The Task of Social Hygiene

We realize that with varying wisdom man has learned to shape nature to his needs and desires. Only with his own nature has he refrained from tampering. Yet the course of civilization and any sudden change for better or worse in the human type obviously depend upon consciously or unconsciously directed modifications. Probably there is no more unprofitable assumption than that of the unalterability of human nature…

Robert Yerkes, Chimpanzees: a Laboratory Colony

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A couple of exemplars

Havelock Ellis

Robert Yerkes

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Yerkes?

The National Research Council initiates its sex research program, (USA, 1920s)

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Total war and its discontents

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Total war

There is another more obvious difference from 1914. The whole of the warring nations are engaged, not only soldiers, but the entire population, men, women and children. The fronts are everywhere to be seen. The trenches are dug in the towns and streets. Every village is fortified. Every road is barred. The front line runs through the factories. The workmen are soldiers with different weapons but the same courage.

Winston Churchill

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Prostitution, Prophylaxis, and VD

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Weimar Germany: birthplace of modern kink

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Varying approaches to troop health

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Guilt

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More guilt

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Modernist design

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Misogyny and distrust of women as a means of prevention

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Dali goes to war, sort of.

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Varying approaches to troop health

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Race

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Women

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Women’s work?

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Reflections on manhood

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Aftermaths

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Aftermath(s)

“The war was fun for America. I'm not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters. But for the rest of us, the war was a hell of a good time.”

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Thanks

Comments and feedback encouraged.

Adam [email protected]

@Threadbare


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