Time Out of Joint (War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences by Mary L. Dudziak)
31 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2013 Last revised: 27 Apr 2013
Date Written: 2013
The meaning of time in war is the topic of legal historian Mary L. Dudziak's 2012 book. This extended review essay (30 pp) considers both on its own terms of cultural criticism, and then from the standpoint of rationalist and realist critics. The book's overall cultural claim is that time in war is its own category and has effects and meaning in war independent of the considerations of security, liberty, and necessity in war that are often thought to be all that matters, with time merely an dependent cultural phenomenon.
Dudziak argues that American culture is long disposed to regard war as an extraordinary time, compared with the "normal" time of peace, a disposition reinforced by America's experience in World War II, World War I, and the Civil War, which each had sharp beginnings and endings. This sense that war is temporary helps soothe acceptance of supposedly short lived suppressions of liberty in the name of emergency and security. She argues that wartime has been historically far less fixed than the American historical imagination believes, and that particularly in the war on terror, as with the Cold War, war time that seemingly has no end brings about cultural changes that alter the culture of peacetime liberties permanently. The book concludes by arguing for resistance to the idea of war as temporary, and resistance to the idea that the tradeoffs that she finds in the war on terror should be understood as temporary.
The review essay is sympathetic to the method of cultural criticism, though critical of some of the materials deployed here. The review essay is critical of realist views (including a combative review by Eric Posner in The New Republic) that treat time as having no independent role of its own in shaping culture over long periods of war. The review essay is sympathetic to Dudziak's method as against the realist critique, but unsympathetic to her selection of materials; the review essay focuses on the early Cold War, and notes that many of its writers were exquisitely sensitive to the corrosive effects of time on culture in war; it notes in particular the science fiction writers James Blish and Robert Heinlein. At the same time, the review essay rejects the book's claim that the war on terror is actually producing those effects; it says, on the contrary, that just as the Cold War intellectuals and elites did a decent job at being aware both of the needs of security and the corrosive effects of war and time on liberty, so too the war on terror. The review essay also argues that the method of cultural criticism, while able to produce insights into the culture, is not suited to producing actual policy.
The essay closes with a Postscript that analyzes the last official speech given by Jeh Johnson, then General Counsel to the Department of Defense, in December 2012 on, suitably, the end of the conflict. It notes that Johnson expresses exactly and eloquently the anxieties about time as an independent cause of harm to American culture in a war with seemingly no end. Contrary to the views of the realists, Johnson - in an interagency cleared speech representing the broad views of the administration and the US government - articulates this anxiety about permanent war time, and offers a description of why it is harmful and what the end of this war would look like. As the essay comments, this description offers little comfort for Dudziak's policy demand to simply treat the war on terror as imagined terrors, even while coinciding with her anxiety about time in war. Johnson describes a peace in which there will be targeted killing, covert action, use of military and intelligence assets, and more.
Keywords: war on terror, terrorism, counterterrorism, wartime, peace, Cold War, World War II, Dudziak, James Blish, George Orwell, Robert Heinlein, Bertolt Brecht, Jeh C. Johnson
JEL Classification: K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation