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Gross Old Men Are Hot and Bothered by War

Dropping bombs is sold as a way to liberate women, but it's also how some men get off.

Ex-leftist David Horowitz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo via Mark Taylor

In a scene near the beginning of David Burr Gerard’s acclaimed debut novel Short Century, journalist Arthur Hunt attends the assassination-by-drone-strike of "Little Brother," a dictator in a Muslim-African country referred to only as REDACTED. A 1960s leftist-turned-warmongering scribe, Hunt is invited to press the "kill" button by Sheila, a CIA source who has just given him an erection.

“The very model of the modern moral warrior, every inch of her," he recounts. "I imagined lifting her up on to her control panel, spreading her legs, and pushing her clit into the button before impaling her on the joystick, all while I readied my sleepy dick.”

The obliteration of Little Brother ends up taking out a burqa-clad civilian, but Hunt gives the collateral damage a feminist spin, congratulating himself for freeing other, still-breathing women in burqas from the grasp of tyranny. His support for imperial bloodletting doesn’t simply emerge from the humanitarian depths of his soul, however: he’s seeking atonement for a past incestuous relationship with his sister.

It may be a novel, but it's more than just fiction.

The collaborative clutching of the joystick by representatives of the state and the press corps is acutely symbolic of the contemporary panorama in the US, where military destruction conceived of in a gendered, sexualized manner is somehow thought capable of bringing about gender equality and sexual liberation in targeted nations.

WWI propaganda poster. Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

Take one particularly egregious case: New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, a partner in incestuous relationships with corporations, banks, and other bellicose entities whose bidding he routinely does in exchange for wealth and fame. Friedman’s CV features one of the filthiest instances of war boosting by the press in recorded history. A few months into the Iraq War in 2003, he appeared on Charlie Rose’s television show to announce his discovery of the real reason for the war, which was to burst the “terrorism bubble” that had emerged in “that part of the world” and had made itself known on 9/11.

Clasping his metaphorical joystick, Friedman outlined a strategy for dealing with a country that had nothing to do with that date: “What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad, um, and basically saying: ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society; you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna let it grow? Well. Suck. On. This.’”

The precise role of the American girls in the collective Iraqi blowjob was never explained, but the emphasis on America as an equal opportunity destroyer ties back to Hunt’s promotion of the CIA's Sheila as the vanguard of civilization. Because we’re so fancy, with our democracy and women’s rights and all, the thinking goes, the Arab world is lucky to be on the receiving end of our civilizing destruction.

In other venues of the War on Terror, meanwhile, co-ed military house calls from Kabul to Kandahar have offered similar learning experiences for the natives. According to Friedman, POWs at Bagram Air Base were treated to a “mind-bending experience” in which they went from “being in Al Qaeda, living, as James Michener put it, ‘in this cruel land of recurring ugliness, where only men were seen,’ and then suddenly being guarded by a woman with blond locks spilling out from under her helmet and an M16 hanging from her side.”

Not only do modern women rock the blond lock-M16 combination, they also kill. In 2002, Friedman summarized the contents of an Atlantic Monthly article about a female F-15 bombardier who drops a 500-pound explosive onto a Taliban truck caravan: “As the caravan is vaporized, the F-15 pilot shouts down at the Taliban—as if they could hear him from 20,000 feet—‘You have just been killed by a girl.’”

One can debate whether 20,000 feet or vaporization constitutes a greater impediment to hearing. But it’s pretty clear that gendered taunts by trigger-happy pilots and the journalists who quote them do little in the way of dismantling traditional gender barriers. In other words, because the supposedly female-empowering bomb-dropping perpetuates rather than overturns the stereotype of women as the weaker sex, the vaporized Taliban might be forgiven for missing the moral of the story.

Christopher Hitchens (left) with Twitter user @RichardDawkins. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The late Christopher Hitchens—an ex-leftist whose seduction by war appears to have been closely replicated by Hunt’s character—became another champion of the notion that bombs set you free, predictably describing Afghanistan as the place “where American women pilots kill the men who enslave women.”

As author Richard Seymour has noted, Hitchens penned the following prescient analysis in 1985, long before his conversion: “To be able to bray that 'as a liberal, I say bomb the shit out of them,' is to have achieved that eye-catching, versatile marketability that is so beloved of editors and talk-show hosts. As a life-long socialist, I say don't let's bomb the shit out of them. See what I mean? It lacks the sex appeal, somehow.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he also acknowledged “the relationship between sex and cruelty.”

As these men tell it, war is all about women. The fictional Hunt contends that war is a fight “for the right of women not to be raped by the sons of a dictator”—that all across the Middle East, “the sexual revolution would arrive by tank”—while the all-too-real Friedman is convinced that the ladies of the region are begging for rescue. (The proof? A Saudi woman once purportedly emailed him: “I dream of having all my rights as a human being. Saudi women need your pen, Mr. Friedman.”)

We could laugh, but advocating war as liberation has real, negative consequences for women—not to mention other living and non-living things. After all, what is imperial war if not the mass rape of nations and cultures? Within the general context of indiscriminate violation, individual rape cases also abound; in fact, war and rape pretty much go together like bees and honey. The epidemic of rape in the US military confirms that the inhabitants of nations under attack are not the only ones eligible for penetration, and creates more problems for proponents of the military-as-bastion-of-equality model.

The question remains: why are some people so turned on by war? For many of the same reasons rape is still, in certain (creepy) quarters, seen as arousing. Both exercises have to do, obviously, with the violent subjugation of the “other,” which inspires feelings of power and domination. But it’s all quote pathetic, particularly in the age of drone warfare. The military and CIA personnel performing operations are so far removed from the scene of death and destruction that the people who get off on drone strikes can almost be said to be having a doubly vicarious experience. It’s kind of like getting off watching someone in a movie watch porn.

In the meantime, one can’t help but wonder if pro-war ejaculations in the press don’t stem in some cases from fears of inadequacy in bed, which are resolved via the appropriation of the US war machine as honorary genitalia. And the appropriators are in luck, because we’ll be fucking the world for the foreseeable future.

Follow Belén Fernández on Twitter.