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Rhetoric in History as Theory and Praxis: A Blast from the Past

Author(s): Thomas B. Farrell


Source: Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 41, No. 4, Inventing the Potential of Rhetorical
CultureThe Work and Legacy of Thomas B. Farrell (2008), pp. 323-336
Published by: Penn State University Press
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^
Rhetoric in
History
as
Theory
and Praxis:
*:
r;
A Blast from the Past
Thomas B. Farrell
Philosophies
of
history
have fallen
on
hard times. Grand comic metanarratives were
the first
casualty, auguring ironically
in the
futility
of their own
pronouncements.
Positive and
negative teleologies
were next to
fall. But if finalized themes
and
Utopian
schemes
are not
exactly
in
vogue,
it remains the case
that his
tory?as systematic
documentation and reminiscence about the
past?is
and must be
ongoing.
This is
transparently
because
things
that matter con
tinue to
happen:
with
ideas, cultures,
nature itself. And
even if we never
really
learn from
history,
all other
things being equal, history
has shown
that it is
helpful
to
keep
careful records. In an
age
that
personalizes nearly
everything,
it is
easy
enough
to
recognize
the familiar dissociation of act
and
accountability
on a
personal
scale. What
may appear
as
nothing
more
serious than
petty truancy
for
a
person may
become
amnesia, revisionism,
and much worse
when the
zone
of
accountability
is
widened,
the deeds
are
deepened,
the stakes
are
increased. In each
case,
the
argument
is the
same:
identification
through
a sort of
opaque
empathy.
In
short, you
had
to be there.
I intend this
essay
to be
a
meditation
on some of the
ways my
amor
phous
area
of
study,
rhetorical
theory,
finds itself
implicated
with
history,
some
possible
avenues it
may open
for invention and
judgment
in
history.
Time
permitting,
I will also hazard
a
speculation
on
that
great
chimera
Philosophy
and
Rhetoric,
Vol.
41,
No.
4,
2008
Copyright
? 2008 The
Pennsylvania
State
University, University
Park,
PA
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
that
dangles
before fields of
scholarship
and historical
projects
alike: that
of
progress.
Aristotles famous definition of
rhetoric,
"that its function is not to
persuade
but to see
the available
means
of
persuasion
in each case"
(1991,35),
begins
my
inquiry
in a
productively ambiguous way.
For
one
thing,
the defi
nition locates the function of rhetoric
directly
within the
sphere
of human
history, through
the terms available and in each
case.
For unless we
believe
that
means
of
persuasion
are
fixed and that
cases are
eternally recurring,
what the rhetorician "sees" must
vary
with the times. A second note
may
be in order here. For Aristotles
term
for
seeing,
theoresai,
also
happens
to
be the Greek
root term for what
we
call
"theory."
In its most fundamental
sense,
then,
the ocular-centered aesthetic of Greek tradition
gives
us
theory
as a
mode of
"seeing.
"I could add at this
point
that this
"seeing"
needs to be
shared with others and that there
are
many ways
of
"seeing,"
but this
may
be
a
less-than-productive ambiguity, given
my
aims here.
Instead,
I wish
to consider three distinct construals of what sort of
practice
rhetoric
is,
along
with some
implications
of these construals for the
place
of rhetoric
as
theory
and
practice
in human
history.
These three
con
struals
are rhetoric
as
productive
art,
rhetoric
as constitutive
art,
and rhetoric
as inventional art.
We
begin
with the
conception
of rhetoric
as
productive
art.
Simply
put,
this means that rhetoric makes
things, pro
to
typically speeches.
Such
a
conception,
like the other two I will be
discussing,
has ebbed and flowed
throughout
the
long history
of rhetorical tradition. The
Sophists,
when
not
purporting
to teach
virtue,
did
profess
their
competence
in
instructing
others
how
to create
persuasive
documents. Such
a
preoccupation
also
appears
in
rhetorics of belles lettres and elocution.
Today
it
can
be found in modern
composition
curricula and in the rather different world of the
professional
speechwriter.
There have been
very
few
attempts
to link
an
exclusively productive
art
conception
of rhetoric to Aristotle and still fewer successful
attempts.
To view the
matter this
way,
one would need
to think of the Rhetoric and
the Poetics
as
essentially parallel
documents
(one
makes
poems;
the
other,
speeches).
One would also have to
ignore
a
wealth of
disconfirming
evidence.
Nonetheless,
Alan G. Gross is able
to write
(in
the
aptly
titled collection
Rereading
Aristotles
"Rhetoric'),
'"What did Aristotle
mean
by
rhetoric?' At
this
juncture,
I
can
do little
more
than reiterate
my
claim that rhetoric is
a
productive
art,
and
only
a
productive
art"
(2000, 35). George Kennedy,
the
translator of
our earlier
passage,
sees the matter rather
differently:
"What
324
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rhetoric in
history
kind of art is rhetoric? Insofar
as it involves
creativity,
rhetoric,
like
poet
ics,
might
be
a
productive
art,
but Aristotle fails to make the identification.
Rhetoric in his view does
not
produce
oratory
in the
same sense
that
poetics
produces poetry,
for it stands
at a
different
stage
in the
productive process.
What rhetoric
does,
in Aristotle's
view,
is 'to discover
[theoresai]
the avail
able
means of
persuasion (i.i.i355b25~6).
It is thus a
theoretical
activity
and
discovers
knowledge" (1980, 63).
What Aristotle
really
meant
by
rhetoric,
of
course,
is
a
topic thankfully beyond
the
scope
of this
undertaking.
I
am
first interested in the
implications
of the
productive
art
conception
of rheto
ric for the
place
and
purpose
of rhetoric in
history.
And there
certainly
are
such
implications.
The
products
of rhetoric
obviously
do
emerge
in
history,
so
speeches
may
be
regarded
as a
kind of data:
an
index
perhaps
as to the
preoc
cupations
of
a
given period. Anything
else? In
candor,
not that much.
The role and
place
of
theory
in
history
are even
further constrained.
Long
ago,
I
dimly
recall
a
controversy
in the
journals
of
my
discipline
over
whether it was
permissible
to use
theoretical
assumptions
or
lore from
beyond
the immediate time under
study
in order to reconstruct and
appre
ciate the
speeches
of
a
prior period.
I must concede
that,
long
ago,
the fact
that this was even a live issue struck
me as
lunacy
For the
productive
art
conception,
not
only
is rhetorical
practice
frozen
in
time,
but rhetorical
theory
must
become retro in order to even
study
it.
So much for
practical theory.
This
may
be well and
good
for the mundane
quotidian
of rhetorical
speeches
in an era.
But most
scholars do not
wish to
study
such
speeches, preferring
instead
to
ponder
the
eloquent
(or
meretri
cious)
exception.
And this is the most
conspicuous
defect of the
productive
art
conception.
Rhetoric is
seen,
for want of
any alternative,
to be
utterly
beholden to the
primary
lifeworld
assumptions
of
an era.
And while there
is a
kind of "truth" here
(i.e.,
most
rhetoric tends to
rely
on
accessible cul
tural
conventions),
it is
just
not a
terribly interesting
truth.
A
second,
increasingly prominent conception
of rhetoric has been
called constitutive rhetoric. This
conception
tends to
subordinate the
singu
lar
speech product
to a more
broad-based but elusive rhetorical
phenom
enon:
namely,
the
tendency
of some
rhetorical
practice
not
only
to
adapt
to
preconceived
cultural convictions and conventions but to
enact?through
the fact and
technique
of its
utterances?essentially
novel and
even
unprec
edented modes of consciousness and affiliation.
The
principle
modern theorist of this constitutive function has been
my
colleague
Maurice Charland. In his
position,
Charland
(1987) explicitly
distinguishes
constitutive rhetoric from what he
regards
as
the traditional
325
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
"persuasion" paradigm.
Moreover,
he makes the
provocative
claim that
rhetorics constitutive function
may
well be
prior
to rhetorics
persuasive
function. Before
a
collectivity
may
be
persuaded
to
act,
they obviously
need
to be
enjoined
as a
collectivity.
Charland
finds,
within the constitutive rhetoric
function,
an
interest
ing convergence
of rhetoric
as
practice
and rhetoric as
theory.
This mode
of rhetoric is
obviously
identifiable
as a
genre.
And
just
in case it is
not,
Charland offers the
fascinating
illustrative
case
of the rhetoric of the
Quebecois
separatist
movement in Canada. More
recently,
he offers the
case
of
pseudo-patriot
John
Rael's
quixotic quest
to
separate
the western
Canadian
provinces
from the
emerging
national
government.
Yet Charland
also
argues
that constitutive rhetoric
may
be understood as
theory,
to the
extent that it offers
a
rhetorical examination of
identity
formation for vari
ous sorts of social collectivities.
Indebted in
equal parts
to
Althusser and Kenneth
Burke,
the modern
understanding
of constitutive rhetoric offers
one
of the
more
promising
approaches
to a
critical communication
theory. Following
a
couple
of chari
table
emendations,
I
go
on to
explore
some of its
implications
for the work
of rhetoric in
history.
My suggestions
are
primarily
intended
to
deepen
and broaden this rich
concept.
For
instance,
Charland is
surely
correct that
Aristotle,
in the Rhet
oric,
nowhere addressed the
question
of how rhetoric
might
collectivize and
constitute
previously
unaffiliated
groups
of
persons.
He
famously
assumed
that the
collectivity
was
already
there and that
our
highest
commitment
was
to its institutional formation.
However,
there is a
long-standing tendency
in rhetorical
practice
to
perform
many
of the constitutive functions Char
land
suggests.
In Isocmt^s Antidosis
(2000),
the
author-speaker
goes
into
excruciating demographic
detail in order
to
distinguish
his civic-minded
and self-reflective audience from the
"sycophants"
who
persist
in
unfairly
hounding
him. And note this
passage
from the most famous of the Attic
orators, Demosthenes,
from On the Crown: "But who sent reinforcements
to the
Byzantines
and delivered them? Who
prevented
the
estrangement
of the
Hellespont
at that crisis?
You,
men of
Athens;
and when I
say you,
I mean the entire
city" (1939,75).
So,
I would
suggest
that what Charland has
identified is
a
function of rhetoric
that,
despite
its
prescriptive
and emanci
patory
character, may
be
as
old
as
the traditions of rhetorical
practice.
The
concept
of constitutive rhetoric
may also,
I
believe,
be broadened
without loss of
meaning
or resonance. In addition
to
constituting
collective
identities in
"founding
moments,"
rhetoric
may
also constitute
problems,
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rhetoric in
history
projects,
and
even
historic conditions. When
Betty
Friedan first addressed
"the
problem
that has
no
name,"
she was
able to
collectivize what had hith
erto been
seen as a set of
disparate
conditions in American
women
of the
fifties
(neurosis, loneliness, alcoholism,
suicidal
depression)
and
reconfigure
these
as
"sexism,"
with The Feminine
Mystique (2001,15-32).
Perhaps
the most
proficient
constitutive rhetorician in America in the
last
century
was
Franklin Roosevelt. In his two
greatest addresses,
nearly
nine
years apart,
he was
able to
reconfigure
historical
episodes
themselves
in a most
intriguing way.
In his first
inaugural
address,
Roosevelt not
only
reconstituted the causes of the Great
Depression
as
human
failings:
"those
of the rulers of
exchange
over
mankind's
goods."
But more
subtly,
he situ
ated their failure in the
past
tense:
"[They]
have admitted their
failure,
and
have abdicated." He adds that the
"money-changers
have fled from their
high
seats" and that "we
may
now restore the
temple
to its ancient truths"
(1933).
True,
Roosevelt did reconstitute an
energized
and
optimistic body
politic
with this address. But
equally
as
important,
he also reconstituted the
depression
itself
as
something humanly manageable, something
that
might
be
engaged
and
even
conquered.
In his declaration of
war,
following
a
largely reportorial
vilification
of the
Japanese imperial government,
Roosevelt concluded
by asking
the
Congress
to
declare that "since December
7th
1941,
a state of war
has existed
between the United States and the
Japanese Empire" (1941).
In
refiguring
the time
sequence
of decision and
action,
the
president
was
able to take
war
outside the realm of
deliberation,
rendering
the wartime condition and
accompanying
war
culture to be
a
fait
accompli.
The
concept
of constitutive rhetoric does much to
remedy
the defi
ciencies of the
productive
art
concept.
It
brings
rhetorical
practice
more
directly
within the
sphere
of human
history through
its
capacity
to
name,
make,
and "found" visions of the
new
collectivity.
It also
brings
the audience
more
directly
into the
picture
as a
co-participant
in the
emergence
of such
identity. Finally,
it sustains a
productively ambiguous relationship
between
theory
and
practice,
with
theory emerging
as
the architecture
or
plot
out
line for
ongoing
historical
episodes.
What
remains,
to a
degree, opaque
in the constitutive view is the
way
it
imagines history
itself to
be "seen." The
productive
art
view,
like
everything
else about
it,
is
transparently
mundane.
History
is seen as
simple periodic
ity,
with
chronology
the closest
thing
there is to a
plot.
Rhetorical
practice
accommodates these
successions,
with rhetorical
theory moving
its
lips
to
sing along.
But
perhaps
because it is more
complex,
the constitutive view is
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
more
difficult
to
place.
It seems conscious of rhetorics
own
precarious
occupation
of
contingency,
the
degree
that rhetoric finds itself
situated,
as
Lukacs
memorably
intoned,
in the
"pernicious
chasm" between
past
and
future
(1972,
204).
This is
entirely plausible,
for
episodes
of
ongoing
human
history
are
often
experienced
as
highly
contested themes and
captions.
Yet
it is also the
case
that
not
every
such durational
contingency
is able
to
yield
up "founding
moments." Gustav
Mayer
wrote,
in his
1933
study
of
Engels:
Since Marx
was
officially
exiled from
France,
Engels
decided,
in
August
1846,
to shift his residence
to the French
capital
so that he
could meet with the German
proletarians
who were
living
there and
recruit them for the
cause of
revolutionary
communism. As it
hap
pened,
however,
the tailors and cabinetmakers and leatherworkers
whom Griin
was
trying
to convert had
nothing
in common with
the
proletarian
type
on
whom
Engels
was
counting.
. . .
Paris
was
the
headquarters
of fashion and of the arts and
crafts;
most of the
German workers who had
come
there
to better their
position
in the
trade,
and then return home
as master
craftsmen,
were still imbued
with the old
spirit
of the
guild, (quoted
in
Benjamin 1999,728)
Mayer
concludes,
"If an
agitator
is to
achieve
lasting
results,
he
must
speak
as
the
representative
of
a
body
of
opinion.
. . .
Engels
must have realized
this
during
his first visit to Paris"
(quoted
in
Benjamin
1999,729;
see
Mayer
1969).
One wonders if the
theorist, any
more
than the rhetorical
agent,
has
any larger
sense of the decorum writ
large,
the kairos of
recognition
required
for
proper engagement
with such occasions.
As
a transition
to our third construal of rhetorical
theory
and
practice
in
history,
what I
am
calling
the inventional
conception,
I want to renew
attention
to an
old
problematic
for critical communication and rhetoric:
What do
we
do about the
past?
Aristotle's notorious comment that the
past
had
no modalities
(other
than the
"impossible")
since
we cannot deliberate
about it seems to be in some tension with his view of forensic
rhetoric,
where
we at least
seem to be
engaged
in deliberation
over the
guilt
and innocence
of
parties
to
past
actions. The mode of
inquiry
to which constitutive rheto
ric seems most
indebted,
a
Hegelian-derived
Marxist
dialectic,
does
not
seem to be much
help
either,
at least
to rhetoric. This is the view that finds
failed
founding
moments to be
conceptual
ruins of exhausted
possibilities.
So
religion
is
"surpassed" by philosophy, philosophy
is
"surpassed" by history,
history
is
"surpassed" by politics,
and
so on.
In
my
humble
opinion,
the
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rhetoric in
history
entire ill-fated
poststructuralist
adventure
owes
itself to
just
such
conceptual
totalizing. Concepts,
introduced
to
history,
either
are
realized
or
discarded.
And either
way,
their normative
potential
is exhausted.
The
approach
to inventional rhetoric I am
championing
has sources
both ancient and modern. Earlier I noted that Aristotle's construal of rhet
oric's function was a sort of
seeing
marked
by
both
"availability"
and the
configuration
of a
given
case.
Each of the latter
qualifiers
should direct
us to
history.
Aristotle,
of
course,
has
no
recorded
philosophy
or
theory
of
history
(other
than his
fascinating
reflections
on
reminiscence).
But this
should not deter
us.
Over and
against
the "exhaustion"
hypothesis,
the inventional
concept
of rhetoric would embrace Arendt's
argument
that the tributaries of action
and
agency
are
ongoing
and nonfinalizable. And instead of
holding
rhetori
cal
practice only
accountable
to
what extant lifeworld cultural conventions
simply
were
there,
the dialectic of
an
inventional
history places
rhetoric
between what is at least
seen to
be
an event and what is held to be
a
wish.
The mediation of this dialectic is the
audience,
no
longer
seen to be
simply
a
constituted consciousness of rhetoric
but, rather,
both
a
signifier
of event
fulness
(it
will not
simply
be whatever
we
wish it to
be)
and
a
repository
of the wish
(eventually,
it is
likely
to
wish to be
something).
Most
impor
tant,
what I am
regarding
as
the inventional
approach
to
history
does not
remove
"modalities" of
possibility, potentiality,
and even
recovery
from what
is
past.
Instead,
it searches for normative
energy
and alternative
possibility
within the often obscure
appearances
of these
episodes. Historically,
then,
rhetoric is a
succession of available and unavailable means
of
persuasion.
The
contingency
of the former cannot be
grasped adequately
without the
background
horizon of the latter.
Despite
my
disparaging
view of the
productive
art
concept,
I
readily
concede that
a
rich view of how rhetoric as
theory
and
practice performs
within
history
would
actually merge
all three views.
Obviously,
one
of the
things
rhetorical
practice
does,
although
it is far from the
only thing,
is make
speech. Perhaps
less
obviously,
but at least
occasionally
true,
rhetoric works
in a
transformational
manner,
anticipating potential
commonalities that
have
yet
to
be articulated. But for
a
fuller
picture
of the roads not
taken and
dormant
potentialities
that
may yet
be available from the
past,
I believe we
need to renew our attention to
the
place
of rhetoric in inventional
history.
Inventional
history,
as I have been
characterizing
it,
works
as a
sort
of
contrary
to revisionist
history.
Instead of
rereading
the
past,
as
a
convenient valorization of whatever version of the
present
we
find
329
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
most
comfortable,
inventional
history
sets out to
find out
why
and how
the
spoken
and transmitted version of
past experience
comes to us
the
way
it does. In
this,
it owes
much to Walter
Benjamin's
"Thesis
on
the
Philosophy
of
History,"
his eccentric meditations
on
the
plight
of reflec
tive
subjectivity
in the midst of
clashing
dialectical forces. In
particular,
it takes
inspiration
from
Benjamin's
avowal to "seize hold of
a
memory
as it flashes
up
at a moment of
danger" (1968, 255).
This aim is well
described
by Benjamin's principal European
commentator,
Giorgio
Agamben: "Benjamin
therefore has in mind
a
relation to the
past
that
would both shake off the
past
and
bring
it into the hands of
humanity,
which amounts to a
very
unusual
way
of
conceiving
of the
problem
of
tradition. Here tradition does
not aim to
perpetuate
and
repeat
the
past
but to lead to its decline in a context in which
past
and
present,
con
tent of transmission and act of
transmission,
what is
unique
and what is
repeatable
are
wholly
identified"
(1999,153).
As
Benjamin puts
the mat
ter,
"It's not that what is
past
casts its
light
on
what is
present,
or what is
present
its
light
on
what is
past;
rather,
image
is that wherein what has
been
comes
together
in a flash with the
now to form
a
constellation. In
other
words,
image
is dialectics
at a
standstill"
(1999,462).
AN EXCURSUS ON WORLD WAR II! FIVE PUBLIC "SILENCES"
The
"image"
I wish to
consider,
as a
crude illustration of inventional
history,
needs
no
dusting
off
or
replication.
It is
probably
the most famous
image
of the latter twentieth
century,
the birth trauma of a "new
age."
It is the
mushroom cloud
over
Hiroshima or?several
days later?Nagasaki.
Where
my
earlier inventional dialectic is
concerned,
the atomic bomb would
most
likely
be assimilated into the
category
of event.
Surely
it ushered in a
por
tentous new
age; just
as
surely,
once
created,
it cannot be uninvented. But it
would nonetheless be
an uncomfortable
assimilation,
one in which
we must
rely
upon
and
repeat
the meretricious
mythologies
from the
past.
To
bring
my
own rhetorician's
subjectivity
into the
picture,
my
sense
of the silences
making
this event
possible began
to
emerge
during
my
rhe
torical
history
class
over the
past couple
of weeks. I had been
scrambling
(as
I
have,
over
nearly
a
quarter century)
to make the
"epochal
events" of
World War II accessible
to
yet
another
new
generation.
At
one
point,
I rather
glibly
remarked that there
was a
"conspiracy
of silence" about
World War II
by
and from the
people
who
fought
it,
a
conspiracy
that
has held intact almost until the
present day.
I added that the
propaganda
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rhetoric in
history
surrounding
this
war was so
good
that it continued to be the dominant
story
line
surrounding
the
war.
I was
alluding
to the
modern-day
"heart of the historical
order/'
Studs
Terkel's "The Good War"
(1984),
Peter
Jennings
and Todd Brewster's The
Century (1998),
and Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation
(1998).
Com
bined with the silence of most
veterans,
and the
totalizing critique
mounted
by
exiled
European
critical
theorists,
the war
simply
becomes
good people,
mobilizing away
for a
just
cause,
only
to
suddenly
be confronted with the
apotheosis
of the machine
age:
"the dialectical
image."
This scrambled version of
things
seemed to
satisfy
most of
my
students
(it
being,
after
all,
spring).
Until one of
my
students
slyly inquired during
the
break,
"So Dr.
Farrell,
what were
all these
people
silent about?"
My
colleagues
will
quickly recognize
this
question
as
confronting your
author
with
a
pedagogical aporia.
After
all,
if
no one is
talking,
and
they
continue
to be
silent,
how can we
know what
they
are not
talking
about? I
responded
by saying, "Stay
tuned,"
a
professorial
version of the common
locution: "No
problem."
But
problem
it was.
What
appears conspicuous
to one era
may
be
utterly
unseen
by
another,
and it is?as Bob Scott has noted and
many
an
administrator have
experienced?always dangerous
to attribute inten
tionality
to the silences in our
lives.
Nonetheless,
with the benefit of
some
hindsight,
some
research,
and
a
bit of
chutzpah,
here are
my
candidates for
the five
public
silences of World War II.
The Costs of War
This
may
be
regarded
as a
standard silence
during
wartime. The
mystery
of morale turns
upon
such
silences,
whatever
we
think of them
"morally."
This was
the first
truly
"visual war"
(in
the sense
of
being
open
to
documen
tation
by sight).
And it became a war
in which
unspoken
conventions of
representation pervaded
the "war culture" of the visual. The most
famous
photograph
of the
war,
the
raising
of the
flag
at Iwo
Jima
emphatically
does
not
show the faces of the GIs but instead treats them as
part
of a
seamless
organism marking
a
successful
conquest.
In
fact,
four of the six
flag
rais
ers
died after the
photograph
was
taken,
a
footnote not
"known" until
very
recently.
It
was
also taboo to
show the faces of dead and
dying
soldiers,
and
it remains so to this
day.
When
John
Huston filled his notorious war
docu
mentary,
The Battle
of
San
Pietro,
a
harrowing
chronicle of a
real-life
platoon,
with soldiers dead and
dying,
he was not
allowed to
show the film.
33i
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
Strictly speaking,
these
were
visual
silences,
a
"lets not
go
there" refusal
to look. But the costs of
war were
experienced by
the absence of sound
as
well. The vehicle for official notification of death
was
the
telegram
(which
was
read in
silence).
The conversion of
a
blue star to
gold
in the window
of a
grieving family signified
the same silent death. It
might
even
be said
that the
principle slogans
of the war?"The walls have
ears,"
"Don t talk too
much,"
"A
slip
of the
lip
could sink
a
ship"?were imperatives designed
to
ensure a
largely
"silent"
war,
where costs were
concerned.
The Excesses of War
One
may
consider this to be
a
standard silence of wartime
also,
but it is
difficult to
deny
that World War II
produced
in America
excesses that
were
unprecedented. Perhaps
the
single
most
grievous
of these
was the forced
evacuation and internment of some
120,000
Japanese
Americans in con
centration
camps
at least five hundred miles from their
original
West Coast
residences
(with
some as
far
away
as
Arkansas).
An entire
immigrant popu
lation
was
deprived
of
home,
job,
and
dignity
for
over
three
years.
There
were acts here for which
many
could be held accountable.
Roosevelt
signed
the executive order "with
misgivings,"
as
liberal histori
ans tell the tale. An
inflammatory
and
jingoistic press
(led
by
the
utterly
repugnant
Westbrook
Pegler) kept
up
a
steady
drumbeat of
vitriol,
so as to
all but drown out serious reflection. And eventual
progressive
heroes Earl
Warren,
William O.
Douglas,
and
Hugo
Black
signed
off* on the
measure
with
scarcely
a reservation.
The silence here
was
complicated by
the fact that
war
culture had all
but forbidden
even the
murmur of
protest;
it was seen to be
unpatriotic.
Add to this the fact that Pearl Harbor had inflamed
anti-Japanese
senti
ment to
hysterical proportions.
And
as historian Howard Zinn
writes,
"Not
until after the
war did the
story
of the
Japanese-Americans begin
to be
known to the
general public"
(2003,149).
For all
this,
there is the fact that
responsible
persons,
with all of their
misgivings,
fell in line with official
policy.
This is the silence of accommodation.
The Crimes of War
A
new
category
is
required
here
because,
as is
now
widely
known and
was
thoroughly
documented
by
the
Nuremberg
tribunal,
the onset of World
War II involved
a scale of civilian
atrocity
so calculated and
systemic
as
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rhetoric in
history
to
require
a
change
of
language.
All commentators
agree
that Roosevelt
felt that the involvement of America in
Europe
was
much more imme
diately urgent
than
war in Asia. Yet he not
only
failed to even mention
Europe
in his wartime
declaration,
he
systematically neglected
the
single
most
barbaric feature of
spreading European
fascism: the extermination of
European Jewry.
No one
believed the American
president
could have
stopped
the
geno
cide;
and
as we
know,
it continued in the face of
unprecedented troop pres
ence in
Europe.
This issue was
of
a
different order: Could America have
offered a safe haven for the
large
numbers of German and Austrian
Jews
clamoring
to
escape
certain death? In the
atmosphere
of anti-Semitism in
isolationist
America,
and
perhaps
still
reeling
from such sentiments directed
at his own
administration
(what
with the "New Deal"
being
called "the
Jew
Deal"),
Roosevelt made the fateful decision to turn
the entire matter
of
European
Jewish
emigration
over to
his
Undersecretary
of
State,
Breck
enridge Long. Long
was a
racist
anti-Semite,
who
presided
over a
group
of careerist State
Department foreign
service
appointees. They
were
"old
school" in all the traditional
ways,
and
they expertly managed
to
place every
imaginable
roadblock and bureaucratic hurdle in the
path
of
a
desperate
people. Only
a
very
few
got
through, bringing
us to
silence number four.
The
Technology
of War
For those who consider the
war
culture of the forties to be the
apotheosis
of the machine
age,
there
can
be no more
definitive evidence than the fact
of the ultimate
weapon
and the manner in which it was
created.
Among
the
few German
Jewish
emigres
to
escape
the hurdles of the State
Department
were
renowned nuclear
physicists
Teller and
Chevalier,
who worked with
J.
Robert
Oppenheimer throughout
the latter
days
of World War
II,
in an
accelerated
program
to
develop
the atomic bomb. It is
easy
in
retrospect
to view this entire
project
as a sort
of Faustian
bargain.
But this
only
con
tributes to
the
mythologizing
of the time. All who
contributed,
and these
included the most brilliant minds of the
century,
felt that
they
were
doing
what
they
needed to
do,
just
like the rest of the civic-minded West. At this
fateful
moment,
a new
technology might just prove
to be the last
hope
to
save
what remained of civilization.
What sort of
silence, then,
can
be
draped
over
this frozen moment?
Superficially,
it was
silence
as
"top secrecy."
But the silence here is of
a
rather
different,
elusive character. In
fact,
every townsperson
in and around
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THOMAS B. FARRELL
Los Alamos knew
something
out of the
ordinary
was
going
on,
and when
a
union of concerned scientists
approached
the White House with
protests
about how the ultimate
weapon
was to be
used,
there
was never
any
doubt
that it would be used. And when it
was
used,
not once but
twice,
there
was
a
further silence. As in the aforementioned silence of
benign neglect,
the
silence of
secrecy
led to a
silence that has
yet
to be filled:
speechlessness.
The Ends of War
Of
course,
the final silence is the
aspect
of
history
that
spares
no one:
that
of death. Whatever
one
thought
of Franklin
Roosevelt,
his
phantasmic
figure
towered
over
and
captioned
all the features of the
war
culture. It was
his vitriol that
managed
to
both
engage
and distract America
(from
the
monumental debacle of
losing
our entire Pacific
fleet).
It
was
his
scape
goating
that
permitted
the internment of
Japanese
Americans. It was his
neglect
and his
indulgence
that allowed
a
few,
highly specialized emigrant
scientists
(and
them
alone)
to enter the United States. It
was his words
that
propelled legions
of faithful
(albeit suicidal) young
men to the shores
of
Normandy.
And for what? No
one
knew. No one was ever
told. For the final silence
was that of Roosevelt himself. In
severely failing
health,
having given
the
shortest
inaugural
address in American
history
(his fourth),
Roosevelt did
not survive the duration he worked
so
hard
to
caption.
The silence
surrounding
Roosevelt's
failing
health is
perhaps
the easi
est to
comprehend,
even in
retrospect.
But it was
left
to others to
try
and
explain
what remains unfathomable. And this
proved
to be
too much to
ask.
History
(that
ever-forgiving persona)
has been kind
to
Harry
Truman.
To
say
the
least,
he had
a
tough
act to follow and
a
demanding
role to
play.
In
viewing
the ultimate
weapon
as
just
another
weapon,
in
describing
Hiroshima
as a
"military
base,"
he
was
perhaps wending
his
way
into an
ultimately discomfiting position.
But his
silence,
that of
inadequacy, helps
to
explain
our own.
Into this
vortex,
as in a
diabolical
symphony
of
allegro, allegretto
ada
gio,
and
scherzo,
comes the finale: the ultimate dialectical
image
of
a
mush
room cloud
over
Japan.
In
Benjamins
terms,
"[Mankinds]
self-alienation
has reached such
a
degree
that it can
experience
its
own
destruction
as an
aesthetic
pleasure
of the first order"
(1968, 242).
Yet
even catharsis has its
limitations. In the ruination of World War II
as
scene, act,
agent, agency,
334
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rhetoric in
history
and
purpose,
it could be
argued
that the entire
enterprise
was
devoid of
human
control,
a
fateful event
finally beyond
the
comprehension
of
us
all.
But this is
precisely
the
argument
I have worked to contest.
Tragedy
and
contingency
are not
opposing categories.
The mood of this
tragedy,
which I have tried to
excavate,
is the mood of all
tragedies:
that of
regret.
If and
only
if. Inventional
history
looks to the
past
not as a
grave
of dead
certainties but
as a
cauldron of live
possibilities.
The normative
energies
behind and
beyond
the
scenes, acts,
agents, agencies,
and
purposes
remain
as
explosive
normative
potentialities
for
a
rhetoric of
emancipation
and
recovery.
They
remain
precisely
because
they
could not have been foreseen at the
time. Most of
us,
regardless
of
intention,
are not
oracles
or
prophets.
And
even
hindsight
is far from
twenty-twenty.
But if what I
am
suggesting
in
this
essay
is worth further
reflection,
even
belated
recognition
is better than
no
recognition
at all.
Department of
Communication Studies
Northwestern
University
Editors note: This
essay
was
unpublished
in FarrelTs lifetime. In its
original
form,
the
essay
lacked
complete
references for cited materials. Where
possible,
I have traced and
provided
relevant
bibliographic
information. ?Erik Doxtader
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