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Text Recension: “Sex And Death In The Rational World Of Defense Intellectuals” 

Carol CohnDr. Carol Cohn is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the founding director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; leader in the scholarly community addressing issues of gender in global politics, armed conflict and security. Her research and writing has focused on gender and security issues. The analyzed article, dated 1987, was published by the University of Chicago Press. The article’s purpose might be considered as both an analysis and a sort of critique to “technostrategic language” used in nuclear strategic analysis. The author starts pointing out how technostrategic language is full of euphemisms, making it become very abstract. It emphasizes that the vocabulary used is full of phallic images which compares men power to nuclear power, exalting masculine strength, consequently it can be considered as a sexist vocabulary.

Attention is also drawn to “patriarchal imagery” as there are words used to highlight the power and wisdom of those who work in nuclear weaponry and analysis field. In addition to this, we find the idea of male birth, aimed to substitute women’s power of creation; a sort of oxymoron, as it associates the term “birth”, representing life, to nuclear weaponry, representing destruction. Therefore, it’s possible to affirm and confirm that nuclear technostrategic language is masculinist. It’s also highlighted how domestic images as “marry up” or “take out” are used “to tame the wild and uncontrollable forces of nuclear destruction”, images that are metaphors which purpose is humanize nuclear weapons. The author considers, after having learnt the language, “talking about nuclear weapons fun; (…) words are racy, sexy, snappy”.

Furtherly affirming that “part of the appeal was the thrill of being able to manipulate an arcane language, the power of entering the secret kingdom”. Learning this language can influence daily way of thinking and self-expression. In fact, she states that “this language doesn’t allow certain questions to be asked or certain values to be expressed (…) I couldn’t keep humans lives as my reference point. I found I could go for days speaking about nuclear weapons without once thinking about the people who would be incinerated by them”. After claiming this, it’s possible to say that unlike the very first beginning, she thinks like a defense intellectual, making the text appear quite controversial: she seems to change her position about nuclear technostrategic language, in opposition to the impression she gave of being a feminist defense intellectual. She clearly admits that she lacks the sense of humanity she apparently had before learning this language, becoming just like the men she used to “blame” because of their way of speaking.

Weaponry is the main protagonist, making human lives lack of meaning and becoming “simply a collateral damage”. To fuel this absence of humaneness, an abstruse vocabulary (justified like “limited nuclear war is an abstract conceptual system” ) which allows to eclipse nuclear terrific reality is used by defense intellectuals. Even if the author writes about her personal experience, which is very precise, descriptive and sometimes incoherent, a consistent bibliography is used to support the hypothesis, giving further credibility to what she says.

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