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Soldiers performing/performing soldiers : spectacular catharsis, perpetual rehearsal, and theatricality in the US infantry


The United States at the infancy of the twenty first century is in the midst of an era of unprecedented military performance seeming to intentionally blur and collapse the boundaries between training and actual combat by means of an increasing spectacularity in the theorization and execution of military strategy. Combining the lenses of theater and performance with theories of military history and warfare, trauma, and the workings of power, this dissertation seeks to lay bare the ways in which performance, as both a system of power and knowledge and an expressive twice-behaved behavior, structures and drives warfare and weaves throughout contemporary US infantry theory. Infantry training, in an effort to contextualize the experience of warfare beforehand in training, attempts to identify, define, and prepare for the traumatic. But the extremity of warfare remains trauma, which by its very definition lies beyond the limits of existential reality, leaving training a doomed and fruitless attempt to voice the unspeakable that collapses the real into the virtual. Locating the roots of the government's use of "Shock and Awe" via a genealogical approach, I situate current infantry practices within a history of military theory aimed at preventing cathartic responses to the spectacle of combat in soldiers. I then examine how the Army and Marine Corps uses training to craft flexible and adaptive warriors in training through a process of mimetically theatrical simulations and perpetual rehearsal driven by a systematic dedication to performative power. The remaining chapters approach the effect of military training from the perspective of theories of trauma, arguing that infantry training-as- combat--rehearsal staged as performance--forecloses the possibilities of grasping the full impact of what is seen and done; such a process leaves an experiential gap that magnifies the probability of repeated impossible confrontation with the originary missed event. I conclude by offering theater as a possibility for testimony, for fully recounting the victim-witness's narrative and thereby overcoming trauma. This project thus levels a critical indictment of theatre, performance theory, and the military as structurally akin, experientially unimaginable, and existentially terrifying.

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