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War is Sexy, says Dawn: a HipBone Game

by & ©2003Charles Cameron

This is a solo game which I played to explore the issues of warfare and sexuality at the level of what we might call their mythic underpinnings.

The Game: This game is a game of meaning -- a game in which ideas are positioned on a board to express and explore the complex web of contradictions and complicities between them. In this case, the place we start from is the idea that war is sexy, and its proponent is a private in the US military named Dawn, who was quoted as saying so in a recent news report on the progress of the war in Iraq. Our purpose here is to explore this idea by setting it in the context of other, related thoughts -- to open the question of warfare and sexuality, not to close it.

The board:

The Dart Board has eight positions, and is suited to games with a strong topical focus.

Move 1: I play war is sexy in position 6. Content: Just a day ago, on Mar. 23, our convoy was stopped on the outskirts of Al Samawah. You could hear heavy artillery fire booming to the east, and every few minutes a ratat-tat followed by a loud moaning noise of A-10 fighters bombing the city. Blackhawks, Kiowas, and Apache helicopters were flying sorties back and forth. Suddenly a huge fireball exploded, prompting cheers and whoops from the soldiers watching the spectacle. A direct hit on a munitions dump that sent an enormous black column of smoke into the desert's morning sky. America's superior firepower was putting on a tremendous show, and the crowd loved it. Then things started getting lax. Off came flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, off came shirts. Men started posing for photos with the pillar of smoke in the background, muscles flexed, guts sucked in. Turret gunners sunned themselves on top of tanks. Things were starting to feel more like a tailgate party than a wartime convoy. "War is sexy," squealed one female private named Dawn, with a fresh daub of lipstick and perfectly tweezed eyebrows. Lieutenant David Buehler, a serious and evenmannered 25-year-old who shares driving responsibilities for our Humvee, seemed to be the only one concerned that we were letting our guard down too much, too soon. Struck by a Foe Called Overconfidence By Frederik Balfour, BusinessWeek, March 24, 2003 Links: None claimed, since this is the opening move. Comment: I've placed this quote from Dawn, the US private with the fresh daub of lipstick and perfectly tweezed eyebrows, in the heart of the board because she encapsulates the central proposition of our game: that sex and violence are intimately linked.

Move 2: I play their natural weapon in position 2. Content: A Lithuanian MP has called on the country's women to use their "natural weapon" and not have sex with any man who supports the war in Iraq. MP Birute Veisaite said Lithuanian women had little power to stop the war in Iraq other than to refuse to sleep with men who supported the military action, reports Pravda. The MP said: "Women's access to money and power is limited and therefore they cannot prevent men from unleashing a bloody war. Therefore women have only one weapon left to them - their natural weapon." Veisaite's comments came after she voted in favour of the deployment of a small Lithuanian military unit to the Gulf to help with the distribution of aid to Iraqis. MP urges women to use 'natural weapon' against the war Ananova, 2nd April 2003

Links: To war is sexy in position 6: It was Aristophanes who first suggested this tactic, in his play Lysistrata, and on the face of it, it's a simple flip of the notion that war is sexy -- you think so? well, try this! Comment: There's more here, though, isn't there? I read into this piece the assumption that in some sense war may be sexy for men and peace for women -- though whether that would be a matter of stereotype or aerchetype I leave open for consideration. Now if that's the case, where does the delectable Dawn fit in?

Move 3: I play do it for peace in position 1. Content: Meanwhile, Italian porn star and former Italian parliamentarian "La Cicciolina" has renewed an offer she first made in 1991 to give herself to Saddam in exchange for world peace, according to an interview published today. "I offer myself to Saddam in exchange for universal peace," the Hungarian-born actress, whose real name is Ilona Staller, told Catalan daily El Periodico. "I would do it holding my nose and closing my eyes. I would do it for peace," she said, adding that she had already made the offer to the Iraqi leader during the 1991 Gulf war. Bush and Saddam should duel: Iraq's challenge Sydney Morning Herald, October 5 2002

Links: To their natural weapon in position 2: La Cicciolina is using the same natural weapon as her sisters, to the same end -- but using it in the exact opposite manner: a triple link. To war is sexy in position 6: La Cicciolina is apparently willing to use her sex as a weapon in her own war for peace -- but doesn't think it would feel sexy to do so -- why else would she think of holding her nose? The lines of argument are so entangled here that I'm unable to decvide how many parallelisms or oppositions to claim. Comment: Did I suggest in a previous comment that Dawn might be delectable? That would be to make of her an object, a fetish.

Move 4: I play duel to the death in position 3. Content: Iraq's vice-president has suggested that George Bush should face Saddam Hussein in a duel to the death with United Nations Secretary-General Koffi Annan acting as referee. Taha Yasin Ramadan, a military figure not known for his sense of humour, said it was a way to spare the Iraqi people the ravages of war. He said he and US vicepresident Dick Cheney should be on stand-by as seconds in case both leaders should die together. The presidents would choose their weapons for the clash at a neutral venue. Ramadan said: "In this way we are saving the American and the Iraqi people." A spokesman for Annan said the UN chief was "amused" by the proposal. "He was amused by it, but I cannot say more," said Fred Eckhard when asked for Annan's reaction to the proposal. Bush and Saddam should duel: Iraq's challenge Sydney Morning Herald, October 5 2002

Links: To do it for peace in position 1: La Cicciolina's offer was reported in the same news article as Ramadan's challenge, by a news writer who clearly saw the two ideas as related in a beadgamelike sense. To their natural weapon in position 2: If her sex is a woman's natural weapon, his sword or gun may be a man's natural sexuality. Mae West: Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? To war is sexy in position 6: If war is sexy, then the quintessence of war, its distillate, wherein the whole thing is focused and concentrated in the persons of the two Commanders-inChief, must presumably be even more so. In biological terms, the duel is a form of male sexual display which precedes the taking of the female in many species. Comment: A festish. Or, as Martin Buber would say, to make of a Thou an It. Putting it bluntly, that's death.

Move 5: I play porn-starved trigger jockeys in position 5. Content: Attention, all families and friends preparing to send "care packages" to U.S. soldiers: Not all gifts are created equal on the Arabian Peninsula. Powered-drink mixes, beef jerky, pretzels and chewing gum are fine, say the veterans at Chocolate will melt. Flyswatters, footballs, lip balm, sunblock lotion, foot powder and other logical items will be appreciated. Do not send pork or tobacco. Do not send religious materials. And do not send pornography. In other words, send nothing that will bring grief -- or danger -- to soldiers in the lands surrounding Mecca.

Thus, scores of religious leaders got upset when they heard about a DirectLink Media Group offer to send pornographic videotapes and DVDs to U.S. soldiers and veterans anywhere, with the soldiers paying shipping and handling charges. The pornographer's news release was blunt. The company merely wants to help defend democracy, free speech and the American way. Cultural conservatives were outraged. A Focus on the Family report, for example, noted that a wave of free pornography would be especially demeaning to women who serve alongside men in today's armed services. "This is an abominable marketing trick by pornographers who care nothing about our troops," added Jan LaRue of Concerned Women of America. Plus, these "Muslim countries generally don't allow anything like this." On one level, this is merely another firefight in the culture wars that have followed the sexual revolution. It's a familiar story. Someone on the cultural left does something outrageous. The usual suspects on the cultural right respond with sermons. A late-night comic or two turns this into punch lines. Journalists yawn. But this time, at least one pastor did something unusual. The Rev. Martin Drummond of Miami Shores (Fla.) Christian Church took the time to write the pornographer a sincere, low-key appeal to stop his marketing blitz. There was more to this issue than another moralistic minister pitching a fit, he said. After all, Osama bin Laden and his disciples have issued stacks of fatwas blaming the United States for spreading filth and immorality worldwide. This could be a matter of life and death for troops near the Persian Gulf. "Do you realize," wrote Drummond, "that one of the reasons the radical Islamic movement so dislikes America is because of its tolerance of pornography? What kind of support will our troops find in Middle Eastern countries if the soldiers are seen as porn-starved trigger jockeys? Your effort will give new life to the allegation that we are not a nation of character, but instead of carnal compromise." Aaron Gordon has not responded to interview requests about his campaign. But he did reply to Drummond's e-mail. "With all due respect," he said, "if I were to change anything I did because the 'radical Islamic movement' does not approve of it, then I would have to forgo most of my beliefs in a free society, my way of life in a free society, and together, we would be forgoing the freedom of people who live in this society."

A war of words over sending pornography to troops Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service, March 31, 2003

Links: To duel to the death in position 3: If duel to the death is as close as we come in this game to war without sex, porn-starved trigger jockeys is about the state of tension that war (presumably) generates in those who are far from lovers and spouses: war as a heightened state of yearning, unfulfilled. Comment: How do you imagine the others in Dawn's squad, muscles flexed, guts sucked in, felt about her when she made that remark? While they were sunning themselves, starting to feel more like a tailgate party than a wartime convoy?

Move 6: I play more sex less violence in position 4. Content: Violence, especially violence around love and sex, is nothing new, though we think about it differently according to our time. Mary Whitehouse, dead at last at 91, made sex and violence into her personal crusade. It is probably thanks to her that the two words go together as easily as love and marriage used to do. We can only hope that her baleful influence will now begin to wane. I should like to see a lot more sex on TV, and a lot less violence. Sex, violence and Mary Whitehouse Jeanette Winterson, Guardian, November 27, 2001

Links: To their natural weapon in position 2: Even though women who use their natural weapon as a weapon are adding an unnatural stridency to the whole business, sexual attraction itself is as simple, direct and natural as one might wish, and nature has seen to it that the whole business is delightful, the better to encourage us... Comment: It's easy enough to think slightingly of Dawn, or of her squaddies who no doubt liked her well enough, and indeed easy enough when moralizing to forget that sexuality is about as fine a feeling as humans get to experience. Dawn felt exuberant: in a time of stress, in a period of calm, in a foreign land, in the sunshine, a likely victor in war -what's so wrong with feeling sexy???

Move 7: I play ontological anarchy in position 8. Content: In Persia I saw that poetry is meant to be set to music & chanted or sung -- for one reason alone -- because it works. A right combination of image & tune plunges the audience into a hal (something between emotional / aesthetic mood & trance of hyperawareness), outbursts of weeping, fits of dancing -- measurable physical response to art. For us the link between poetry & body died with the bardic era -- we read under the influence of a cartesian anaesthetic gas. In N. India even non-musical recitation provokes noise & motion, each good couplet applauded, "Wa! Wa!" with elegant hand-jive, tossing of rupees -- whereas we listen to poetry like some SciFi brain in a jar -- at best a wry chuckle or grimace, vestige of simian rictus -- the rest of the body off on some other planet. In the East poets are sometimes thrown in prison -- a sort of compliment, since it suggests the author has done something at least as real as theft or rape or revolution. Here poets are allowed to publish anything at all -- a sort of punishment in effect, prison without walls, without echoes, without palpable existence -- shadow-realm of print, or of abstract thought -- world without risk or eros. So poetry is dead again -- & even if the mumia from its corpse retains some healing properties, auto-resurrection isn't one of them. If rulers refuse to consider poems as crimes, then someone must commit crimes that serve the function of poetry, or texts that possess the resonance of terrorism. At any cost re-connect poetry to the body. Not crimes against bodies, but against Ideas (& Ideas-in-things) which are deadly & suffocating. Not stupid libertinage but exemplary crimes, aesthetic crimes, crimes for love. In England some pornographic books are still banned. Pornography has a measurable physical effect on its readers. Like propaganda it sometimes changes lives because it uncovers true desires. Our culture produces most of its porn out of body-hatred -- but erotic art in itself makes a better vehicle for enhancement of being / consciousness / bliss -- as in certain oriental works. A sort of Western tantrik porn might help galvanize the corpse, make it shine with some of the glamor of crime. Pornography From Hakim Bey, Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchy

Links: To more sex less violence in position 4: Hakim Bey's ontological anarchism encourages sexuality -- not sex, but a sexuality he characterises as tantrik -- as the source of liberation, in strong contrast to the prevailing belief that warfare can procure it. To porn-starved trigger jockeys in position 5:

Bey presents the sexual art of the orient as a positive model, using the phrase tantrik porn to describe the western equivalent he seeks... a different kettle of fish to the one the porn-merchant was proposing to send to the porn-starved troops. Comment: Hakim Bey being famous for his Sufic and Ismaili sympathies, it seems only appropriate to celebrate Dawn here with a verse or two from the ever-prescient Omar Khayyam: Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight: And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light. Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry, "Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup "Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry." I leave it to the reader to determine which Sultan's Turret, in part because of the work of Dawn herself and her cohort, is now in a Noose of Light. Go, Dawn!!

Move 8: I play real as making love in position 7. Content: You don't kill an enemy before they become the enemy. You only slash the enemy when they become a 100% good enemy and present a real 100% challenge. If someone is interested in making love with you, you make love to them. But you don't rape them. You wait until the other person commits themselves to the situation. Working with your enemy is the same idea. When a warrior has to kill his enemy, he has a very soft heart. He looks his enemy right in the face. The grip on your sword is quite strong and tough, and then with a tender heart, you cut your enemy into two pieces. At that point, slashing your enemy is equivalent to making love to them. That very strong, powerful stroke is also sympathetic. That fearless stroke is frightening, don't you think? We don't want to face that possibility. On the other had, if we are in touch with basic goodness, we are always relating to the world directly, choicelessly, whether the energy of the situation demands a destructive of a constructive response. The idea of renunciation is to relate with whatever arises with a sense of sadness and tenderness. We reject the aggressive, hardcore street fighter mentality. The neurotic upheavals created by conflicting emotions, or the keshas, arise from ignorance, or avidya. Ignorance is very harsh and willing to stick with its own version of things. Therefore, it feels very righteous. Overcoming that is the essence of renunciation: we have no hard edges. Warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw. It is soft and gentle. You have renounced putting on a new suit of armour. You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin. You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone and marrow to the world. This whole discussion is not just metaphoric. We are talking about what you do if you actually have to slash the enemy, if you are in combat or having a sword fight with someone, as you see in Japanese samurai movies. We shouldn't be too cowardly. A sword fight is real, as real as making love to another human being. We are talking about direct experience and we're not psychologizing anything here. Before you slash the enemy, look into his or her eyes and feel that tenderness. Then you slash. When you slash your enemy, your compassionate heart becomes twice as big. It puffs up; it becomes a big heart... Conquering Fear: The Ground Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 1979, Shambhala Sun Magazine, March 2002 Links: Rather than listing the links for this final position in detail, I'll pass directly to my comment, thus making this move symmetrical with the first.

Comment: Our game has contrasted and compared sex and war, in one move showing that war can bring deprivation of sex, in another pleading for more sex and less violence. For all our dualism within the game, war and sex are neither same nor separate, neither distinct nor indistinguishable. It is with this non-dual understanding that we leave the game: At that point, slashing your enemy is equivalent to making love to them. That very strong, powerful stroke is also sympathetic. True or false, literal or metaphorical...

And the completed board:

Note: This game transcript does not contain links to the original articles quoted, since in some cases, the links are dead and the articles no longer available.