Amputation, Tanks, Malign Fate

March 9, 2008

There is a piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail called “The Working Wounded” and is about Canadian soldier’s who have been wounded in Afghanistan. The only reason this is in the paper, of course, is because some of them are trying to get back into service, with the help of prosthetic limbs.

The first thing that came to mind when I first saw this was Virilio’s Speed and Politics. The first chapter of the third part is titled “Unable bodies,” which he opens by telling us that Goering was a pilot because he had a bad foot – to go on long marches made being a foot soldier hard. That is, he was placed into a large machine that acted as a prosthesis that overcame the limitiations of his body.

While it’s pretty cheap to open with reference to a Nazi (‘you see, this is so evil – the Nazi’s did it!’) the things that he says are relevant in a time when war is fought with a great deal of technology, and of course, when we see an article about soldiers trying to return to combat after having been maimed. “It was discovered that the damage caused by the war machines to the mechanics of the surviving bodies could be compensated for by other machines – prostheses” (p 61 of the semiotext(e) version). Virilio’s argument is that experienced soldiers would, in the near future, be ‘refitted’ to continue in combat, whereas heavy-armoured vehicles (like tanks) would be reserved for people who weren’t otherwise considered for combat (he mentions deaf people and those with hunchbacks).

While Virilio cites the Germans in WWI as an instance where this had already happened, I don’t think it holds true for the Canadian army. The Globe and Mail article refers to 2 or 3 soldiers who have had limbs destroyed, and they all appear to be having trouble getting back into combat service. The soldier who stands as the main focus of the article – Master Corporal Jody Mittic – however, finds inspiration in Capt. David M. Rozelle. He is a member of the U.S. army who had a foot blown off in Iraq but has become very functional with the aid of a prosthetic foot. (And he was, by the way, in command of some 22 tanks, and got his foot blown off while riding around in an armoured vehicle…)

So, Apparently this American guy is back on duty. There is a quick mention in one article about a soldier who got his hand blown off and is still in active duty because he has some crazy robot hand and can still do the gun-assembly thing in 90 seconds. (USA TODAY) Now, what is this but the realization of Anakin-cum-Darth Vader!?:

“‘The armed services are going to get used to seeing guys with mechanical parts,” Rozelle predicted, ‘because there are many others who want to continue to serve after suffering a serious injury’” (American Forces Press Service).

Or further:

“‘We anticipate that up to 40% of all of those injured will be able to return to active duty,’ says Chuck Scoville, administrator of Ward 57, the amputee wing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It is the military’s hub for amputation surgery and rehabilitation. ‘A lot of the guys want to stay. They’re just amazing’ ” (USA Today).

Then again, maybe this is all just for show so the US doesn’t have to face their constituents…”see, they’re fine!”

Anyway, what I really wanted to mention was in regards to ‘malign fate’. The cliché is that after having some part of one’s body amputated, a person will fall into a period of asking ‘why did this happen to me? Why? Why!?’ (perhaps this isn’t a cliché… but what do I know?) Which is, I think, a demand to know what malign force has chosen the person to be its victim. I think that Rozelle (the American Captain) had a ‘leg up’ on other people, so to speak. That is, he knew that there was an actual enemy out there to get him. And he knew (either before or after) that there had been a 1,000 dollar reward offered for his death. So, perhaps we can surmise that this in part made it easier for him “to reach deep inside himself and overcome astounding odds” (Greenville news). And it’s this ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps’ that comes with traversing the fantasy, is it not? That is, if you worry to long about the evil Cartesian god who is out there to trick you, to do evil to you, you can’t very well get to the hard work of putting yourself together. If you know there’s actually an evil fate out there, perhaps its easier to accept that there’s noone but you who can do anything about it.

Then again, maybe part of his drive was “the terrorists can’t win”, that his ‘symbolic identification’ with the American army enabled him to push on…(I guess I’ll have to read his book and find out.) If “Love Means Reporting Back to Duty“, that’s probably the case…

Anyway, if the ‘end of analysis’ is to reach a point where the big Other is something that you don’t put any stock in, my presumption is that you want to keep it that way. But, I think that the tendency is to turn the ‘malign fate’ into a ‘benevolent fate’. That is, lady luck or the God that Decartes finally decides has to exist. Take these comments, for instance:

“If this accident wouldn’t have happened, I would not have seen my son until he was 9 months old, so I guess it was really a blessing in disguise,” Rozelle said (Amer. Forces).

Or this one, from another soldier:

“I felt lucky that I just lost the bottom of my left leg, 9 inches,” Callahan says. “Other guys lost an arm, a leg, two arms, even their face. I realized that if I have to deal with something for the rest of my life, I might as well go into a field that I’d relate to the best” (Sgt. Justin Callahan, 22, of Syracuse) (USA today).

So, what I guess I’m getting at is even Luke Skywaker, the good guy with a mechanical hand believes in the Force. Though I havn’t really looked, I haven’t seen any stories about soldiers who later went to challenge the social arrangements that led to the war that got them maimed in the first place, though I’m sure they exist. I guess that would be part of a real move from ‘malign fate’ to the ‘end of analysis’, in a political sense…

But this is all just speculation based on a couple of crappy articles. I guess I should just read some more stuff about these dudes… and Rozelle’s book…



Eric Connor: “Army captain David Rozelle returns to Iraq despite amputation” in The Greenville News.

Patrick O’Driscoll: “Losing a limb doesn’t mean losing your job” on Posted Posted 5/5/2004

Pfc. Matthew Clifton: “Amputee Achieves Goal: Returns to Iraq” in American Forces Press Service

Siri Agrell: “The Working Wounded” in The Globe and Mail. Saturday, march 8, 2008.

Razelle’s Book


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