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Rhetoric, aesthetics, and power in the age of light war

Jessy Jasson Ohl, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation diagnoses the social conditions of 21st century war and war rhetoric through an analysis of "light war." I define light war as the dominant modality of contemporary warfare which operates through a reduction in the demands of war exerted on the citizenry. In contrast to total wars dependent on the mobilization of the entire population in the forms of sacrifice and support, light war is a more automated form of violence that implores only public acceptance of war's inevitability. The growing reliance on military tactics such as the use of drones, Special Forces, and surveillance are examples of a recent decoupling of the public from war's conduct so as to insulate the use of force from criticism. With the use of a set of critical attitudes, concepts, and methods offered by Kenneth Burke and Michel Foucault, I argue the shifting terrain of contemporary war is reflected in, and animated by, a novel brand of war rhetoric that aims to short-circuit dissent by complicating the public's capacity to sense the pervasiveness and perpetuation of conflict. With an analysis of visual representations of drone warfare, I contend that light war features a visual rhetoric of boredom that pacifies the public through a deflection of attention. The 2012 war in Libya is positioned as an example of how a transformation in the kairos of light war narrows the space for opposition by publicly defending war after its occurrence. In studying the public discourse surrounding government surveillance, I identify the production of technological ethos that ameliorates obstruction by framing surveillance technologies as both capable and ethical. I conclude the dissertation by discussing the prospects of resistance opened up through the diagnosis.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Aesthetics|Rhetoric|Military studies

Recommended Citation

Ohl, Jessy Jasson, "Rhetoric, aesthetics, and power in the age of light war" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618687.