Like Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been elected to produce a "rebirth of spirit" through an internal sacrifice (recession) and an external sacrifice (war).
By the beginning of 1982, she had succeeded in her first task of reducing the prosperity of the Sixties and Seventies by almost doubling the British unemployment rate during her first three years in office. Yet the threat which prosperity posed for the near-Victorian consciences of most Englishmen had not been permanently removed, despite Tory pledges of austerity." Sparked by increasing North Sea oil income and by the economic productivity of a vigorous new psychoclass, British economic indicators, including gross domestic product, had begun turning up after the summer of 1981, producing fresh anxiety which would somehow have to be purged.
Mrs. Thatcher was personally blamed for the malaise produced by the economic upturn. The Tories dropped to only 30 percent approval in the polls, and Thatcher was well into the "collapse" phase of her term by the beginning of 1982. Something would have to be done soon to deflect the anger from her to an appropriate "enemy," who would then have to be convinced it must cooperate in a blood sacrifice that would, in fantasy, drain off the "bad blood" - the guilty conscience, the rage-which was increasingly felt to be polluting England. As one observer put it, "Maggie Thatcher needs blood for her constituency..."(1)
Like America, England was too civilized to start a war openly for sacrificial purposes. A developed nation usually begins a war by sending hidden messages to another country which has poor impulse control, messages suggesting that a war would now be desirable, and then sitting
back and waiting for the more impulse-prone nation to help it act out its unconscious wishes. The process is identical to the way parents often give their children hidden commands to act out the parents' secret wishes and then punish the children for being "bad."
Most modern nations keep several impulsive "children" around to be able to use when they need a blood sacrifice. England kept her dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands alive for decades for just this purpose, since a simple "leaseback" compromise had been worked out some time before which negotiators admitted made the problem one which "would take ten minutes to solve if both sides were willing."(2) Through a series of hidden messages suggesting that they were emo-tionally abandoning the islands-actions ranging from the denial of British citizenship to the Falklanders to the abrupt removal of the British ship Endurance(3) - Argentina was unconsciously invited to occupy the tiny islands, while being led to believe that England would take no military steps to oppose the occupation.
The bait was an attractive one to Argentina. This was not because the islands had any real value to her, but because she herself was also in a "collapse" group-fantasy of such explosive proportions-including record unemployment and inflation-that La Prensa had to admit a month before the invasion that "the only thing which can save this government is a war."(4)
Britain, however, was not the only nation encouraging Argentina to solve her internal emotional problems by military force. America had been telling Argentina's General Galtieri to become more aggressive militarily ever since Reagan took office. Galtieri, like Reagan's father, was an impulse-prone alcoholic, and Reagan knew how easy it was to provoke him to violence. America poured military supplies and training into Argentina's small army in return for Argentina's sending troops to Honduras for our "covert" war against Nicaragua and for promising help in a secret Reagan plan to blockade Cuba.(5) Although America did not publicly suggest an invasion of the Falklands, many of Reagan's peo-ple openly encouraged Galtieri's military impulsiveness. U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick told startled British diplomats the night of Galtieri's invasion that it was "not armed aggression" because Argen-tina already owned the islands.(6) Similarly, Alexander Haig had so openly encouraged Argentina's military adventurousness that her Foreign Minister, Nicanor Costa Mendes, bluntly told Haig, "If there's a war, it's all your fault." America, too, was using Argentina as its "impulsive child." When we later condemned the invasion, Argentina felt shocked and betrayed.(8)
The reaction of both sides to the invasion was openly jingoistic and filled with slogans stressing the need for "national sacrifice." The British
|task force was sent off to the islands
accompanied by the cheers of Parliament shouting
"action not words" and jubilant crowds weeping
for joy in the Plaza de Mayo. "Like two schoolboys
itching for a fight," said one observer,
"they'll not be satisfied until there's some blood
on the floor."(9)
American excitement over the war was almost as manic as that of Britain. "Bravo Britain," one American newsman shouted. "Bash them!"(10) England had shown us how to relieve our group-fantasy dilemma. They, like us, were stuck in the "collapse" phase, unable to be reborn through the sacrifice of their unemployed. They, like us, were becoming filled with rage, along with fears that their leader was impotent to help them control their emotions. "The world is watching today to see what the Brits will do," said American columnist Patrick Buchanan. "And the world will be a worse place if the Brits do not put up a fight.. As Maggie Thatcher must realize, if Great Britain accepts this humiliation, Great Britain is finished."(11) The Brits seemed to know how to do these things better than the Americans: you set up your kid to humiliate you, then you "bash 'em." It worked in the family, and it worked in wars.
Some Americans even fantasied that we could join Great Britain in her sacrifice. Why couldn't we also have our "Glorious Little War" now? "Some U.S. ships sailing south would concentrate the junta's mind on the fact that the U.S. intends to guarantee the success of its NATO ally," suggested Newsweek's George F. Will. The fantasy of England, America and Argentina all shedding blood together on one tiny island might seem odd, but it fits the fact that both Britain and America were shipping sophisticated weapons to
America became excited over the war and displayed an erect phallus and two testicles.
Holding a sacrifice on a small island was felt to be cute.
|Argentina right up to the invasion, pumping both deadly feelings and deadly weapons into the same impulsive delegate. So confused, in fact, were all three countries in American minds that when ABC-TV commentator Carl Bernstein compared the Falklands battle to "the Battle of Yorktown" it seemed logical somehow.(13) Part of us was sailing south with the British fleet-our sacrificial wishes. We had had to sit passively and watch Star Wars movies for too long. Why couldn't we be like the British and fight, not wait? "When Iran's militants seized our embassy in Tehran and took our subjects hostage.. we might have responded as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded, by assembling an armada and mounting an invasion," wrote columnist James Kilpatrick,(14) sending a message to the President.|
Sexual fantasies were put into the war zone.
|But it is not just beginning a war which requires a
macho display of tumescent manhood. All aspects of war
have hidden sexual content, and much of war's excitement
for both citizen and soldier is patently sexual. The
British tabloids captured their sexual fantasies
accurately as the fleet headed south: "STICK IT UP
YOUR JUNTA"; "THE TIME FOR TALK IS OVER: OUR
LADS WANT TO ZAP THEM"; "A PUNCH UP YOUR
JUNTA", and so on.
War begins with a group-fantasy of rape because it is our own unconscious sexual fantasies which are put into the "enemy." Just as the internal sacrifice of recession requires a two-step fantasy of seeing the unemployed as (1) containing our greedy wishes
|THAT BITCH OF A WAR||95|
and (2) being punished for those wishes, so, too, the external sacrifice of war requires us to see both our own "lads" and "the enemy" as (1) containing our sexual and aggressive wishes and (2) being punished for those wishes.
Like all sacrifices, wars are combats with our own id, whereby we first act out and then punish our desires in the person of those killed. The youngest and sexiest are chosen as victims, just as in many primitive cultures it is the most handsome warrior who is sacrificed, right after having ritual, sex. The group-fantasy is that their blood, their vitality, drains off our dangerous pleasures, our sexuality, into the ground.
Time described this basic fantasy well, just before we sent our first troops into Vietnam. In January 1964, in a special issue on "SEX IN THE U.S.," Time saw a dangerous "demise of Puritanism" in America due to "Freudian psychology," and imagined that
America is one big Orgone Box.. From innumerable screens and stages, posters and pages, it flashes the larger-than-life-sized images of sex from countless racks and shelves, it pushes the books which a few years ago were considered pornography [with] the message that sex will save you and libido make you free.(15)
The group-fantasy solution to this dangerous buildup of sexuality was that it could only be controlled by shifting it over to Vietnam. The fantasy could best be seen in the words of President Johnson, who saw Vietnam as a whore with whom he was having an affair:
I left the woman I really loved-the Great Society-in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world.. (16)
War is a "bitch." You have to give her a "punch up her junta," and then you have to kill her to wipe out your shameful sexual desires.
This is why wars are initially always a return of the repressed id, containing both heterosexual rape fantasies and homosexual fantasies, such as when Johnson said of his bombing of Vietnam, "I didn't just screw Ho Chi Minh; I cut his pecker off," or, "When I call a bombing halt...then Ho Chi Minh shoves his trucks right up my ass."(17) That go-ing to war involves sexual excitement is not only made obvious by the use of such language as "carrying a Big Stick," "displays of firmness" and "the stiffening of our national will" but also in the feelings of the average soldier when he is being honest about how combat feels. Here, for instance, is how one American soldier in Vietnam described his feelings about being in combat:
It's absolutely the most intense continual excitement I've ever known in my life. I'm not sure how to describe the energy you feel.. .the excitement was there for everybody. You were using that finger to try to take somebody's life, and that sends a real charge through you.(18)
Yet it is finally the superego, not the id-the punishment, not the sex-that wins out in every war. Occasionally this can be seen in the language that is used to conduct the war-as, for instance, when Secretary of State Dean Rusk said the reason why America built up its troops so slowly in Vietnam was to prevent Hanoi and Moscow from having "an orgasm of decision-making" which a fast buildup might pro-duce.(19) Usually, however, our need to punish the containers of our hid-den desires is too well defended to be revealed so openly. It easily gets buried beneath our rage at the "enemy" and our grief over the death of the "boys who have sacrificed so much for their countries." Yet it re-mains our own sexuality-and, by extension, our vitality, our best hopes, our "life blood"-which is sacrificed through all those dead bodies, and our own sexuality and vitality which is mourned as the coffins return.
It was sometimes even possible to find the hidden sexual content in Reagan's speeches on international politics. Just as earlier he saw "sexual orgies and communism" linked at Berkeley, so, too, as President he imagined that
The Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on. If they weren't engaged in this game of dominoes, there wouldn't be any hot spots in the world.
Although the term ''hot spots', is sometimes used as a synonym for "trouble spots," during Reagan's formative years in the Midwest it had a more frequent meaning: "hot spots" were sexy places, such as nightclubs or brothels, where one goes for some "action." Similarly, the use of the "domino" metaphor is an image right out of childhood, for though Russians don't play dominoes, most Americans did in their childhood. So when Reagan says that the Russians are having all the fun, playing dominoes and getting into all the "hot spots," he is using the Russians as containers for his own repressed id wishes. And then when he asks Americans to join him in a crusade to wipe out these "Russian hot spots," he is using the language of his puritanical mother, who taught him always to control his emotions and never, never give in to them lest he become like his alcoholic father.
|GLORYING IN SLAUGHTER||97|
|When the Falklands became a ''hot spot,'' therefore, America, too, became sexually excited. Our papers ran pictures of the British woman who had just "stripped off her blouse and bra to thunderous applause" and threw them to the troops aboard ship, under the headline "FALKLANDS OR BUST!"(20) The media made the war seem like a lot of fun. American columnists vied with each other over who could make up the funniest jokes about the sheep that would be killed in the invasion: "It's a lead-pipe cinch a couple of sheep are going to be run over before the day is out. That's where the feature writers move in for interviews with the weeping sheep owner," said Russel Baker in the New York Times.(21)||
War was seen as more exciting than diplomacy.
When the thousand men who were indeed sacrificed like sheep began coming home in bags, the American press, like the British, was filled with the language of national rebirth, "the Falklands spirit," evidence of a renewed national pride and self-confidence."(22) It felt good for us to have a cleansing war around again, even if it cleansed only by proxy. Reagan's first address to the nation after the Falklands war began opened with fantasy language startlingly different than the usual "collapse" language of his previous five speeches:
|pleasure.. warm.. clean out guilt.. happy.. .eat... heart.. life.. .renew||What a pleasure, how warm it feels, to have a war clean out our guilt. We are happy to eat the heart full of life to renew us.|
The imagery was identical to that of the Aztec sacrificial ritual, where the old polluted heart was "cleaned out" and the new heart, "full of life," was eaten to "renew" the nation.
We learned a lesson from
"the Falklands spirit."
|All we saw in America was the
group-fantasy lesson. No American paper mentioned the
thousand dead, nor the large areas of the islands which
were now closed to human use, nor the several billions of
dollars the war and its after-math cost (tens of millions
of dollars per Falklands householder). No American
blurted out, as Denis Healey did in England, that Mrs.
Thatcher was "glorying in slaughter." All that
we took from the carnage was the lesson of "the
Falklands spirit" - that it felt good to sacrifice
"the lads." Mrs. Thatcher's polls soared, and
she would soon be re-elected by a landslide. Why not
here, too? Would we not be as grateful to Ronald Reagan
if he would sacrifice "our lads" in a war we
could win? He had not promised us in his election
campaign not to send our boys into battle. What he had
promised was that "never again will we send our boys
to fight and die in a war we do not intend to win."
Couldn't we, too, find a little country we could be
assured of over-powering so we, too, could get our sexual
thrill and then bury our sexuality with the dead? Would
we not be grateful, too, and reward our leader with a
When Reagan went to England and addressed Parliament right after Falklands, he thanked the British people for their wonderful example to America, for having shown us how in war "the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil... Let us be shy no longer," he proposed. "Let us go to our strength." The British had shown us, according to Reagan, how "a great victory in war [could] leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history." If we followed their example, we, too, could complete
|END OF THE PERMISSIVE SOCIETY||99|
|our rebirth and clean out our polluted nation.
Beginning with the summer of 1982, after Reagan had said we should "be shy no longer" and "go to our strength," cartoonists began regularly portraying Reagan as a regal bird of prey-an eagle or a vulture-and the White House as a phallic weapon, reflecting our growing preoccupation with war. At the same time, since car-toons, like dreams, contain wishes, these were messages to Reagan that we wanted a cleansing war, to complete our rebirth, to control our sexuality and to end the threat posed by our dangerous "permissive society." Headlines like "Mideast Nightmare: Search for a Way Out" were paired with others saying "End of the Permissive Society" to make clear this link between our search for war and the end of sexual permissiveness.
The White House turned into a phallic weapon in our fantasies.
|When Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, American
reaction was identical to what it was to the Falklands
war. Israel, like Argentina, had been encouraged to be
one of America's impulsive children" for some time.
Earlier in the year, Reagan had "winked" (24)
at the bombing of Baghdad by Israel, and then secretly
had given his agreement to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon
that a "small" invasion into Lebanon would not
be opposed.(25) In fact, it was an open secret among
Washington reporters that Secretary of State Alexander
Haig was backing an Israeli invasion of Lebanon and that
the U.S. army had been promised that samples of Russian
tanks and equipment captured in Lebanon would be sent to
Israeli group-fantasies also were well into their "collapse" stage at this time. Begin, using the "cleansing" and "purifying" language of external sacrifice, ordered his troops across the quiet Lebanon border, splitting all hatred off from himself into the enemy and sending his faltering polls soaring. American cartoonists reflected accurately the group-fantasy being played out on the international stage. Begin was shown as firing a
The "nightmare" of war was felt to give us "a way out" from our ''permissive society. (23)
Begin was felt to be shooting Reagan's phallus.
|phallic cannon, complete with two testicles.. but the cannon seemed to be growing out of Reagan's groin. Israel and America seemed fused in our minds. "Israel had again done the West a favor," said one observer,(27) accurately reflecting our delegation of wishes. Haig was so pleased at the invasion that he slipped when telling reporters that Israel had had only small losses, saying that "we" had had only small losses, another example of the fusion in our minds of our two countries.(28) Columnists commented on "Reagan's refusal to utter a word of criticism of Israel's bloody romp through Lebanon,"(29) and wrote columns like the one by Mary McGrory in the Washington Post headlined "REAGAN IS MELLOW ABOUT SLAUGHTER IN LEBANON."(30)|
|America wished for wars without end.||American polls showed rising support for the Israelis
during the invasion,(31) and Begin was so grateful for
Reagan's support that he called him the "best
president for Israel since Richard Nixon. "(32)
Israeli impulsiveness, termed "an example of spirit
for America to follow" by columnist Max Lerner,(33)
taught us the same group-fantasy lesson as Falklands -
thousands of dead victims would be needed to cleanse us
of our pollution, as the Israelis had been cleansed of
Ronald Reagan and the American people both agreed that war was the only way out. The unconscious emotional decision to go to war was made that summer. Reagan's June 30, 1982 press conference announced to everyone watching on television that we, too, would soon go to war to relieve our feelings of being stuck "dead in the water," but that we would have to wait a while until he, Reagan, gave us the "green light.