Mayberry R.F.D. Will Not Be Presented Tonight


In the month of January, 1970, the New York Times published an article, “Statisticians Charge Draft Lottery Was Not Random.” [i] [ii] The lottery to which they were referring, of course, was the “life and death” lottery that selected the “bodies of the condemned” — the young men in the United States who would be sent to fight the war in Vietnam.[iii] The 1970 lottery was actually conducted on Dec 1. 1969 during a live television broadcast that pre-empted the night’s programming scheduled to show an episode of Mayberry R.F.D. The optics of the draft were such that a large transparent bowl-like container was displayed on a virtual public scaffold — draft selections were performed for a room of observers in addition to the television audience.[iv] Random selection procedures, ostensibly designed to distribute the risk of serving equally across the population of males in the U.S., relied on the selection of individual capsules: 366 blue capsules, each containing a unique birthday indicator, were successively drawn from the container. According to this system, an individual’s draft number corresponded to the order in which their birthday was selected. The first date drawn in this particular lottery, assigned rank 001, was September 14; the second date, assigned rank 002, was April 24, and so on. Lower draft numbers meant one was more likely to be called and sent for a physical. One man, watching in his college dormitory, offered his recollection of the television broadcast, which can be seen here:

The TV room was completely silent as the drawing began. No one spoke or showed any emotion. As someone’s birth date would be selected in the first group of 100 we would see them silently and quietly leave the area. Many guys immediately began packing their belongings into their cars throughout the night and early morning, then simply drove away, never to be seen or heard from again. I clearly recall watching the exodus out of my third floor dorm window.[v]

When the results of the lottery were known, statisticians noted the outcomes appeared not to be consistent with true random selection. They challenged the results in court (unsuccessfully) and cited the errant practice of remixing capsules in the bowl container as the likely culprit: some capsules broke open, while others were selected by irregular means of drawing from the top/bottom of the bowl. In short, it was alleged the capsules were improperly mixed and selected.[vi] The selection anomalies were thought to have undermined randomization efforts and resulted in a biased sequencing pattern. Subsequent lotteries, given the torrent of criticism, employed revised selection methods and procedures.

The 1970 draft lottery is now looked back on as a cautionary tale of empiricism gone awry. Efforts to conduct a transparently random selection process in the end only gave the appearance of being random: optics trumped technics. The famous lottery and its selection methods are a common case study incorporated into textbook exercises as a means to instruct budding statisticians on how not to employ random selection methods. Students undertake common testing procedures to evaluate data selection patterns and determine whether or not results are random or suggest hidden causal factors might be operating to produce data points that exceed chance alone. Simple regression and two-tailed testing of the 1970 data reveal there was not an equal distribution of individuals with birthdates that occurred later in the year; testing results confirmed men with birthdates at the end of the year were selected at rates that exceeded chance alone, thus they were drafted in greater numbers than dictated by probability theory. I call attention to this case illustration for two reasons.

First, it illustrates the real life and death consequences of placing trust and stock in rational empiricism that only appears to be empirical. The broken blue capsules in this instance are emblematic of what happens when one invests unflinching faith in empirical methods. Because the underlying probabilities upon which the selection model was built were thought to be full-proof, the idea that other factors (i.e. mixing failure) might have influenced outcomes was not considered. Selection procedures for the lottery were unassuming, almost artless in their design; nonetheless, there was an artifice holding them all together — the artifice of power was on display, performing a simple game of human coin toss where actual lives were at stake. What could possibly go wrong?

Second, and lesser known by comparison, is the fact that the aggregate number of men selected in the lotteries was based on a mathematical calculation, where the draft pool of potential recruits was derived from population estimates of the U.S. as a whole, calculated on the basis of series of complex measures, which were based on an assessment of projected birth rates and death rates. One finds here the traces of speculative logic, which effectively wagered on the group health, capacity, and vitality of potential recruits. The life chances of recruits were in this manner represented by a mathematical equation; one that was more or less generalizable to the fitness of the general population. In other words, the selection of individuals from a reserve army of human inventory was estimated on the basis of their connection to a future not yet and perhaps never to be lived. Predictive measures to determine which males might be a better fit for recruitment were introduced later when the draft was replaced by a volunteer-based program in 1973. While superficially this might appear innocuous, if not prudent, it’s further indicative of how war extends its dominion over the domain of the number and the body. I will return to this idea again later after I clarify import concepts central to wartime casualty counting operations.

Counting Casualties

Despite the fact that the Vietnam-era draft now stands as a relic of history, counting practices endure in the form of accounting for war casualties. Once again, identifying casualties and counting them as such is not the straightforward objectively rational accounting exercise one might imagine. Counting casualties as a practical matter suggests an old adage might apply: “not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” [vii] Judith Butler alludes to this contradiction when she questions “who counts as living and who does not; how are we to count the war dead?” She offers one further observation, which I will elaborate on, as she attests to how the numbers of war dead “frame and unframe” the losses of war. In this respect, they constitute an essential element in “the apparatus of war waging.”[viii] Documenting war casualties plays an active role in manufacturing public support for war. Yet the entire process, I want to argue, rests not on a solid foundation of unshakeable empiricism, but on faulty assumptions that rational empirical accounting methods can produce the truth of the war. On the contrary, quantification methods are employed in such a manner as to authenticate war’s human carnage.

Official U.S. Department of Defense casualty classification and reporting has been conducted since the Revolutionary War. Though here one notes the bodies that are the focus of accounting and measurement practices are those of U.S. soldiers, who are broken down into a variety of classification categories, such as: Killed in action (KIA), Died of Wounds (DOW), Wounded in Action (WIA), Hostile Deaths (HD), Non-hostile deaths (NHD). Accounting registers that classify and catalogue dead and wounded soldiers are potentially problematic when we consider casualty classification and measurement categories are inherently unstable, and can be shown to change over time. Empirical researchers, moreover, do not always employ comparable measures in accounting for casualties from different conflicts. This leads to problems in benchmarking outcomes and making comparisons between wars and conflicts (Goldberg, 2010). Researchers are similarly disposed to assume stable subjectivities when formulating casualty identity classifications. This occurs despite the fact that these classifications tend collapse during wartime and surrender meaning in the process — i.e. soldiers might be civilians and civilians might be soldiers. Consequently, while it is well known among historians and statisticians that states and armies throughout history have not employed official standardized measures to account for war casualties, the tendency among most people is to accept casualty statistics at face value as cold, hard, factual reporting.

In view of these findings, one discovers rather quickly that what “counts” as a soldier, more specifically a soldier’s body, and particularly a wounded soldier’s body, is not categorically consistent. There is considerable variation with regard to how and who one counts, which differs depending on the contingencies of specific wars and conflicts.[ix] The entire process is thus fraught with challenge and contradiction. As the opening illustration demonstrates, counting bodies during times of war, far from being an exercise in simple arithmetic and objective rational accounting, belies the operation of factors that elude observation, which are perhaps more powerful. And so, even a cursory glance at records documenting casualty counts in wars fought by the United States suggests that efforts to quantify individuals as wounded and/or killed may be highly suspect. Civilian casualties, if they are counted at all, are even more of a problem, as records indicate statistics are “imprecise” to say the least.

Statistics for civilian dead and wounded are customarily provided by civilian monitoring agencies and NGOs, which are distinctively based on population estimates rather than on actual bodies — no one individual is, as a matter of standard practice, on the ground to verify the counts represent actual bodies. Body counts are rendered even more unstable when we consider that almost all casualty estimates only include people killed by direct violence; those civilians who perish as a result of death from “structural” — illness resulting from a destroyed health-care system or lack of clean water and stable food sources — are not counted.[x] Casualties for “undeclared” conflicts similarly do not register. Statistics for the dead and wounded that occur in what are essentially “proxy wars” in places like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and the Sudan are likewise never counted. Thus it appears statistical death is primary and renders biological death insignificant.

Given that the primary focus of counting centers on soldiers, it is not surprising that counting methodology does not adapt well to the different bodies produced as a result of war. For example, how do we account for the civilian casualties from 9/11? What about casualties from countries with whom we are not at war? How do we count the civilians killed and wounded in missile/drone strikes in the Palestinian territories and in Pakistan? The lack of a clear answer prompts Judith Butler to ask, “why is it that sometimes numbers don’t count at all?”[xi] Clearly ambiguities abound. For example, how does one classify soldier suicides and injuries caused by accidents? Moreover, just because a war is officially declared “won” or “over” doesn’t mean that violence and injury cease to take place. Death and injury from unexploded ordinance that remains in Vietnam are still commonplace. Equally troubling, we find in some instances that bodies might be wounded, yet not possess an identifiable injury; others might be wounded without experiencing war; and some might be injured without ever being deployed to a conventional battle theater. Considering these obvious contradictions, I think it is perhaps beneficial to take a closer look at conceptualization and measurement.

What is War?

Counting war casualties is in no small way dependent on how one defines war to begin with — this particularly holds true when it comes to accounting for the beginnings and endings of wars, as this discursive signpost represents one of the prime “cuts” of measure in casualty accounting. Thus, one finds that different conceptual and nominal understandings of war, when combined with different concepts of time and duration and what counts as a casualty, all influence statistical outcomes. Unstable identity categories like “civilian” and “soldier” also exert a major impact on casualty reporting. Assuming stable identity categories and measurement methodology is in this manner a bit like building a foundation on shifting sand. Consequently, the idea that one might obtain attain an accurate body count is perhaps then a conceit of the highest order.

Official records, beginning with the time period that pre-dates the Revolutionary war, reveal there are only five wars in which the United States formally declared war. They include: The War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, The Spanish-American War, World War I and II. The American Civil War, for example, was technically not a war according to international laws of war, because the Confederate States of America were never granted full diplomatic recognition as a stand-alone government by other sovereign nations. In the contemporary vernacular, Confederate soldiers were thought to be “non-state” actors, or as we are wont to call them — “terrorists.” Other conflicts indicate military action was undertaken subsequent to authorization by congress as a “military engagement,” which was not accompanied by a war declaration. This includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.[xii] Such engagements are by definition not “wars” according to the conventional interpretation, which again calls for a formal declaration of war. In the case of Korea, only a signed “armistice” agreed to in 1953 is in place, so this particular military engagement is technically not concluded and continues in the present day.



What is a casualty?

Ironically, the use of the words “casualty,” “fatality,” and “wounded” themselves give rise to ambiguity and uncertainty in the accounting process, as they tend to produce more confusion than clarification. Technically speaking, the term “casualty” denotes both dead and wounded soldiers, whereas “fatality” refers to only to those soldiers counted as dead. Despite this, the public often misinterprets the meaning of casualty to apply only to soldiers killed in action. The misapprehension here is indicative of more than simple oversight; it suggests there is a linguistic hierarchy of difference implied in the interpretive act — one that registers an order of priority of acknowledgement, where the dead count more than the wounded, whose status, not having made the ultimate “life ” sacrifice, is accorded secondary recognition. Wounded bodies, it appears then, are wont to resist both empirical and linguistic capture. Counting the wounded is rendered progressively more difficult when one considers that not all wounds “count” as a casualty. Body counts are typically registered in terms of the aggregate numbers of individuals killed, wounded or missing; statistics might also be reported in terms of ratios and rates. In some cases, it is the total number of incidents of wounding that are counted, rather than the individual wounded bodies. Each successive counting operation, in the pursuit of human aggregates and equivalents, employs mathematics that are progressively complex, such that the body undergoes a process of fragmentation and fractionalization as it moves toward erasure.

Again, it is not a surprise that in much the same way the conceptual definition of war requires clarification, the concept “wound” benefits from similar exposition. Wound and trauma are often defined interchangeably as the manifestation of injury, where skin or another external surface might be torn, pierced, cut, or otherwise penetrated and opened. Medical definitions extend this meaning to be inclusive of any break in the skin or an organ or part as the result of violence or a surgical incision. Already, one notes the conflation of wound and trauma and the association of violence with medical epistemology. These relations are not insignificant. Problematizing the soldier’s wounded body assumes the operational step of combining the two concepts, soldier and wound. The assemblage of the two suggests an epistemology of the body that is perhaps more complex compared to bodies in general. Yet in this instance, I don’t think it is useful or even relevant to elaborate a distinctive typology of the body. On the contrary, I want to argue that the incident of wounding, which under conditions of war takes place under distinctively violent social circumstances, demands we re-think the epistemological assumptions that underlie methodological practice in regards to how we measure, cut, and count bodies — this particularly applies to wounded bodies, because such a body is rife with ambiguity, contradiction and uncertainty. As Patricia Clough (2012) notes, “violence needs to appear behind a human body” in order to “humanize and naturalize what otherwise functions merely as a calculation of risk (Clough, 2012: 7). Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in matters of war.

Wounds as they are traditionally defined and depicted entail that the trauma be physically observable. Yet we know that soldiers also suffer from what are essentially “invisible wounds” like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Significantly, these different forms of wounding are not always counted and registered in statistical representations of wounded populations. This might be attributed to the fact that brain trauma and psychic trauma are understood differently. For example, whereas brain trauma/TBI is recognized as physical in nature, PTSD is assumed to be a psychic trauma — an affliction of the mind — so it is counted differently than body-based injuries. Thus we find there is a resurgent mind-body dualism that characterizes the prevailing ideology when it comes to counting war casualties. This occurs in spite of an increasing body of clinical evidence that confirms that PTSD also entails a significant physical component. Injuries that afflict the mind are essentially “wounds without a body” and so they are accorded less recognition compared to physical injuries. All of these complications and contradictions degrade the accuracy of accounting.

Counting fatalities and counting the wounded thus are not only both body-centric activities, recognition as such is tied to their association with conventional conflict zones and fighting landscapes that, much like the body, are rapidly undergoing reorganization and change. The same logic explains why psychic trauma, unlike body trauma, doesn’t arouse public empathy to the same degree as physical trauma — there is no sign of bodily injury. Evidence of this can be seen in the case of amputees, who garner a great deal more public recognition, despite the fact that they register fewer in number when compared to the larger population of wounded soldiers, who suffer from a variety of other types of war injuries.[xiii]  Thus it is the case that drone wars, directed by soldier/operators that are not located in combat theaters, produce casualties in places that are not defined as war zones. In the same way that the civilian casualties produced by those attacks are not counted (they are collateral damage), the soldiers piloting the drones who often work from air conditioned trailers in the Western United States are, in similar fashion, not counted when they succumb to injury. Consequently, there are documented cases of PTSD among drone operators despite soldiers never having set foot on a battlefield (a criterion that must be satisfied in order for their injury to officially count as a casualty).

In the case of both TBI and PTSD, counting is especially challenging when one takes affect into account, as the affective disruption experienced in connection with trauma often results in the trauma remaining unspoken. Injuries of this nature are more difficult to account for, as they typically rely on self-reports, which are often discouraged by military culture itself, which is known to disdain acknowledgment of injury and weakness, and so injures are not reported and effectively remain hidden. Elaine Scarry (1985) engages a critique of torture that addresses the uniquely unspoken nature of trauma and pain.  On the subject of pain in particular, she notes the person who hears about another’s pain unavoidably “has doubt” because pain lacks objective certainty for them. Pain cannot be confirmed by the one who is not in pain, despite the fact that it is overwhelmingly present to the person who is in pain. Pain, thus, not only resists language and expression, it resists acknowledgement, quantification, and interpretation because it remains invisible to others. Scary illustrates by calling attention to the visual arts use of the “the scream,” a recurrent trope that evokes the art work of Bacon and Munch, famous for depicting an open mouth making a sound that cannot be heard (Scarry, 1985: pp.51-52).


Photo downloaded from  Last accessed Jan 31, 2013.

Clough’s (2009) work on trauma, affect and enactive witnessing addresses a similar dynamic, as she refers to as the “unspeakability” of trauma in the witnessing work of psychoanalysis. I call attention to this work, because Clough alludes to problems inherent in both linear and dualistic thinking, as she questions the relationship between event, wound, trauma, bodily life, and subjectivity. Whereas traditional thinking in psychoanalysis presupposes a traumatizing event exists prior to the wound/trauma, implying a causal relation between wound and trauma, as well as a bifurcated relation between mind and body, Clough suggests “the in-between” affect potentially disrupts the traditional ordering of events. Like Scary, she also cites the problem of language in the construction of subjectivity and how it is problematic to expect speaking subjects to render articulate thoughts about traumatic events. Trauma theory, in this respect, suggests wounding is not a singular event, dependent on the sign of a visible wound. Freud himself argues that even when wounding escapes visual capture, individuals are no less inscribed. His writing about trauma and the repetition compulsion associated with shell shock during the First World War attests to the elusive nature of traumatic war injuries. Regardless of circumstance, visible or invisible, wounded soldiers are indelibly marked by the “sign” of injury — that is, the wound, the cut, the  trauma, which affectively repeats and occurs within an indeterminate circulation. Every wound thus is imbued with its own temporality.

Consequently, if we understand wounding as a phenomenon that occurs within a circulation, this would explain how one might experience both the injury and the war as perpetually “new,” given they must confront a life-time of repetitive injury, multiple wounds, secondary wounds, an indeterminate number of wounds, all of which are part of an endless cycle of war and wounding.  Wounding is, in this manner, boundless and like affect it escapes the limit of embodied capture. For reasons that similarly confound efforts to declare when war begins and ends, it is similarly not clear where wounding begins and ends. The indeterminacy of wounding here raises important questions about how we count and document the wounds of war. For where then does the cut of measure mark the beginning and ending of the counting? Writing about pain and trauma thus shares common ground with writing about war and wounding: by all accounts, the challenge lies in how to acknowledge, document and/or express that which resists expression. Psychoanalytic theory thus lends further support to the argument that empirical methods of accounting for war casualties are prone to failure, as many injuries are prone to escape counting and quantification. Yet even this shortcoming is superseded by the fact that counting wounds as an empirical exercise is suspect on the basis that it’s politicized and may be corrupted by powerful interests.

At this point, it should be evident that subjective perceptions and memories of event, trauma, wound, time, and duration do not align well with traditional rational-empirical methods. Representational practices, likewise, fall short of their goal to objectify and quantify body counts, and also in their effort to help us see and feel those bodies (Kaplan, 2013). Assuming these questions and contradictions cannot be resolved, the resulting indeterminacy precludes objective certainty when it comes to counting war casualties. It follows that the wound, cut, or trauma that resists, evades, and escapes counting, likewise, escapes recorded history and memory. Doubt and uncertainty fill the void vacated by the wound’s ontology of absence. Wounding, as it has been shown here, resists language, expression and quantification. Thus, the anatomical logic of war is such that, regardless of how many rockets, bayonets and knives might render skin from bone, not even a mountain of casualty reports can penetrate and imprint the psyche of the uninitiated in such a way as they might grasp the brute nature of slaughter; that alone remains the sole possession of those who are witness to war. This means we are only ever left with a lingering and indeterminate sense of what becomes of the bodies that are wounded and killed in war. And so, as others have already inferred, all that remains is the scream.

What is Measure?

Moving from concepts to measure, I want to suggest we consider what Clough calls “affective measure” (Clough, 2012: 29). For what is war if it is not above all things, a radically embodying, intrinsically affective, sensory experience? War takes lives and eviscerates bodies; it arouses hatred, fear and pain; war conjures blood-soaked images of bodies missing parts, flesh descending from bone, twisted faces and silent screams―the body rendered as human meat.[xiv] Bodies are cut open. Friends bleed. And many are wounded to point of death. War, in other words, illustrates how a body might be visibly, viscerally, and forcibly undone. Yet even here the body as well as affect remains elusive. Whereas Clough distinguishes affect from emotion as a pre-individual and non-conscious, I wish to clarify my understanding, which looks to how affect operates in accordance with a relational ontology of the body, where affect denotes bodily capacity and bodily potential. Affect, as I employ it here, similarly operates independent of individual bodies, which can exceed the physical limitations of their embodiment, but nonetheless remains a body. Affect might also register as emotion, as a population response to the horrors visited by war. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that affect is not limited to bodies and subjects, which often effectively resist capture by rational empirical measures focused on probabilistic outcomes (Clough, 2012: 3).

Affective measure, according to Clough, measures the “immeasurable” as it takes into account social dynamics that occur “in-between” what empirical measures are designed to count. In this respect, affective measure helps overcome one of the inherent weaknesses of empirical measure, insofar as it does not seek to quantify and statistically model a war experience that cannot be observed and is not always be quantifiable.[xv]  Methodological empiricism, on the other hand, reduces pain, trauma, event, and wound, such that we are left with disembodied concepts in series. Under this approach, the soldier’s body, particularly the wounded body, is variously counted/not counted or is rendered missing. The search for the original event or original trauma — that one that compels the entire causal chain of events — necessarily imposes causality and finitude upon that which resists and escapes it; such a dynamic, according to Foucault, is indicative of “a play of correspondences” that deludes us (Foucault, 1970: 367). For this reason, I am suggesting affective methodology may be better suited to capture the full range of social dynamics that imbricate war and the body in an affective circuit modulated by killing, wounding, violence, fear, and pain.

Following the soldier’s wounded body across the time span of different conflicts offers one way that we might register and measure how war occasions the body’s progressive course of displacement; one finds, over the course of time, the body is produced as physically altered at the same time as it is cleaved of its vitality and affective capacity. War, in this manner, takes the soldier’s body apart only to put it back together again, marshaling a combination of destructive and generative forces, the body is assembled as new, albeit less than whole, even as it remains a body. Traditional counting regimes that measure wounded bodies on the basis of comparison with whole bodies and subjects further complicate an already troubled rational empirical counting methodology. Whatever the case, I think it is important to take critical stock of the process that produces the soldier’s body alongside other bodies, so we might employ a measurement methodology that accounts for a war experience that evades traditional measurement capture.

Missing Data

Regardless of official status, missing or dead, war casualties share an important fact in common, which is that large numbers of them are statistically not fully accounted for –the body is in this sense “missing data.” Never having been found, as evidenced by finding a whole body or body parts, one’s life status is effectively rendered indeterminate.[xvi] One might recall the infamous body counting efforts from the Vietnam War. Generals and politicians during this war frequently relied upon the body counts of soldiers, friendly and enemy alike, in addition to civilian casualty counts, as a means to document the success and/or failure of military campaigns. Body counts as such were rendered as a form of currency with an implied political value: they were traded on a political-economic exchange–one where financial accounting measures that calculate risk and reward were engaged to influence public opinion through the modulation of affect. This was a primary pillar in the strategy to generate support for the war. Record keeping for casualties that occurred during the Vietnam War continued well beyond the official ceasing of combat operations. In the case of soldiers whose bodies remained unaccounted for, manipulation of official classifications like “missing in action” and “killed in action” served to further magnify how political power intervenes, not only in the form of efforts to control the content of official records, but also by means of injecting uncertainty, suspending time, thereby destabilizing the very idea of certainty, duration, and finality as they apply to accounting for the dead and the wounded.

Counting casualties in Vietnam did not stand the test of history (nor for that matter the end of the war), as it was ultimately exposed to be crass exercise in ideological accounting, driven more by politics than rational scientific empiricism. In much the same way that counting communists during the Cold War in the United States only gave the appearance that it was concerned with communist uprising (it was more concerned about silencing individuals identified with social justice movements and progressive causes), counting in Vietnam gave the appearance that it was applying rational empirical methods to the war effort, when in fact something more insidious was transpiring. Far from offering a transparent measure of objective certainty, the real power of accounting, as we see in both Vietnam examples, lies outside the techno-mechanical process of counting. Counting was exposed as an expression of political power, where the power to count implies an ability to confer status on the counted (and a lack of status on the un-counted) at the same time as it re-affirms the power of the one who counts. Ambiguity and indeterminacy, not accuracy and certainty I would argue, are perhaps the most predictable outcome of any counting regime.

Notwithstanding, it is not enough that one possess power; one must also perform power in the act of counting. Although we have long since been delivered from the era of the scaffold, where sovereigns made public displays of their power by inscribing it on the bodies of the condemned, power now finds a new and perhaps more obscene way to express itself. Instead of publically tearing the flesh from the carnal body, rendering it into pieces, the same result might now be accomplished using rational empirical accounting methods. Statistical bodies are produced from biological bodies by means of mathematical rendition, where the distance between them is no longer measurable, as the process is indifferent to producing soldiers, civilians, prisoners, and corpses alike. And so wherever there is a public display of counting, power too is on display. Visual politics have not changed. Thus, regardless whether one is counting soldiers’ bodies in Afghanistan, civilian bodies from 9/11, or children’s bodies in Gaza or Newtown, Connecticut, power and accounting methods work together through the modulation of affect to create a spectacle–a veritable theater of war. Clough (2012) refers to this process as “a becoming obscene of the social,” where there is a “technicalization or socionormalization of violence that resets the limits of obscenity in a redesign of the scene of the social that is resonant with ongoing war” (Clough, 2012: 28). In this case, both the individual and the population function as “a sort of technical political object of management and government” (Foucault, 2007: 70) [xvii]  One sees here how mere accounting procedures, put in the service of power, might make as well as unmake bodies, such that “making bodies” and “making war” are part and parcel of the same relational economy. The body’s indeterminacy, I would argue, is not an accident or an unfortunate byproduct of war; rather, it is an essential element of a political calculation that is deeply biopolitical and indicative of modern forms of governance.


Counting bodies during wartime is not a neutral undertaking. At the very least it has proven to be a problematic exercise. Accounting for individuals and accounting for  statistical populations might lend themselves to different means and methods of measure; however, clearly the results are less determined and quantifiable than one might surmise. Promoting some statistics while de-emphasizing, concealing, or simply not reporting others diminishes the human cost of war. Ultimately, we are left with an accounting process that breaks down under scrutiny. Casualty (ac)counting is bound to fail when it attempts to quantify and render visible that which cannot be seen. It substitutes methods, definitions, and classifications for phenomena that are more likely better understood when they are felt. Empirical methods, furthermore, that presuppose a linear relation between event and wound, are unable to account for the social dynamism inherent in the process, which might be given expression through affective measure. Taking into account the affective dimensions of war and wounding enables one to account for (but not count) those instances where one might be wounded, despite never having been a witness to war; how one might be touched without bearing the physical scars of war; and how injuries might occur that exceed the body proper.

On a practical level, the failure to both count and account means that all casualty statistics must be considered suspect.  What is more, the real value of casualty records, absent pretentions to accuracy, may very well lie in their discursive potential to tell us something about bodies and power. At least this would explain why so much effort is invested in the manipulation of body counts and efforts to “hide” the body during wartime.[xviii] Numeric irregularities and power plays aside, it is important to grasp that how we count bodies as it relates to war impacts us all. Casualty counts exert a major impact on how bodies are politically represented. Consequently, it is important to identify as well as challenge what purports to be an official empirically rational process, given that it clearly renders some bodies statistically more legible than others. This particularly holds true in instances where soldiers are denoted as separate from civilians, as identity remains salient, unstable as it may be. Acknowledging different contingencies of time, space and place, it is possible that any one among us might be defined as a soldier. Such a process, in my view, suggests casualty accounting is a fundamentally ontological endeavor, because it commands the power to produce, reconfigure, and destroy bodies, subjects, identities and populations. In this respect, the will to count –a manifestation of the will to know– is fully imbricated in power relations and is subject to entanglement “with the appeal for unending war, entangled with the governing of the not-yet lived, at the point of emergence, where ontopower is shadowed by necropolitics” (Clough, 2012: 8). And so we are all combatants one way or another. If I might borrow from the advertising slogan for “Call of Duty” (or COD as it is well known), which stands among the best-selling and most violent military-themed video games:

There’s a Soldier in All of Us   




[i] This short piece is part of a larger project I am presently working on with Patricia Ticineto Clough, entitled           The Body as the Scene of War. Her scholarship and engagement with my arguments in addition to her  encouragement to explore new theories and methods while crossing disciplinary boundaries have all been immensely helpful and continue to impact my work.


[ii] The 1979 draft lottery was conducted on Dec 1, 1969. For more specific information on mechanics related to the conduct of the draft, refer to the article by David E. Rosenbaum, The New York Times, “Statisticians Charge Draft Lottery Was Not Random,” Jan 4, 1970; ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times, pg.66. Downloaded from    Accessed on Jan 7, 2013.


[iii] The reference here recalls the opening chapter of Michel Foucault’s (1979) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House-Vintage Books.


[iv] A more conventional and established method of selection to ensure a random selection would be to draw them from a table of random numbers; though in this instance, it appears the public display of selection was important to the process, even though true randomness was ultimately sacrificed.


[v] Downloaded from Accessed January 11, 2013.


[vi] Statisticians at different universities, including the University of Wisconsin, who were consulted for The Times article pointed out “accepted principals in statistics hold random tests should produce results that occur at least once in 20 times under the laws of probability.” When results occur less frequently, one might reasonably conclude a causative factor was at work.


[vii] While this quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, it is more appropriately sourced in William Bruce Cameron’s 1963 “Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking.” The phrase “not everything that counts can be counted” suggests it is difficult to measure what is important and measurements are likely to be incomplete. Downloaded on 12-12, 2012 from , dated May 26, 2010.


[viii] Judith Butler discusses the counting of war dead in the paperback introduction to her (2009) book “Frames of War,” Verso: London.


[ix] I follow Goldberg (2010), whose use of the term “soldier” is inclusive of individuals who serve in all branches of the armed services, not only the Army, where the term customarily applies. Service members who serve in the Navy are generally referred to as “sailors;” the Air Force, as “airmen;” and “marines” in the Marine Corps.

[xi] Judith Butler (2009), p. xx.


[xii] Controversy ensued during the Vietnam conflict, which was officially commenced officially as a “military engagement” subsequent to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and authorized by the U.S. Congress in January 1971.  Congress later voted to repeal the resolution, but President Richard Nixon continued to wage war in Vietnam. In an effort to curtail Nixon’s Presidential powers, Congress moved to pass the War Powers Resolution (Pub.L. 93-148), and in the process over overrode his veto.


[xiii] An excellent history of the American soldier and the artificial parts that rebuilt after they were injured can be found in Katherine Ott, David Serlin, and Stephen Mihm’s “Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics, 2002.


[xiv] Although this is not a citation from Gilles Deluze’s (2002 [1981]) “Francis Bacon,” the imagery is suggested by both his writing and Bacon’s artwork.


[xv] For more information on “affective measure” in addition to aesthetic measure, refer to Patricia Clough’s discussion in her (2012) essay “War by Other Means” published in Karatzogianni, Athina and Adi Kuntsman (eds.) Digital Cultures and the Politics of Emotion. 2012. London: Palgrave.


[xvi] Vietnam War casualty identification continues in the present day, where scientists employ the most advanced excavation and recovery methods to identify not only bodies, but remains that consist of body parts and other DNA containing material. Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, the site of the infamous attacks of Pearl Harbor and home of the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, houses the world’s largest skeletal identification laboratory and employs more than 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists. The stated goal of this unit is to identify and return the 84,000 U.S. service members who went missing in action during the Vietnam conflict.  Ground-penetrating radar, computers, and satellite imaging are used to locate and detect buried bodies. Excavations have enabled forensic specialists to match recovered teeth with dental records.


[xvii] Foucault cited in Clough (2012).


[xviii] Photos of flag draped caskets have since the Vietnam War been a source of political controversy, so much so that the administration of President George W. Bush instituted a policy forbidding the publishing of photographs depicting dead soldiers’ caskets returning to Dover Air Force base in Delaware during the Pershing Gulf Wars.



sandra trappen