The Lost Girls interview, war, and its relationship to sex

In the Lost Girls interview I linked to recently, one thing that Alan Moore says stands out as resolutely wrong:

War, I still believe, is a complete and utter failure of the imagination. It’s when everything else has been abandoned or hasn’t worked. It’s what destroys the imagination. It set back the progress of the human imagination.

It’s true that war “set[s] back the progress of the human imagination,” but war is actually about resource control, with “resources” defined broadly. Resources may be primarily geographic (one thinks of the recent U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan) or they may be about commodities (one thinks of Japan capturing oil fields in World War II) or they may be people themselves (one thinks of innumerable pre-modern religious wars). They are also often sexual, or have a sexual tinge, which Moore and Gebbie do get right in Lost Girls and foreground, since sexual behaviors and motives tend to be glossed or ignored in most histories.

There are exceptions, however; consider, for example, this passage from Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II:

The number of sexual relationships that took place between European women and Germans during the war is quite staggering. In Norway as many as 10 per cent of women aged between fifteen and thirty had German boyfriends during the war. If the statistics on the number of children born to German soldiers are anything to go by, this was by no means unusual: the numbers of women who slept with German men across western Europe can easily be numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Resistance movements in occupied countries came up with all kinds of excuses for the behaviour of their women and girls. They characterized women who slept with Germans as ignorant, poor, even mentally defective. They claimed that women were raped, or that they slept with Germans out of economic necessity. While this was undoubtedly the case for some, recent surveys show that women who slept with German soldiers came from all classes and all walks of life. On the whole European women slept with Germans not because they were forced to, or because their own men were absent, or because they needed money or food – but simply because they found the strong, ‘knightly’ image of German soldiers intensely attractive, especially compared to the weakened impression they had of their own menfolk. In Denmark, for example, wartime pollsters were shocked to discover that 51 per cent of Danish women openly admitted to finding German men more attractive than their own compatriots. (164–166)

That wartime behavior became a topic of community discussion and cathartic release and punishment after the war. Still, this passage and other, similar ones from Savage Continent demonstrate that a lot of men treat women like resources in the context of war. Saying that war “is a complete and utter failure of the imagination” implies a level of goodwill that often doesn’t exist. To continue with the World War II example, it’s evident that Hitler had a phenomenal imagination, to the point that most of his adversaries and victims couldn’t believe the staggering, cruel audacity of what he was attempting. In a more recent example, in the first Gulf War it was apparent that Saddam Hussein imagined himself taking over Kuwait and perhaps Saudi Arabia, although he didn’t presumably imagine that he’d provoke a world-wide counter-reaction.

Nonetheless, the rest of the Moore and Gebbie interview is excellent and unexpectedly moving, and Lost Girls itself is, from what I know, still a singular, highly unusual, and highly recommended book.

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