The Veteran (2011) – The Consolations of War and its Theories

Humans are a curious species in so far as our desire to understand the world frequently outstrips both our analytical skill and our willingness to accept the truth. Nowhere is this tension better expressed than in the explosion of conspiracy theories that invariably follow the unexpected death of a celebrity.

As JG Ballard correctly diagnosed in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), celebrities are not merely people but symbols and signs. These signs and symbols bind culture together in such a way that, when the celebrity attached to them suddenly dies, the symbol continues to exist simply because of the structural role they play. Dimly aware of the undead symbolic status of these celebrities, humans attempt to account for the cognitive dissonance by either denying that they are dead or by seeking to transform their deaths into important historical moments: Osama bin Laden is simply too important to be shot dead in some Pakistani suburb.

Our desire to see the world in terms that make sense to us is also evident in our attempts to build theories that account for such random and chaotic events as war. Matthew Hope’s The Veteran explores the idea that, far from being a violent and random convulsion of the body politic, war might actually be a force of nature.

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