Imperial mimesis

Enacting and policing empathy in US military training


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After 9/11, the US military made a “cultural turn”—a call to understand the culture of the adversary. Under this protocol, cadets in training camps around the United States have rehearsed embodied empathetic connections with Middle Eastern role‐players by miming their interlocutors. In this imperial mimesis, the trainee tries to make the distant proximate by enacting an image of the Other (through gesture, posture, etc.) in order to gain power over those whom they mime (“locals” and, ultimately, potential terrorists). This mimetic labor is charged with anxiety and risk as soldiers negotiate and police the boundaries of alterity to prevent moments of overflow. Amid the seductive tug of mimesis, the trainee is ultimately asked to empathetically “become Other” in order to contain that Other.