Rules of Engagement: Performance and Identity in the War on Terror



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War and war-fighters have become immortalized through performance; generations of service-men and women are defined by actions on the battlefield artfully altered on stage and screen. This reciprocal relationship, whether war-fighters intentionally participate or not, has imbued the entertainment industry with the power to characterize war-fighters in lasting ways. Performance enters the military in other ways as well: war-fighters reenact moments from war films; combat training takes on theatrical tactics and rhetoric; war-fighters of the War on Terror record and stage their own war performances.

We accept that current war performances will inevitably affect the perception and reputation of war-fighters, not only for the duration of the war but for decades afterward, but do we fully understand the cost of the relationship between today's war-fighters and performance's role in the military? In this MA thesis, based on ethnographic fieldwork with veterans of the War on Terror, I explore the intersection between war-fighters, war, and performance. By examining how veterans relate to cinematic and stage performances of war, I will discuss how war-fighters of the War on Terror use performance to surrogate their warrior identities, to train for and defer the war experience, and to produce their own war performances. Combining my ethnographic fieldwork with archival film and play research, I illuminate how performance constitutes and challenges the war-fighter?s identities in the War on Terror.