Composing the War: Nation and Self in Narratives of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's Deployment to the 1991 Gulf Conflict
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Self and nation, popularly considered to be of natural origin in the Western world, are in fact constructed through social processes. One of these processes is narrative: the stories that purport to describe the nation and the self actually bring them into being. This thesis argues that national identity and the individual subjectivity of citizens are mutually and simultaneously constitutive, as the stories that construct both phenomena draw on the same discourses. Nations are constructed through narratives told about their citizens, whilst individuals draw on shared discourses within the national domain in order to narrate their identities. According to scholars like Dawson (1994) and Summerfield (1998), who use the term “subjective composure” to describe this process, narrating life experiences allows people to construct an “acceptable” version of their past and their selves that can be comfortably lived with. When a person’s stories are authorised the identity produced by those stories is socially validated. In this thesis I explore the processes of the simultaneous construction of self and nation via an analysis of the narratives told about one event: the deployment of the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 40 Squadron to the coalition force that fought Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. 40 Squadron’s own narratives of the event, collected in interviews in 2007, as well as media representations and government statements from the time of the Gulf War, are analysed in regards to their various identity projects, alongside memoirs and histories of both the Gulf War and earlier wars in which New Zealand has taken part, in order to illuminate the shared discourses against which New Zealand narratives of the Gulf War must find affirmation. I find that the identity project of the nation is at odds with those of individual 40 Squadron members; so that the same discourse cannot be used to achieve both projects. This results in several different definitions of 40 Squadron’s deployment. Whilst the government and media categorise it as a peacekeeping mission, members of 40 Squadron construct it as an instance of their either being “at war” or “on holiday.” Because only the peacekeeping categorisation circulates in the public sphere, 40 Squadron struggles to find affirmation for the stories they tell about their experience and therefore for the identities they narrate through those stories. National discourses may not always be workable for citizens attempting to compose acceptable selves.