Literal vs. Figurative War

In Zulus we are left in the aftermath of the war that killed off so many on Earth. There is not much mention of what exactly started the war, but the impacts of it are clear. In Medical Apartheid, we are provided with information on the war that has been waged against black people for centuries in the U.S. Harriet Washington focuses on how this war was led throughout the medical industry primarily, but in conjuncture with the context of the racial issues of the time, depending on which era she is talking about. The first war discussed is done in the public eye with an acknowledgment of the actions taking place, while the war discussed in Medical Apartheid is done in private, with heads turned in the opposite direction. Each act of war is harmful in different ways, but it is also hurting the population as a whole, even if certain people don’t feel any direct consequences.

In Percival Everett’s Zulus there is a world left over after what could be described as the apocalypse. We are never told exactly why the war began or what happened during it, but we are continuously reminded of what it has caused. After Alice Achitophel is moved out of the city and the group has to walk through the scar, she notices that the earth has a distinct red color, similar to the color of blood. She asks “Why is it red like this?” and Theodore Theodore responds that “The war did it (Everett: 57).” The earth around them has been altered severely by the conflict, and there is not much they can do about it. Even when she asks direct questions about how the scar was created, there is not much of an explanation given to her about exactly why or how it happened. The only explanation is that the war caused it, simple as that. The attitudes left over afterwards are even more pessimistic, with Alice Achitophel saying “God must have died during the war (Everett: 17).” The war has left everyone disheartened and scared for the future, since they think it will only lead to the demise of humanity. Although they can’t be sure of it, Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters do eventually spread the Agent and actually kill everyone, but they couldn’t know that in the beginning. In Medical Apartheid there is not a war as defined by its literal definition, but there is an attack on black people within the U.S. going on during our history, and even present, that Washington presents us with. She tells us that, because of the population that doctors and scientists were made up of primarily until the last few decades, “They could afford to be frank… Therefore, a doctor could be open about buying slaves for experiments, or locating or moving hospitals to areas where blacks furnished bodies for experimentation and dissection (Washington:10).” The fact that black people were being attacked wasn’t being publicized because there was no way to tell everyone when a lot of people were illiterate, and even if it had been known there isn’t a strong case to argue that people would have cared. The black community was well aware of the acts taking place around them, and even today when it is mentioned many are seen as gullible for believing such myths. This war was done privately, but the effects were the same as the war that occurred publically.

The impact that the medical experimentation on black people had is still prominent today. The medical system is seen as untrustworthy to many, and there are fields within the industry that are heavily based off of these experiments, such as gynecology. Although this conflict was not waged publically there were still major impacts like the war that occurred in Zulus. The literal meaning of what a war is and isn’t does not change the impacts that a literal or figurative war can have. In many ways people may even call the experimentation and dissection of black people a literal war. They were targeted and many thought they would eventually be killed off, but they were also mostly unable to defend themselves, so it could be seen as an ethnic cleansing as well. Even though in Zulus some people immediately died after the agent was released the first time there were also people left behind. These people were hurt in the long run, just like the people who were not directly experimented on were hurt in the long run in the U.S. Even though they were not directly impacted it still harmed them because of the cultural effects this experimentation has had.

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