Remembering Benghazi

Cover Letter:

This is the final draft of my inquiry 3 essay. I have had a very tough time over the course of creating this inquiry because I kept seeming to struggle in every draft with incorporating memory. Each draft that I have turned in, I could not figure out a way to incorporate memory which led me to needing to switch my topic. I was unsure how much memory to include in regards to the topic I was analyzing. For this final draft, I feel the most confident I have in my topic because I put most of my focus on memory and I hope that it fits the criteria more than my other drafts have. Instead of jumping around to find sources to support my claims, something you suggested not doing, I just focused on incorporating elements of the writings by Jelin and Sturken because they seemed the most relevant in regards to this inquiry since we did go over them in class. I think by condensing my sources and really focusing in on the two provided to us in class, my final draft went much smoother and I was able to analyze the situation more effectively.

Overall, I think that this was a very challenging assignment and am confident that I
grasped the concept for this final draft, so I hope that you agree. It was very interesting to see how current political figures have abused their power and authority to establish certain memories that fit their agendas because while it can be obvious, it is not something you tend to think about regularly.

Alternate Accounts of the Attack at Benghazi

Memory entrepreneurs are defined by Jelin as those “who seek social recognition and
political legitimacy of one (their own) interpretation or narrative of the past” (33). These
entrepreneurs uphold and advocate for the establishment of their own side of a story within the public sphere. They seek to identify the good from the bad guys in the context of their own agenda. For the purpose of this essay, I will examine the current narratives surrounding the 2012 Benghazi attacks and how the film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi has shaped the narrative of that night in the minds of much of the public. I will analyze the how the events that unfolded within the film are remembered, advocated for and criticized differently by the victims and the political agents involved. The essay will analyze the narrative of the night advanced by Clinton and the Obama administration, and compare it to the narrative advanced by the victims, their families, and other agents involved. This will be done through using the scholarship of Elizabeth Jelin with excerpts from her book, State Repression and the Labors of Memory, as well as through scholarship by Marita Sturken with her piece Tangled Memories.

According to Jelin, memory is used and abused by the opposing agents in order to advance their story (26).What constitutes an agent is someone with political authority, also referred to as an “agent of the state,” that can shape and create an “official memory” (Jelin, 27). Moreover, Jelin recognizes victims that were directly affected by an event as holding a “privileged role” in regards to pushing their interpretation of past events (Jelin, 34). For the purposes of this essay, I will be focusing on and comparing the narratives promoted by the “agent of the state,” Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, and the narratives promoted by the victims, those whom survived and the families of those whose lives were lost.

The film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opened in theaters in January 2016,
three months after the Benghazi hearing in which Hillary Clinton was on the stand for eleven hours. The release of the movie came amidst Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign which led many on the political left to believe that the film was an active attack aimed to sabotage the democratic party and their chances of winning the presidential election. The director of the film, Michael Bay, describes the movie as having nothing to do with politics, “we were just saying the facts” (FoxNews). The film was created through compiling detailed accounts of the events that had taken place from the perspective of the victims. While the film never mentions the former Secretary of State, it does indirectly scrutinize Clinton through the indication of the lack of response from the United States government during the attacks. By not acknowledging the former Secretary of State or the Obama administration, the film enhances the claim and memories that are shared by the victims and their families. If the film acknowledged the opposing narrative, then there would be no memories suppressed.

The attacks became a popular topic prior to and during the 2016 presidential election,
with individuals blasting Hillary Clinton on what they deem her failure to respond to the looming threats of an attack a few days prior to the actual execution of the attack. Victims and the families of the victims of the attack claim that Hillary Clinton deliberately ignored the calls and requests for increased security and support in the days prior to the attacks. The families of the victims, as well as many political figures on the right, criticize Clinton for what they describe as an inability to handle classified information and what they believe to be a failure to accurately identify the cause of the attacks (Carroll).

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration placed blame for the attacks on a YouTube video created by an American that mocked Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. It was not until weeks later that the former secretary of state released a statement weeks later claiming that it was the result of a terrorist attack that had been planned months prior (Kiely). The opposition believes that the Obama administration aided in spreading the anti-muslim video narrative to increase the former president’s chances of being reelected. Analyzing the narrative in the context of Jelin’s scholarship, it can be concluded that the political agents acting in this situation, former Secretary of State and the Obama administration, were attempting to situate their account of the attacks in a way that would suppress the oppositions viewpoint,
therefore, enhancing their perspective. The Clinton’s and the Obama administration used, some would argue abused, its authority and known credibility to alter the account of the night of the attacks in such a way that would address the situation but not hurt his chances of being reelected.

The truth behind which narrative provides an accurate account of the events that unfolded that night has been easily clouded by the conflicting narratives advanced by the opposing agents, as well as by the lack of substantial evidence to reach a verdict on what happened that night. However, it is clear that there exists the two groups of authority recognized by Jelin – the victims and the Clinton campaign – that are attempting to shape how individuals remember and recollect the Benghazi attacks.

There are many conflicting details that arise between the film and the stories told by the
political agents. The film portrays the attacks as a premeditated terrorist attack, which contradicts the claims made by Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration. Moreover, the victims of the attack claim they received an order to stand down from the CIA director when they first received a call for help from the embassy that ambassador Chris Stevens was in. The stand down order is portrayed in the movie, however, the Congressional investigators assigned to the Benghazi investigation claim that there was no indication that there was a stand down order. The former Secretary and President Obama rely on the conclusions drawn by Congressional investigators (The Kelly File). Had there been an indication of a stand down order, the administration would have been at greater fault and there could have been greater consequences faced by those involved. This creates two possible narratives to form and which one believes depends on whom they trust more, the United States Congress which consists of elected officials
whose duty is to represent the people, or the victims of the attack who are not elected to
represent the people, however, are eyewitnesses to the attacks and everything that occurred on September 11th, 2012? Support for each group can be justified, however, the narratives and how one remembers the event varies immensely depending on which group one trusts.

The presence of two different groups agents, who both obtain a great deal of authority in
regards to formulating official memories, makes it difficult for an official history to be
established in the public sphere. When survivors of a specific political event are still alive, the memories surrounding the event are constantly changing. In Tangled Memories, Sturken expresses her belief that “history operates more efficiently when its agents are dead” (5). The narrative spread by the Clinton’s regarding Benghazi has changed overtime due to the increased investigations surrounding her email server. Moreover, her presidential campaign generated a stronger interest in her past scandals and wrongdoings, as her opposition used it as a way to destroy her credibility. With that being said, Secretary Clinton and her campaign had to frequently revise their account of the story and the email scandal in order to create an response that would restore whatever credibility was lost and maintain the support of her voters. The consistent alteration of memories supports the claim made by Jelin the memories are dynamic
and the actors “establish/convince/transmit their narrative, so that others will accept it” (26).

The Benghazi attacks are an excellent example of how different forms of authority have
used or abused memory and history to fit the agenda of the person in power. The victims who have an emotional tie to the attacks and whom have developed bitter feelings towards the administration in power during the attacks work to advance the narrative that achieves their goal. The goal in this situation is to reveal what they claim to be the “truth” behind the attacks and the failure of the administration in charge to successfully execute the job they were put in power to do. Likewise, the administration and former Secretary of State have abused their political authority to enhance the narrative that clears them of any wrongdoing, whether their narrative is true or not. Which narrative to believe is up to the individual to decide


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