Respect in Death
Ghouls and Corpses
I started the previous chapter with a discussion of Mary Schloendorff's phantom tumor and the political and legal regime that created it. This chapter begins with a ghost of a different sort—far more active than Schloendorff's tumor and central to the following three anecdotes.
In the first, a young German woman, Miss Trauer, becomes engaged to a lieutenant in the Nazi army, whom she then marries in September 1940, three months after he is killed in the north of France. As Edouard Conte and Cornelia Essner put it in their La Quête de la Race, “by the grace of the Fuhrer and the Chancellor of the Reich, death could not separate [the fiancés].”1 According to Conte and Essner, the dead German soldier could even divorce his widow if she was unfaithful to, or behaved in an undignified manner toward, his memory or the German people.2
The second anecdote concerns the publication of the Italian fascist criminal code, which went into effect in 1930. In this code, the chapter on “Crimes Against Respect Due to the Dead” becomes gradually more central to Italian law in general—the dead body an object of intense scrutiny on the part of the state, regulated in detail, and protected above all from any living individual who might “commit upon it acts of brutality or obscenit?”3
The third story arises out of the U.S. military's 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. In this story, dead American soldiers become the most recognizable sub-