Thursday, January 23, 2014

21st Century Warfare - Wall Street v. Arab Street?

It is already a journalistic cliche that a new form of war is now emerging: a high-tech war in which precision bombing, and so on, does the job, without any direct intervention by ground forces (if they are needed at all, this can be left to 'local allies'). Old notions of face-to-face combat, courage, and so on, are becoming obsolete. We should note the structural homology between this new warfare-at-a-distance, where the 'soldier' (a computer specialist) pushes buttons hundreds of miles away, and the decisions of managerial bodies which affect millions (IMF specialists dictating the conditions a Third World country has to meet in order to deserve financial aid; WTO regulations; corporate boards deciding about necessary 'restructuring'): in both cases, abstraction is inscribed into a very 'real' situation - decisions are made which will affect thousands, sometimes causing terrifying havoc and destruction, but the link between these 'structural' decisions and the painful reality of millions is broken; the 'specialists' taking the decisions are unable to imagine the consequences, since they measure the effects of these decisions in abstract terms (a country can be 'financially sane' even if millions in it are starving).

And today's 'terrorism' is simply the counterpoint to this warfare. The true long-term threat is further acts of mass terror in comparison with which the memory of the WTC collapse will pale - acts that are less spectacular, but much more horrifying, What about bacteriological warfare, what about the use of lethal gas, what about the prospect of DNA terrorism (developing poisons which will affect only people who share a specific genome)? In contrast to Marx, who relied on the notion of the fetish as a solid object whose stable presence obfuscates its social mediation, we should assert that fetishism reached its acme precisely when the fetish itself is 'dematerialized', turned into a fluid 'immaterial' virtual entity; money fetishism will culminate with the passage to its electronic form, when the last traces of its materiality have disappeared - it is only at this stage that it will assume the form of an indestructible spectral presence: I owe you 1,000 dollars, and no matter how many material notes I burn, I still owe you 1,000 dollars - the debt is inscribed somewhere in virtual space...Does not the same also hold for warfare? Far from pointing towards twenty-first-century warfare, the WTC twin towers explosion and collapse in September 2001 were, rather, the last spectacular cry of twentieth-century warfare. What awaits is something much more uncanny: the spectre of an 'immaterial' war where the attack is invisible - viruses, poisons which can be anywhere and nowhere. On the level of visible material reality, nothing happens, no big explosions; yet the known universe starts to collapse, life disintegrates.

We are entering a new era of paranoiac warfare in which the greatest task will be to identify the enemy and his weapons. In this new warfare, the agents assume their acts less and less publicly: not only are 'terrorists' themselves no longer eager to claim responsibility for their acts (even the notorious al-Qaeda did not explicitly appropriate the September 11 attacks, not to mention the mystery about the origins of the anthrax letters); 'anti-terrorist' state measures themselves are clouded in a shroud of secrecy - all this forming an ideal breeding-ground for conspiracy theories and generalized social paranoia.

And is not the obverse of this paranoiac omnipresence of the invisible war its desubstantialization? Just as we drink beer without alcohol or coffee without caffeine, we are now getting war deprived of its substance - a virtual war fought behind computer screens, a war experienced by its participants as a video game, a war with no casualties (on our side, at least). With the spread of the anthrax panic in October 2001, the West got the first taste of this new 'invisible' warfare in which - an aspect we should always bear in mind - we, ordinary citizens, are totally dependent on the authorities for information about what is going on: we see and hear nothing; all we know comes from the official media. A superpower bombing a desolate desert country and, at the same time, hostage to invisible bacteria - this, not the WTC explosions, is the first image of twenty-first century warfare. Instead of a quick acting out, we should confront some difficult questions: what will 'war' mean in the twenty-first century? Who will 'they' be if they are, clearly, neither states nor criminal gangs? Here I cannot resist the temptation to recall the Freudian opposition of the public Law and its obscene superego double: along the same lines, are not 'international terrorist organizations' the obscene double of the big multinational corporations - the ultimate rhizomatic machine, omnipresent, albeit with no territorial base? Are they not the form in which nationalist and/or religious 'fundamentalism' accommodated itself to global capitalism? Do they not embody the ultimate contradiction, with their particular/ exclusive content and their global dynamic functioning.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Welcome to the Desert of the Real"

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