Now its the Brits’ turn to get a scary new weapon. Check out this enhanced blast device, it’ll take the breath right out of your lungs!
Category Archives: War
Its been a fair few days since my last post – my dissertation has been sapping all my energy! Thankfully that is coming to an end and I begin to think about different things.
Yesterday, as I was watching an interesting documentary about the creation of the German national myth in the years leading up to WWII, I had some thoughts on the link between reality and events. I have been reading Baudrillard on and off for the past few weeks and his notion of hyper-reality has really stuck with me. But it was a chapter about Hannah Arendt’s view of theory that really got me going. The following is for my own sake as I think through these concepts, but feel free to comment!
Once a theory of something comes into being, that theory in essence begins to create reality for those who adopt it. It is not events themselves that create our sense of reality, it is the discourse and theory that surrounds those events. So it may be the case that the theoretical paradigm events are interpreted though that gives them their historical significance. WWII German ideology is a good example of this, as once the theory of German supremacy was proposed, all events – be they contemporary anthropological discoveries or re-interpreted historical actions – were viewed through that theoretical prism and a fitting reality was constructed.
Events only gain meaning through perception, making only subjective statements about events possible. David Luban sums it up beautifully:
“Historical truth” is simply the name for the kaleidoscope that successively reveals and dissipates these patterns. All of which is to say: there is no fact of the matter in politics, only a plurality of perspectives.
But certain perspectives can be given more legitimacy by those in positions of authority – scientists, academics, leaders – coming out in support of the theory. At a certain critical mass of support the hyper-reality builds its own internal logic and becomes self-perpetuating (in essence ‘real’). It is only with the benefit of hindsight – after the hyper-reality implodes due to a cataclysmic event – that such a reality seems ridiculous.
I then thought about more recent events. A White House aid once said to a a New York Times reporter that America created its own reality (see here): the theory being that history had ‘ended’ and liberal democracy had emerged as the only ‘true’ way in which to organise societies. However, in order to reify this idea Bush et al. could not just create events, they also needed to manage the theory through which those events were interpreted in the public sphere: ie by the media, by intellectuals etc. After some success to begin with (the media was very receptive in the post 9/11 environment, especially the FOX news network), ‘information management’ has become more difficult, at least not as far as the war in Iraq is concerned (as such I don’t think that Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent paradigm quite fits today’s media). Now Bush says he wants to leave judgement of the Iraq War to history – more evidence of faith in the theory. I suggest that he might not get the vindication he is looking for, as cataclysmic events – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the sectarian violence in Iraq – have already taken place.
But another type of hyper-reality is starting to take hold. The race for the Democratic nomination has been peppered with references to the dangers in the Middle East and particularly Iran. As the competitors run with the theory that a confrontational stance on Middle East is what the American people want (or even is inevitable re: Huntingdon), the rhetoric heats up. Of course, leaders in the Middle East hear the threats and start shouting back. It is the classic Realist security dilemma: all actions taken by the other side must be taken at face value and appropriate measures taken. But Realism is a theory – it takes one view of events invests in them a certain significance. The dangers of this hyper-reality are obvious.
I have always been skeptical of Realism in the way it professes to know certain fundamentals of human behaviour, and equally skeptical of any ‘scientific’ theory of human interaction (neo-realism I talking to you). The question is where do you go from here?
(ps. The photo is by Gregory Crewdson, who is a little like the still image equivalent of David Lynch. With the reality theme it seemed apt)
Oh dear, looks like Hillary has done it again (see here). After lambasting Barack Obama for saying that he would take nuclear weapons off the table when considering action in the Middle East, it turns out she did the same thing back in April 2006. Maybe Hillary has finally decided that there is some utility in the deployment of tactical-nuclear weapons in the ‘War Against Terror’.
It’s sad (and more than a little scary) that the Middle East and nuclear weapons are being mentioned in the same breath. Obviously America’s current level of military firepower is not winning any wars at the moment, but stepping up the rhetoric and groping for a bigger gun (or bomb) is not going to help. Nor will turning the region into a shimmering layer of glass – except if you go by the formula no people = no problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that nuclear weapons have utility, and have played a significant part in preventing great power war. They provide the terrifying framework that has allowed us to concentrate on other things. However, the problem with nuclear weapons is that once they start being used they loose their deterrent properties. The framework of fear turns into one of retribution.
Coalition messes such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have acted as an excuse for every discontent on the verge of picking up a rifle to start fighting. Think what a nuclear strike, however surgical, would do. You want a clash of civilisations? You got it.
Rather than wasting time talking about whether or not they would use nuclear weapons in Pakistan or Afghanistan, the presidential hopefuls should be talking about ways of engaging with the Middle East diplomatically, while disengaging militarily. I am not suggesting that this is an easy thing to do – on the contrary it is much easier to fight those you disagree with than reach a compromise through dialogue with them. But inclusion allows for much more control than exclusion, and keeping states within the forum of the international community (namely the UN, remember them?) is the only way to find a sustainable resolution.
However, I am not sure the American public wants to hear about dialogue with figures that have been demonised by politicians and the press for so long. And remember, now it is all about votes. Lets just hope that Hillary is just pandering to the masses at the moment, but meant what she said back in 2006.
Iain sent me this article on the BBC about 190 000 guns going missing in Iraq. He suggested looking behind the sofa. I always find things in the kitchen draw.
I have just been watching a video on Nick Anstead’s blog about a new military robot called SWORD. In the video we see a soldier sitting at a terminal directing something that looks like Johnny 5 with an M16 strapped to it. The voice-over suggests that the robot will be able to do all the things a soldier can do, with the added bonus of not being a flesh and blood person.
After my initial “oh crap, skynet is here!” response, the next thing that struck me was that a soldier at a terminal is necessarily going to be somewhat disconnected from the the actual situation on the ground, as he has to rely on the robot’s senses to mediate whats going on, and then fill in the blanks himself. Great for the soldier, as he isn’t in any physical danger, but not so great for the ‘insurgents’ in the building – the soldier/robot combo will surely have problems reading the atmosphere/emotions/tensions and could get things wrong. Its also got to be a lot easier to press a button and shoot a gun via a terminal than to do it face to face. I suppose the upside is that as the soldier is in no physical danger, he is more likely to act with a certain amount of reserve and afford the benefit of the doubt. Maybe.
Its great that technology can help keep soldiers a little safer in the very dangerous situations they must work in, but one of the good things about soldiers is that they are human, and humans have that uncanny ability to take in, grasp and adapt to situations on the fly. They also have the ability to relate to other people, generate trust and engage in dialogue with others (whether they choose to do so is another matter). I’m not sure that sending in mini-killing machines is going to help the Iraqis relate to the Americans. In fact, it may just end up dehumanizing both sides even more.