Gulf War


Gulf War
  ---- by Richard G. Smith
  In 1981 Baudrillard argued that Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now amounted to the extension and prolongation of the Vietnam War by means of media images, and that its success lay in the fact that it completed an incomplete war: 'the war in Vietnam "in itself" perhaps in fact never happened . . . [T]he war in Vietnam and this film are cut from the same cloth . . . [N]othing separates them . . . [T]his film is part of the war . . . Apocalypse Now is a global victory' (SS, 59 and 60). According to Baudrillard, Apocalypse Now demonstrated the fatal interdependence of war and cinema (SS), as the former has 'become cinematographic and televisual' (ED, 16), an argument that was to form the essence of the Gulf War thesis he advanced a decade later (GW). This thesis developed his long-standing theorisation of the mass media, hyper-reality and, more specifically, the precession of simulacra, to argue that the Gulf War was one where war itself had been exchanged for the signs of war, overexposed in an 'orgy of simulation' (IE, 62).
  The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1995 [1991]) was originally published as a series of three articles in the newspaper Libération: 'The Gulf War will not take place' (4 January 1991); 'The Gulf War: is it really taking place?' (6 February 1991); and 'The Gulf War did not take place' (29 March 1991). The title of the book was an allusion to Jean Giradoux's play The Trojan War Will Not Take Place (1983) - indeed Baudrillard noted 'many analogies between the Trojan and Gulf wars' (IE, 64) - and perhaps a reference to the Dadaist Johannes Baader's comments in 1920 on the media coverage of the Great War: 'The World War is a newspaper war. In reality it never existed' (cited in Green, 1993: 101; Merrin, 2005). However, despite such an obvious reference to Giradoux's play, Baudrillard's book (GW) became a succès de scandale, with many commentators (for example, Norris, 1992) rushing to accuse Baudrillard (caricatured as the postmodernist par excellence) of denying the 'reality' of war. Indeed, critics at the time failed to grasp that Baudrillard's critique of the Gulf War was based on the premise that it had no specific simulacrum - unlike the Trojan War which had the beauty of Helen as its simulacrum - but was rather the simulacrum of war itself. In other words, his critique of the Gulf War could not have been more grounded in 'reality' precisely because for him it was a 'pure war', a 'non-war', a slaughter of many thousands to further American power and a western desire for a New World Order.
  The core argument of The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1995 [1991]) is that the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf was a part of the logic of a New World Order based around the principle of self-deterrence: that the Gulf conflict dramatised a new kind of deterrence that emerged to replace the one that was lost after the end of the Cold War. In other words, with the Gulf War a new geopolitical logic of self-deterrence was confirmed, a deterrence whose function was to replace the balance of terror and calculated threat afforded by the orbital bomb and the always deferred nuclear shoot-out of the Cold War. Thus, for Baudrillard, the West is impotent, constrained by its own strength; it is incapable of waging war. This is why he hoped (his first newspaper article was published just eleven days before the deadline for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait expired) that fighting in the Gulf would not break out: 'paralysed by its own strength and incapable of assuming it in the form of relations of force. This is why the Gulf War will not take place' (GW, 24).
  Against an Aristotelian logic where the actual follows the virtual (virtual catastrophe leads to real catastrophe), Baudrillard's perverse logic and 'stupid gamble' (GW, 28) was that arms proliferation and the overwhelming military superiority of the West had decreased the possibility of armed conflict: 'We are no longer in a logic of the passage from the virtual to actual but in a hyperrealist logic of the deterrence of the real by the virtual' (GW, 27). In other words, Baudrillard was beholden to Hölderlin's reasoning that 'where danger threatens, that which saves us from it also grows' (GW, 86-7).
  Undeterred by the outbreak of fighting, Baudrillard continued to press his argument that a geopolitical model of 'self-deterrence' was not only operating but was also being confirmed daily - before our very eyes through the war's media coverage. As a 'rotten simulation' (GW, 59), the Gulf War, he contends, is a 'non-war' (a reversal of Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means) because: 'It no longer proceeds from a political will to dominate or from a vital impulsion or an antagonistic violence, but from the will to impose a general consensus by deterrence' (GW, 83). In other words, the protagonists are fighting in the Gulf over nothing more than the 'corpse of war' (GW, 23). They are engaged in 'liquidating any confrontation likely to threaten the hence-forward unified system of control' (GW, 83-4). The end of war is necessary, contends Baudrillard, to 'impose a general consensus by deterrence' (GW, 83) on a global level, to ossify the New World Order as 'an immense democracy governed by a homogenous order which has as its emblem the UN and the Rights of Man' (GW, 83).
  The target of Baudrillard's critique of the Gulf War is the West's wider geopolitical agenda, namely to establish a global consensus - a Hell of the Same or New World Order - through a violent eradication of the Other and the imposition of a logic of 'self-deterrence'. In other words, what the Gulf War was really about, says Baudrillard, is 'the consensual reduction of Islam to the global order' (GW, 85), a war to domesticate the 'symbolic challenge that Islam represents for the entire West' (GW, 85). In short, the Gulf War was 'a simulacre of a war' (BL, 207): a conflict between a western model of 'self-deterrence' and the singular and irreducible symbolic exchange of Islam. And it is a war that continues today - across western cities and the battlegrounds of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan - as the West seeks to domesticate (not destroy) all radical alterity in the name of liberty, freedom, democracy, modernity and human rights.
  Passwords
   § geopolitics
   § hyper-reality
   § media
   § model
   § simulation
   § virtual

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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