Geert Lovink on Tue, 30 Mar 1999 10:25:26 +0200 (CEST)

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Syndicate: Ctheory: Event-scene 76-Fast War/Slow Motion



 Event-scene 76   99/03/29       Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker


 ~Arthur and Marilouise Kroker~

      "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a
      hidden fist - McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell
      Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps
      the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the
      United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

      "...Americans are in the odd position now of being held
      responsible for everything, while being reluctant to die for
      anything. That's why in the globalization era, counterinsurgency
      is out; baby-sitting is in. House-to-house fighting is out;
      cruise missiles are in. Green berets are out; U.N. blue helmets
      are in."
           -Thomas L. Friedman, "A Manifesto for the Fast World"
           _The New York Times Magazine_, March 28, 1999

 It's Friday night in Washington and Clinton has taken to the Internet
 for a direct cyber-pitch to the citizens of Belgrade. He bites his
 lower lip in that poll-tested, focus-grouped facial gesture and looks
 into the eye of the cyberball, courtesy of real video-streaming. With
 mock sincerity, he says it's too bad about the bombs, laser missiles,
 stealths and electronic pulses in the Serbian night, but America's
 got a mission and NATO is on its side. Nothing personal. Just get rid
 of Milosevic or force him back to the bargaining table and things
 will be all right. Maybe Clinton has read an advance copy of
 Friedman's "A Manifesto for the Fast World" because that's exactly
 what he's preaching: a little Buchanan-style war fever nationalism
 mixed up with high tech cyberwar gaming strategies as the winning
 formula as America takes up its "new burden" of enforcer to the

 Meanwhile, the major networks have plugged into the energies of the
 war machine with all the desperation of parched-out desert walkers
 wandering around the electronic void without aim after the fatal
 implosion of the impeachment story-line. Manic media anxiety
 field-reverses immediately into a bogus war spirit.

 CNN comes on the air every minute to announce that "It's only two
 hours to bombing time." CBS trumps the all-news networks by actually
 taking a cyber-ride in a B-2 bomber simulator, telling us with
 unabated enthusiasm that it's all so realistic that "you can actually
 feel the simulated rocking of the B-2 when it has fired off its
 (simulated) payload of sixteen independently targeted missiles," just
 eugenically delivered from Whiteman Air Force Base safe in Missouri
 to a Belgrade suburb. Local weather stations, catching the drift,
 start patching in weather forecasts for Belgrade and Pristina and
 Sarajevo, with American weather patterns, giving opinions grave and
 military-sober whether it's "good bombing weather or not." AMC does a
 quick program change, rushing Patton to the air, complete with George
 C. Scott railing against the forces of fascism and communism, and
 speaking bitterly of the future of techno-war as a "war without
 heroes." And even MTV gets into the killing game, matching Patton
 with images of KISS singing of a future without heroes as a "world
 without the sun."

 And still Stealths take off from Aviano and cruise missiles burst
 from the deep waters of the Adriatic in the morning's clear air and
 General Clark does a rant from NATO headquarters about "degrading and
 destroying" and arrests by the Serbian security police intensify and
 killings, by knife, rope and sometimes by guns, accelerate in

 But the DOW is almost at 10,000 and sun-bathers in Boca Raton,
 Florida tell reporters that "oh well, I guess we should know
 something about this" and just once in every great while the media
 blah-blah quiets down, and you can almost hear those other silent
 intimations of a war machine running on cyber, whispering in the
 camera's eye, that this is all about beta testing: systematic program
 testing of virtual warriors in their virtual flying machines in
 "real" battlefield conditions, of futurist scenarios of "degrading
 and destroying" command, control and communication structures, of
 testing the newly upgraded computer systems of the B-2s on a night
 flight to the Balkans.

 And so, you sit there in a no-name coffee shop on a no-name day in a
 no-name street, trying to find some satisfactory moral meridian but
 finding only ambivalence instead. The cyber-war machine has
 system-installed itself for the day, but when the virtual testing is
 over, you just know it'll all be shut down immediately.  Not another
 word about "moral imperatives" or "degrading or destroying" and not
 even any more local weather reports from Belgrade and Pristina. And
 even KISS will go back to their one true moment of bewilderment at
 being a 4th order simulacra when in the same MTV docu-feature they
 look out at their audience and suddenly see families - Mommy and
 Daddy and babies most of all - dressed up in face paint and
 slithering tongues and beautiful drag, and sigh to themselves where
 did it all go wrong. Now, some members of KISS went numb for survival
 with drugs and alcohol and always lots of jaded, hard-assed sex, but
 those that didn't still are out on the road living the life of the
 new regime of signs without referents. And maybe the fate of KISS is
 an AWACS warning of the destiny of the cyber-war machine in the
 spectacle of Operation Allied Force - war as a cybernetic testing
 procedure always running on (moral) empty. A sign without a referent,
 a world with only virtual heroes. A double triumph of cyber-skies
 (without casualties) and ethnic slaughter (with flesh) as the
 ambivalent sign of Allied (moral) Weakness.

 Because the one real-time truth of the cyber-war machine is that it
 is allergic to casualties on the ground. Never flesh, never blood,
 never human, cyber-war is fast war. Always in motion, always
 approaching the speed of light, always war at a telematic distance,
 virtual war is one perspectival remove from experiencing the actual
 consequences of violence. The end of war, and the beginning of the
 arming of the vector. The end of (face-to-face) conflict, and the
 beginning of the virtualization of violence. At least, that's the
 illusion of Operation Allied Force.

 And why? Because Operation Allied Force is really about making the
 skies safe for NATO, and the ground a killing field for Milosevic.
 The more complex the diplomatic games of using NATO planes to nudge
 Milosevic back to the negotiating table, the greater the actual
 slaughter on the ground. The more sophisticated the cyber-apps of
 all those high tech, high velocity NATO planes, the more accelerated
 the genocide on the ground. Thus, in effect, Operation Allied
 Weakness with NATO trapped in a new field of (virtual) blackbirds. If
 NATO remains faithful to the air war, the more irrelevant it becomes
 to the actual fate of human beings in Kosovo. But if NATO were to
 take Milosevic's bait, responding to the genocide of ethnic Albanians
 in Kosovo with a ground war, what happened to those nineteen American
 marines in the streets of Mogadishu will be amped up Balkan style.
 Smelling the Serbian trap, one Texas senator stated on Sunday morning
 news that maybe the time has come for a ground war, but not with
 American troops.

 Allied Force is in the air. Allied Weakness is on the ground.

 Unfortunately for NATO, one intractable lesson from the diary of life
 is that in war as in politics the only thing that really matters in
 the end is what happens on the ground. The images and sounds of those
 Kosovo refugees, then, as simultaneously a human sign of NATO's
 failed (virtual) strategy, and an invitation to a return to a form of
 primitive (ground) war that NATO for all its technicity had thought
 itself liberated from forever.

 Meanwhile, folks are munching chips and sunning on the beaches,
 students are rioting in Michigan because of the loss of a basketball
 game to Duke, and the Orioles are playing baseball in Havana. AMC is
 recycling some old Western flics, Jon Waters is talking Divine on
 MTV, and still the killing and the knifing and the shooting and the
 burning and the refugeeing goes on in Kosovo.

 You can almost hear NATO planners wishing that Kosovo Albanians would
 mutate into stealth flesh and fly away from the scene, leaving NATO
 free to play its aerial games of B-2 tech.

 Fast War/Slow Motion.