“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 world.
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 Kosovo.
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.