Event-Scenes: e122
Date Published: 4/2/2003
www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=374
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

The Nihilism of War


Arthur and Marilouise Kroker


Green screens
& mismatched tongues
tickertape slogans of disinformation
8000 bombs with no bleeding bodies
History will not die at the Tigris and Euphrates

Mesopotamia and the origin of writing
America and the triumph of virtuality
The circle of mythology is complete
A graveyard of American empire
in the desert sands
Time and Space
Earth and Sky
Memory and Disappearance
History will not die at the Tigris and Euphrates

Now we are all citizens of Baghdad.

Not so much a fatal "clash of civilizations," but now something much more fateful: a global clash between the hegemonic spirit of the war-machine of American empire and the spirit of peace of a resisting humanity. Like a replay of Picasso's Guernica where a courageous human, and then artistic, refusal was brought to bear on the sight of fascist warplanes experimenting on a civilian population, the skin of humanity has taken to the streets in protest, all the more admirable for its political impossibility, against the illegal invasion of Iraq. From the Middle East to the cities of North America, from Indonesia to Latin and Central America, from Europe to San Francisco, a resurgent humanity pushes itself onto the screen of history, speaking always in the name of international law, protesting in the name of global human rights.

Today for those opposed to the war, we are all citizens of Baghdad: all in solidarity with the suffering civilians of Iraq, all opposed to war crimes, all experimental subjects of American power, all waiting to be harvested by the war machine, all threatened with the use of "shock and awe," all positioned by the media as either "embedded" cheerleaders of the logic of war or disappeared as ethically surplus to the requirements of power.

Against the framework of understanding provided by the liquid propaganda of the media with its technologically driven visions of hyper-war, with its nihilistic proclamations of the "coming battle for the prize of Baghdad," resisting humanity speaks in the more enduring ethical terms of 'crimes against humanity.' Which is why, of course, the hegemonic logic of war struggles so cynically to control the frame, to stay 'on-message,' to resist any moral disturbances of the war codes of CENTCOM, to redouble the physical destruction of Iraq with the moral pacification of the citizens of the globe.

So then, the cynical rhetoric: "liberators" not invaders, disarmament of "weapons of mass destruction" not oil, "triumph" not terror. The complete invisibility of a one-sided war with, for example, the city of Basra with its one million citizens now targeted as a military site. The war-machine counts on the ethical fatigue of the television audience. It depends on its ability to carry out a secret war of human rights violation in the midst of a seemingly transparent global village. Those hooded, humiliated images of prisoners in Guatanamo are perhaps representative images of what awaits those who refuse the new American hegemon. We are speaking now of a critical moral divide that has been transgressed by the United States and Britain, of the contempt of the militarily powerful for the limits of international law.

Or something more troubling. Consider this image: A hooded Iraqi POW cradles his child behind a barbed wire fence. An American soldier says: "We didn't think they would want to be separated." Or the morning briefer for CENTCOM who, when questioned about the killing of ten Iraqi women and children at a military checkpoint, replies that the army "accepts no moral responsibility." The ethical expediency of the war-machine.

Could it be that we are witnessing the unmasking of the sustaining spirit of empire consciousness: an ability of the American Government not only to be ethically indifferent towards the suffering of others, but to market that suffering in an agit-prop image matrix that is a visual paean to power-- Nietzsche's 'last man' as the moral 'right stuff' for the invasion of Iraq. And, if this is so, are we not compelled to conclude that the United States as the spearhead of technological liberalism is itself the avatar of nihilism: a society driven forward by the spirit of exterminism, all comfortably camouflaged in the propaganda slogans of "liberty" and "democracy." As the sustaining rhetoric of hyper-colonialism flashes across the media screen, we finally know something of what it means to live in a culture of cynicism that thrives by inflicting cruelties on the victimized bodies of 'alien' scapegoats.

There is also the 'question of technology.' Heidegger went to his death convinced that the question of technology was coeval with the ascendancy of the will to nihilation. His meditations on technology actually facialized the dominant movements of contemporary technoculture in the political language of "standing reserve", "harvesting", "objectification," "the culture of boredom." Yet even Heidegger missed Nietzsche's insight concerning the culture of nihilism that is so bitterly expressed by the invasion of Iraq. Namely that there can be such a pornography of media images of violence, such a clinical obscenity of night-time scenes of missile strikes on Baghdad cut with laconic reportage by suburban voiced commentators, such an emphasis on the hyper-language of war games to the exclusion of the disappeared victims because we are finally in the charismatic presence of technologies of death. When technology is invested with the war spirit then it is only in scenes of devastated cities and fiery explosions and cluster-bombed children that the scent of the pleasure of cruelty is to be found. The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, then, as also about the triumph of death-head technology: an armature of technologies of war invested with such extremes of ethnic hatred and religious animosity and capitalist self-interest and political jingoism and technical neutrality of terms that it has itself become the historical spearhead of the will to nihilism. The pornography of war is nourishing psychic food for the culture of boredom.

A new dark age will begin with the fall of Baghdad.

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