[NetBehaviour] The Mask of War (CTHEORY)

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sun Nov 6 02:26:47 CET 2005


 The Mask of War
 ================

 ~Jean Baudrillard~


 ~Not for or Against~. Quite the contrary.[1] This is precisely the  title
of Cedric Klapisch's film. Neither for, nor against the war.
 "Quite the contrary"[2] signifies that there is no difference between  the
war and the non-war, and that before deciding, it is necessary to  be clear
about the status of the event. However, this war is a  nonevent, and it is
absurd to come to a conclusion about a nonevent.
 It is first of all necessary to know what it masks, that which it  holds in
place, that which it exorcises. There is no need to search  for long: the
event that opposes the nonevent of the war is September  11.

 The analysis must start with this will of cancellation, obliteration,  and
laundering of the original event, which makes this war ghostly,  to some
extent unimaginable since it does not have a final purpose, a  necessity, or
even of a true enemy (Saddam is only a puppet). This  war merely has the
form of a conspiracy, of an event that is  precisely impossible to do away
with. The result is that it is  already perpetual, before even having been
started. In fact, it has  already taken place, and the suspense itself is
part of this  masquerade. It opens towards an endless war that will never
take  place. And it is this suspense that awaits us in the future, this
diffuse topicality of blackmail and terror in the form of a universal
principle of prevention.

 One can grasp this mechanism in ~Minority Report~, the recent film by
Steven Spielberg. On the ground of preventing future crimes, police
commandos intercept criminals before they have a chance to act. It is
exactly the same scenario with the war in Iraq: to nip a future  criminal
act in the bud (the use by Saddam of weapons of mass  destruction). The
question that irresistibly arises is whether the  supposed crime would have
taken place? One will never know since it  will already have been prevented.
(Saddam himself is of no
 importance.) But what is apparent through Saddam is an automatic
deprogramming of all that could have taken place, a kind of disease
prevention on a worldwide scale, not only of any crime, but also of  any
event that could disturb the hegemonic world order.

 This is an ablation of "evil" in all its forms, an ablation of the  enemy
who does not exist anymore as such (one exterminates it quite  simply), an
ablation of death: "Zero death" [~Zero Mort~] becomes the  leitmotiv for
universal safety. A veritable principle of  contraception and deterrence
(dissuasion), but one without a balance  of terror. This dissuasion without
a cold war, this terror without a  balance, and this relentless prevention
placed under the sign of  security will become a planetary strategy.

 "Evil" is what arrives without prevention, and therefore without the
possibility of prevention. It is, of course, the case with September  11. It
is precisely that event that is radically opposed to the  nonevent of the
war. September 11 is an impossible and unimaginable  event. It is carried
out even before being itself possible (even  disaster films did not
anticipate it; on the contrary, they exhausted  the imaginary possibility of
such an event). It is about the extreme  unforeseeable (where one finds a
paradox according to which a thing  does not become possible until only
after it has taken place).

 The difference is complete with the current war, which, by contrast,  has
been envisaged, programmed, and anticipated so much that it does  not even
need to take place. And even if it takes place in "reality,"
 it will already have virtually taken place and thus it will not be an
event. Here, reality is a virtual horizon. This take-over by the  virtual is
further reinforced by the fact that the announced war is  like the double,
the clone of the first Gulf war (just like Bush is  his father's clone). The
crucial event has thus been bracketed by two  cloned events.

 One can understand better from this perspective how this current war  is a
substitute event, a ghost event, and a puppet [~fantoche~] event  bearing
the image of Saddam. This is an immense mystification -- for  the Americans
themselves. With September 11 a gigantic task of  contraception developed at
the same time as a process of mourning.
 The idea was to ensure that September 11 had, in fact, not taken  place,
using the same principle of prevention, but this time  retrospectively. An
endeavor without hope or end.

 But then, what is the final strategy or at least the objective result  of
this preventive blackmail? It is not to prevent the criminal act,  to bring
into being the Good, or to correct the irrational course of  the world. Even
oil and direct geostrategic considerations are not  the underlying reasons.
The ultimate reason is to create a  securitized order, a general
neutralization of peoples on the basis  of a final nonevent. To some extent,
the goal is the end of history,  but not one that would be placed under the
heading of a triumphant  liberalism, or with a democratic realization as
seen in Fukuyama, but  rather on the basis of a preventive terror putting an
end to any  possible event.

 Terror is distilled everywhere. The system ends up terrorizing itself
under the aegis of security. This is the very point at which the  victory of
terrorism manifests itself. And if the virtual war is  already won on the
ground by the world power, it is rather terrorism  that has won the symbolic
victory through the instauration of a  general worldwide disorder. It is, in
fact, the attacks of September
 11 that have completed the process of globalization -- not the
globalization of the market, of the flows of capital, but of a  symbolic
system that is much more fundamental for world domination --  by causing a
coalition of all the powers, democratic, liberal,  fascistic or
totalitarian, spontaneously made to be complicit and  solidly in defense of
the world order. All powers are geared against  a single "alien."[3] And all
the rationalizations are raging against  the advent of "Evil." Still, it is
against this world power that  everyone rises, and it is against it that the
eruption of the  symbolic system of terrorism finds its counter-force.
Terrorism will  have burst the arrogance and the disproportional power that
holds the  whole world with respect to the imminence of an incomprehensible
war.

 This preventive terror, in total contempt for its own principles
(humanistic and democratic), reached a dramatic extreme in the Moscow
theatre incident where everything happened exactly as in the "Mad  Cow"
affair: one butchers the whole herd out of precaution. God will  then
recognize his own. Hostages and terrorists are confused in the  massacre and
thus virtually become accomplices. The terrorist  principle is extrapolated
to the whole population. It is the implicit  assumption of power:
populations themselves are a terrorist threat  for it. Terrorism, in its
action, seeks this solidarity with the  people but without finding it. But
here it is power itself that  carries out this involuntary complicity in a
brutal fashion.

 We are power's virtual hostages, and we are dealing with a coalition  of
all the powers against all the populations. This is completely  visible
today with the proximity of the war that will take place in  any case in
total contempt for world opinion.

 This global situation gives credence to Virilio when he speaks about  a
planetary civil war. The most dramatic political consequence of  these
events is the collapse of any concept of international  community and, more
generally, of any system of representation and  legitimacy. And the recent
world mass demonstrations against the war  where, one believes, a rising
countervailing power is emerging, are  themselves only a worrying symptom of
this hiatus, of this fracture  of representation. Nobody wants the war, and
yet it will take place  no matter what, with the more or less camouflaged
approval of all  powers.

 One deals from now on with an exercise of power in a pure state, a  power
without sovereignty. As long as power draws its sovereignty  from the
concept of representation, as long as it has a political  reason, its
exercise can find a balance; in any case, it can be  fought and disputed.
But the obliteration of this form of sovereignty  leaves an unrestrained
power, without an opposite number, in a state  of nature (with no longer a
natural brutality, but a technological  one). And this power that does not
have a legitimate reference any  longer or even one true enemy (since it
transforms it into some kind  of criminal ghost) turns without compunction
against its own  populations.

 But the integral reality of power is also its end. An integral power  that
is no longer one of prevention, dissuasion, security and control  is a power
that is symbolically vulnerable. It can no longer be  brought into play and,
finally, it turns on itself. It is this  weakness, this internal failure of
world power, which terrorism in  its own way reveals, just like an
unconscious angst is betrayed by a  failed act. This is properly speaking
"the hell of power." September
 11 thus appears from the point of view of power like a gigantic  challenge
in which world power lost face. And this war, far from  taking up the
challenge, will not erase the humiliation of September  11. There is
something terrifying in the fact that this virtual world  order can make its
entry into "reality" with such facility.

 The terrorist event was strange. It was an unbearable strangeness. As  for
the non-war, it inaugurates the worrying familiarity of terror.


 --------------------------------------------------------------------

 First published in Rebonds, ~Liberation~ on March 10, 2003.


 Translated by Alex Barder




 Acknowledgements:
 -----------------

 Special thanks to Francois Debrix for his very helpful comments on  this
translation



 Notes:
 ------

 [1] The French title of the film is ~Ni pour ni contre (bien au
contraire)~ which has been translated for the English language  version of
the film as ~Not for or Against~. Baudrillard's reference  to ~bien au
contraire~ present in the French title has been  translated separately as
"Quite the contrary."

 [2] Quotations are used in the original text.

 [3] English word used in the French text.



 --------------------------------------------------------------------

 Jean Baudrillard is an internationally acclaimed theorist whose  writings
trace the rise and fall of symbollic exchange in the  contemporary century.
In addition to a wide range of highly  influential books from _Seduction_ to
_Symbollic Exchange and Death_,  Baudrillard's most recent publications
include: _The Vital Illusion_,  _The Spirit of Terrorism_, _The Singular
Objects of Architecture_,  _Passwords_, _The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos,
Texts, Interviews_  (September 2005) and _The Intelligence of Evil or the
Lucidity Pact_  (November 2005). He is a member of the editorial board of
_CTheory_.

 Alex Barder is pursuing graduate studies at Florida International
University.

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