Not a New War
Despite the TV Network logos ("America's New War" -- CNN) and the protestations of President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001 did not mark the beginning of a new war. At the most it marks a new stage of what really should be called The Second Cold War. It is a war as the Cold War was a war and it is even, in many ways, a continuation of that conflict. We still have two ostensibly different world views colliding in large ways and small around the world, but always below the threshold of total war. The vast range of the conflict, from the blitzkrieg that liberated Kuwait to the suicide bombers of NY and Israel to the hacking of web sites and the freezing of bank accounts, is just like the bricollage of the old Cold War. It was a mosaic that included the set battles of Korea, the sending of poisoned cigars to Fidel Castro, death in the jungles of Vietnam, and the gigantic nuclear arsenals. The centrality of information, the intense media-ation of conflict, the explosion of technological options, are all the same. This new Cold War is a postmodern war (Gray 1997), just as the first one was.
And the official issue of this world-wide struggle is basically the same: defining justice. One could say "rights" or even "freedom" but justice seems to fit best, and it is a word that has been used often by both sides. Just as the First Cold War posed two opposed visions of justice (or at least they strongly claimed to be different) against each other, so does the Second Cold War. Cold War I pitted Communism (in a very degenerate form) against Capitalism (although really a mixed economy dominated by corporate interests); Cold War II has Fundamentalism versus the same Capitalism (also known as Secularism). The First World, led by the U.S. and incorporating the Second World (Russia, China, and most of their former allies) is now facing a foe that is made up from parts of theformer Communist system (especially the older Palestinian groups and the semi-socialist regimes in Iraq, Syria, and Libya) and a new wave of Fundamentalism that is not limited to Moslems. Just as Communism had many different, often competing flavors, so does Fundamentalism.
Hindu and Christian fundamentalists hate Islamic extremists, as Chinese Communists hated Soviets, but all sides of both groups share a totalitarian world view that is as closed intellectually as it is culturally. And, different as they are, the Fundamentalists often find common cause. For example, Hamas and other Islamic extremists share with some Fundamentalist (extreme orthodox or even hyper-Zionist) Jews an aversion to peace in Israel, a view that is actually shared by some North American Christian Fundamentalists who see Armageddon in the Middle East asa necessary precondition for the rapture. So Fundamentalist Jews set up settlements on captured Palestinian land with Christian Fundamentalist backing while Moslem Fundamentalists use the settlements as the pretext for more suicide bombings in Israel itself. More moderate believers find themselves either supporting "their" fundamentalists or allied with the Secular-Capitalist coalition, just as Social Democrats and other leftists found themselves strange, reluctant, bedfellows either with Communist totalitarianism or with the semi-Capitalist system they were trying to reform.
One can think of the First Cold War as a struggle between those who claimed to prioritize economic justice and those who professed to value political justice (often called freedom or democracy) above all. In actuality both systems produced super-rich elites and middle classes, both savaged the environment, both relegated the rest of the world to bit players in their Cold War drama, and both did great violence to their own principles with this desire to frame the whole world around their conflicts. The West often chose right-wing dictatorships and immoral wars abroad while curtailing liberties at home as a strategy for saving democracy. The Communists, for all their claims of economic justice, not only ended up with an elite new class much more closed and limited than the West's upper classes, but in the long run they failed to economically produce enough for their systems to even survive, let alone establish economic justice.
Both systems claimed that their primary "justice" would lead to the other. At least the "Capitalist" system generated great wealth which trickled down to a high percentage of the middle and working classes in theFirst World, even though it left millions brutally poor in the West's own heartlands and produced more millions of starving, dying people in the Third World. The Communists, far from proving that their version of economic justice would lead to political justice, actually set up totalitarian and imperialistic regimes that were more like fascism then anything else.
Notice how similar the two Cold Wars are militarily. There was/is world-wide terrorism supported secretly by states, there is/was an on-going spy-vs.-spy dance, there were/are outbreaks of large scale battle, uprisings galore, and many other conflicts that were/are subsumed under the larger struggle. Technology keeps changing the rules, offering glimmers of hope for easy victories and bloodless conflicts while in reality constantly raising the stakes and civilian casualties. And the feeling is the same. Where once we feared every day that some accident or demagogue would plunge us into Nuclear War, now we fear that some terrorist will plunge our mundane life into terror. And nuclear or biological war haunts us still, just as smaller acts of terror punctuated the First Cold War.
The similarities between the First Cold War and the Second weren't clear until recently because the Second Cold War developed slowly within the First. But now we can see that, just as with Cold War I, Cold War II is hardly cold, it is very diffuse, and it pretends to explain almost all world conflict when in actuality it, once again, disguises the major fault-lines in human culture which are:
1) The gap between humans and the nature that sustains us;
2) The chasm between the rich and the poor;
3) The divide between the "true believers" who will kill rather than doubt themselves and who will die rather than learn tolerance.
4) Those who can get justice (economic and political) and those who cannot.
The different justices that the two sides are emphasizing in the Second Cold War at first seem somewhat different than the First. The "Infinite Justice" that the U.S. called for with its first, now rejected, name for the response to the September 11, 2001 attacks is very much about revenge. "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done" President George W. Bush proclaimed in his September 20th speech. But behind this avenging angel idea we hear many protestations that it is the "freedom" of the West that the Fundamentalists most fear. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden and others call for "God's justice" but on a closer examination they are decrying the systematic underdevelopment of the Third World, even the parts awash in oil, and the economic (and cultural) domination of the First World over the rest.
Of course both views have some truth to them, as many of us who try and think and live outside the Cold War systems have long argued. Economically the First World exploits the rest of the world, and nature, in ways that threaten the very future of human survival while at the same time mining every authentic human emotion and action for potential profit in a quite soulless consumerist frenzy. And the Fundamentalists are not interested in Freedom any more than the Communists were. In some ways they are even worse, since they combine a proud, virulent, misogyny with barely concealed sectarian, ethnic, and racist hatreds galore.
It is not a pretty picture, and thanks to ever-improving military technology it is one that directly threatens everything. It is without a doubt postmodern war, the system we've lived with since 1945.
Not a New War
So why are they calling it a new war and even, in President George W. Bush's words, the "first war of the 21st Century?" Well, although it isn't a new war it is a new crisis. And as such it is a fine stimulus to allow the powers that be to respond on a whole new level. Not only has the horror in New York mobilized the populations of the West to support military interventions, and military casualties, at heretofore unacceptable levels, but this was also a very real attack on the economic world system, which cannot be ignored in any event.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsford said in his major press conference on September 13 that there are no models for the current conflict, but that is just not true. The best model, as I argue above, is the First Cold War, which this conflict evolved from and resembles closely. But we have other examples of diffuse, world spanning, and complicated conflicts. Looking back in history we see various religious struggles (not quite over, actually), Moslem-Christian, Catholic-Protestant, Hindu-Moslem and even some more "traditional" conflicts such as the French and Indian Wars. Today we have the Drug Wars, very similar in many of their operational aspects to this Cold War, and they are actually linked directly to both Cold Wars through the importance of drug production and smuggling for financing insurrection and terror, as seen in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, the bloody mountains of Columbia, and the poppy fields of Afghanistan.
But the best model we have, other than the First Cold War itself, is Israel's long war against its neighbors and its cousins, the Palestinians, and this is not a coincidence. If you want to know what it will be like to live under heightened security in the context of a long-running terror-war, just visit Israel. I would put the beginning of the Second Cold War in June of 1967, the Six-Day War when Israel occupied Gaza, Golan, the West Bank, and the Sinai. Until then the Israel-Arab conflict was mainly one of states, despite some Palestinian terror attacks, and the conflict was integrated into Cold War I. But with Israel's sweeping victory the conditions were set for negotiating peace with some of the main state opponents to Israel's existence and, once this was done, (most notably when Egypt made peace through the Camp David accords) the conflict became mainly one between Israel and the Palestinians.
As the West generally supports Israel, and as some Islamic governments have made peace with Israel, the lines have become clearly drawn. The far left (communist) and religious right (fundamentalist) of Islam have committed themselves to the Palestinian cause. It is a wound that has continued to fester and has incorporated old (the U.S. overthrow of democracy in Iran and the many years of support for the Shah) and new (U.S. troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia) issues so that now the conflict has spread to Algeria, Turkey, many former Soviet Republics, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and indeed all countries with a significant Moslem population, including parts of China.
Back when this Cold War was just a subset of the First Cold War system it still produced a great deal of the terror of those days, including hijacked planes, airport massacres, and even the murders at the Olympics, as well as outright wars (Yom Kipper, the Invasion of Lebanon) and raids (such as the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Baghdad). As the First Cold War faded away it was replaced by the new, most clearly in 1991 when Saddam Hussein's naked grab for more oil was slapped down by an Allied Coalition that restored the Emir of Kuwait. But in many respects it is the long, far-from-over, war in Afghanistan that represents the crucial transition point. It started as a Cold War I conflict but it is now clearly a part of Cold War II.
Obviously, this Cold War analogy is not the only interesting theory about what is going on, and two of the others seem particularly relevant for my claim that we are in the midst of a Second Cold War: Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" (1993) idea and Benjamin Barber's "Jihad vs. McWorld" (1995).
The "Clash of Civilizations" is, not to put to fine a point on it, racist, simplistic, and wrong. It is actually almost an embarrassment to read. In many ways it is an intervention into the conflict more than an analysis. I'm all for interventions by academics, as one might guess, but this one of Huntington's is particularly crude and unhelpful. Maybe it isn't as bad as "strategic hamlets", one of his contributions to the Vietnam War, but it is pretty bad none-the-less. He posits that future conflicts will be between eight great civilizations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic, Orthodox, Latin American, and African. His descriptions of all of these are simplistic and, in particular, the West is unrecognizable.
Apparently, it monopolizes most virtue and certainly the majority of democratic values. All the other cultures are pretty much defined as inferior inversions, or pale imitations of the Western. In actuality, as we see with the Second Cold War, the real conflicts that concern us cut across these civilizations more than between them. Bin Laden hates the Saudi government more then anything else, for example. For a Fundamentalists, as for a Communist interestingly enough, the greatest enemy is the one who claims to be of your faith but doesn't follow your line exactly. Communists, once they are in power, have always persecuted Trotskyists, Anarchists, and Social Democrats with much more venom then Capitalists. The first enemy of the Islamic Fundamentalists is the moderate Moslems.
Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld is a much more interesting way of framing things. Barber argues that the major conflict in the world today is between those who want a holy war or crusade for purity (Jihad) and those who think everything in the world should be for sale (McWorld). He knew he was risking misunderstanding by using the term Jihad, which in his framework is pretty much Fundamentalism as I define it. He said of Jihad:
"In its mildest form, it betokens religious struggle on behalf of faith... I use the term in its militant construction to suggest dogmatic and violent particularism of a kind known to Christians no less than Muslims, to Germans and Hindus as well as Arabs."
His definition of McWorld maps over well with what I'd rather call Capitalism.
"McWorld forges global markets rooted in consumption and profit, leaving to an untrustworthy, if not altogether fictitious invisible hand issues of public interest and common good..."
He goes on to debunk the myth that free markets lead to freedom and that consumerism is the same as citizenship. So far, well and good, and he gets better. The most valuable part of his analysis stresses how the two forces feed each other in their interactions:
Jihad not only revolts against but abets McWorld, while McWorld not only imperials but re-creates and reinforces Jihad. They produce their contraries and need one another.
This, he argues, is not surprising because both forces share a disdain, perhaps even hatred, for democracy. Basically, he concludes, the real struggle today is Jihad and McWorld vs. democracy. In many ways I could not agree more. But it is when he tries to argue that within these forces there are crucial positive aspects that he loses me. He seems a hostage of his clever categories. For example, he says, "McWorld's modernization has created a healthier, wealthier world in which at least the conditions or greater equality are present." He also tries to rehabilitate Fundamentalism but can't come up with an argument for Jihad as such. Unfortunately for his analysis, he has so framed Jihad and McWorld that they do indeed only have a dark side. Both, as he freely argues, reject civil society and are opposed to democracy, but it turns out McWorld can co-exist (and actually comes out of, uses, and makes possible) Barber's liberal form of democracy so he finds it difficult to reject it systematically.
He might have done better to keep with the terms of his subtitle, "globalism and tribalism", even if it might have hurt the marketing of his book. Globalism and tribalism are more complex categories then Jihad and McWorld and they do indeed have many positive characteristics even as they have McWorld and Jihad within them. But the bigger problem with Barber's schema is that it is binary.
Binaries, even dynamic dialectical ones, aren't complicated enough to explain reality. They always have the danger that our rich, complex world will be dichotomized into "us" and "them", which indeed is the stunted logic of war.
The officials are right about one thing at least. It will be a long war. Cold War I went from the late 1940s (it too had multiple beginnings) to 1989, although some Communist regimes still linger today at least in form, and the whole thing could be revitalized if Chinese Communism undergoes another Maoist phase which, while not likely, is not impossible. Cold War II started in the late 1960s but its roots go back further, at least to 1948 and the establishment of Israel, but probably back at least to World War I and the betrayal of the Arabs by the British and French.
But it didn't become clear until September 11. Why has the war come out into the open now? Here Samuel Huntington is helpful. He wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1997 that the United States needs an enemy. He even quotes Rabbit Angstrom, the main character from a number of John Updike novels, who whines, "Without the cold war, what's the point of being an American?" At least Rabbit Angstrom can be glad that the Cold War has returned. And Samuel Huntington must be gratified as well. At the end of his article he argues for keeping U.S. resources uncommitted until some future "security threat and moral challenge" requires "Americans once again to commit major resources to the defense of national interests." The events of September 11 are perfect for the new mobilization Huntington called for in 1997.
As far as the "other" side is concerned, it seems they've been trying for years to do something like this. Clearly, for them, the war has been ongoing. The killing goes on in Palestine and Israel, the bombings go on in Iraq, and the U.S. troops remain in Saudi Arabia. A whole string of attacks have been launched at the U.S. over the last decade by the network/culture that destroyed the World Trade Center. They finally got the world's attention. They aim to keep it.
For most of us who study contemporary war, September 11 was not a surprise and it wasn't even the worst thing we have predicted. Because, horrible as it was, it could have been so much worse. On one level, September 11 should be taken as a terrible warning about what might happen if this Cold War runs on and on like the first one. If the same policies are pursued in response to the attacks that, in fact, led to the attacks then we face many more days such as September 11, or more horrible. Any group that can coordinate such complex and successful attacks is close to having, or already has, the ability to make or to buy nuclear or biological weapons. Using these they could do something that would produce a hundred or a thousand or even a hundred thousand times more casualties. The continued development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the context of the current international system means that we can predict even more horrific acts of terror in the near future. These assaults could come from independent groups, from government proxies, or from states themselves.
There are many labels used for contemporary war but whatever you call it, this is it. It is asymmetrical, in that a tiny group can severely hurt the greatest superpower in history. It is aimed at civilians, as most war is these days. It is experienced in real time by the world, thanks to global media. And casualties are maximized because of high technology.
Sadly, I am also not surprised by how our "leaders" have acted. We are ill-served by those whose response to this tragedy is tremendous denial. Calling these terrorists "cowards", as many of our politicians are doing, is as revealing as it is stupid. These fanatics are not cowards, they gave their lives to commit this evil. They are not stupid either. They are true believers and we have plenty of those in our own country willing to kill other Americans, and foreigners, and unbelievers in general, out of their certainty.
There must be a powerful psychological dynamic behind this need to label the enemy as a coward. Perhaps, President George W. Bush and the other politicians who so easily throw the term out do so only because they can't say "he's a wimp, a pussy, a woman!" Even though they are calling suicide soldiers cowards, while many of them, such as Bush, went to great lengths to avoid combat themselves, they have no hesitation in sneering at the hated "other".
More disturbing is the rhetoric used around the attack. It was termed a "declaration of war" by many politicians, including the President. He soon was proclaiming that "we are at war" and that we were involved in a "crusade" against terror. He probably forgot that it is Congress that must declare war and he probably never knew that the Crusades were a pure war of aggression against Islam to try and reclaim the Holy Land, during which pogroms against Jews and even the sacking of Christian cities, such as Constantinople, were common occurrences, since the Catholic Church had granted a blanket dispensation from the consequences of sin to all crusaders.
While some leaders have warned that we should not destroy our democracy in order to save it from terror, others seem much less concerned. For example, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Trent Lott of Mississippi proclaimed "When you're in this type of conflict, when you're at war, civil liberties are treated differently." (Madden 2001) There is a long sad history to this type of thinking, going back at least to President Lincoln's suspension of most rights, including freedom from arbitrary arrest by the government (habeus corpus) during the Civil War. The old Cold War became a rationale for innumerable illegal acts and abridgements of freedom by the government, all in the cause of saving those very freedoms. We will inevitably see similar attempts during this "war" against terrorism. Many of our loudest patriots are already saying that we should sacrifice some of our freedoms for greater safety, when actually only our freedom can be preserved if we value it above safety. To have freedom you must be willing to sacrifice for it.
There are always questions at such times as to why someone would attack the U.S. in such a way. They are against "our way of life" we are told. They hate our "freedom" and "what we stand for". They are just "evil" and the U.S. is just "good". But this isn't how "they" see it. "They" complain about economic domination, U.S. interference in their affairs, U.S. support for their dictators, U.S. bombs killing their young men and their women and their children.
That the United States is hated by many people around the world should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention. The U.S. has made many enemies. It has overthrown democracies and supported dictatorships in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and other places in the name of political realism. It has used high technology weapons to kill thousands of people, including women and children, in Southeast Asia, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, and the Balkans. It has trained thousands of terrorists, most recently Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan and right wing Columbian death squads. Maybe some of these actions were justified, but in any event they angered many.
Both here and abroad many people are also angry over the incredible disparities of wealth that our system produces, for the damage to the environment that it seems to depend on, and for the constant assaults on freedom and democracy that seem to go with it.
And why does the U.S. bomb foreign countries and train foreign terrorists? Why must the environment be sacrificed on the alter of economic health (or is it corporate profits)? Why must our democracy be sacrificed in order to save it? That's just the real world, we are told. RealPolitick, as Henry Kissinger would say. Well, it is this bloody-minded realism that took down the World Trade Center.
Edward Tenner (1996) has called the unintended consequences of technologies "revenge effects". He points out in his book, Why Things Bite Back, that the revenge of unintended consequences is so common that we must analyze each new technology with it in mind. It is not as if many of these consequences aren't predictable, they are just unintended. When one leaps into a river on a hot day the intended effect is to experience the pleasure of the flight and the coolness of the water. If it is shallow and you break your neck, you realize you should have looked before you leapt. Political decisions have unintended consequences as well. These have become so common in the nether world of espionage and covert wars that a special word has been coined for it: blowback (Chalmers 2000).
Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein, are all examples of blowback. Once they were our allies, if not our creatures. Osama bin Laden, for example, was fostered through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), which funneled the weapons, training, and funds the CIA wanted him to have in his war against the Soviet infidels. This is the same source that suckled the ferocious Taliban, the nightmarish theocratic fanatics now ruling Afghanistan. They were popular with the CIA because of their enthusiasm for killing Russians and because their virulent form of Islam was seen as a great "infectious agent" to introduce into the Moslem republics of the Soviet Empire. Militants from bin Laden's group of volunteer "Arab Afghans" returned to their homes in Algeria to massacre moderate Moslems and assassinate Berber poets, to Egypt to slaughter tourists, and to Saudi Arabia where they blew up the Khobar Towers and bombed Riyadh in 1996. They have also kill Hindus in India, Jews in Israel, Russians in Moscow, Africans of all religions, and as we know too well, Americans (and citizens of 60 other countries) in New York and Washington, D.C.
Still, as late as 1998, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a powerful Republican who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was defending the U.S. support and training of bin Laden. "It was worth it," he told the journalist Robert Windrem. "Those were very important, pivotal matters that played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union." (Moran 1998)
Should we believe that this is the way the world must be? We have to choose between communists and Islamic fundamentalists? Between Hitler and Stalin? If so, we are doomed, morally and, eventually thanks to the ever increasing power of weapons, physically. If our only choice is to fight totalitarian evil by spreading it, then we are as doomed as the people working on the top floors of the World Trade Center were.
But there is another option. We can act morally. We can make sacrifices ourselves, and not train foreign fanatics to die and kill in our stead. We can value the freedom and democracy of people of other places, such as Afghanistan, as much as our own, and not gift them to insane totalitarians just because they are the enemy of our enemy.
A Case Study
To better understand what is happening now, we should look at The Gulf War of 1991. We can begin by asking, why did it happen? Was it just because Iraq conquered Kuwait in a naked act of illegal aggression? That can't be it because the U.S. has ignored, or even encouraged, many other such aggressions.
Noam Chomsky (1992) explains that it was hardly the worst crime "against peace and against humanity" of the era. In terms of people killed or violations of international law he ranks it as equivalent to the Turkish invasions of Cyprus or Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1978 or the U.S. invasion of Panama. And adds,
In these terms it falls well short of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and cannot remotely be compared with the near-genocidal Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor, to mention only two cases of aggression...with the crucial support of those who most passionately professed their outrage over Iraq's aggression.
Since Chomsky wrote this, we've seen a number of worse invasions and massacres--in the Balkans, in Africa, and in Chechenya. So why was the case of Kuwait so important? Obviously it was "politics", which in this case is spelled "o-i-l." How else can you explain why Saddam Hussein went from a key ally to "Hitler" and yet he was never overthrown?
So-called political realism first inspired the U.S. embrace of Hussein. After all, he had oil and he was at war with Iran. Then he became a threat to the Gulf oil, so he was Hitler. But the U.S. wants a strong Iraq state for a number of reasons, most notably as a balance to Iran and to keep the Kurds (who actually outnumber every other ethnic group in the region) from creating a state that threatens our ally Turkey and the general stability of the region. So an attempt was made to nudge Hussein out, no doubt to be replaced by someone equally dictatorial and heinous; but nudging failed and so Hussein still rules and can now taunt the son of the man who equated him to Hitler.
Within a few years it was clear that the costs of the Gulf War were staggering. Over 5,000 Iraqi civilians died in the bombings of the actual war and more thousands of poorly trained drafted conscripts died. Within a year of the war the U.S. Census Bureau was estimating 70,000 civilian deaths from the destruction of the Iraq infrastructure and the blockade. A year later reports from the U.N. and Harvard University added another 100,000 deaths, mainly of children, due to diseases directly linked to the destruction and the sanctions. One can add 20,000 to 35,000 deaths from the failed civil war the U.S. and allies encouraged, but never supported enough so that it had a chance of victory. (Gray 1997, fn. 5, p. 266) Since these horrible totals were compiled the trade sanctions and bombings of Iraq have continued, as has Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and so Iraqi civilians have continued to die in the thousands. Perhaps as many as a quarter of a million Iraqis have died altogether then, as punishment for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Edward Beck, US ambassador to Iraq from 1977 to 1980 points out,
We have been, for the last 10 years, bombing Iraq whenever we feel like it (with) no basis in law, no United Nations resolution, no international agreement. We do it because we can. (Chebium 2001)
But numbers cannot tell the whole story. Barbara Lubin visited Iraq soon after the war and met many people who had lost loved ones to the bombings. At one point she visited a hospital where hundreds of children were dying.
They were dying from malnutrition, from diarrhea, from childhood diseases like polio and measles, dying from typhoid and cholera. It was incredible, because this was a country that had completely wiped out all of these diseases. And as a result of this disastrous war, they were rampant again.
Imagine a dying baby. Now imagine him or her over again 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 times. Should it surprise anyone that some Iraqi's want to kill Americans?
Right after the war several poets weighed in with their analysis of what the future might hold. Allen Ginsberg wrote in "After the Big Parade":
Millions of people cheering and waving flags for joy in Manhattan
Yesterday've returned to their jobs and arthritis now Tuesday--
What made them want so much passion at last, such mutual delight
Will they ever regain these hours of confetti'd ecstasy again?
Have they forgotten that Corridors of Death gave such victory?
Will 200 thousand more desert deaths across the world be cause for the next rejoicing? (Allen Ginsberg, 6/11/91)
Karen Finley (1992) also wrote a poem about the Gulf War. It was called "The War at Home." It ends prophetically:
And if we won, so what?
We are hated
We are doomed
AMERICA GET A LIFE.
GET A NEW POLICY.
Historical events occur twice -- the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
The wit of the remark conceals the fact that it is profoundly wrong (except perhaps in the case of French History) -- which is so often the case with Marx's insights. History really doesn't repeat itself at all, and if it did it would never be as farce. Our tragedies only deepen through time because at every turn of the spiral the technology of war is more powerful (and the destruction so much worse) and the hunger for justice more palpable (and therefore more painful). But certain patterns in history do repeat, which is why I have put forward this idea of the Second Cold War.
What can understand about our current situation through this Cold War analogy? For the only good it does is what it helps us comprehend so we can predict, or even shape, what happens next. Analogy is not repetition by the way. The Second Cold War won't be any more like the First then the First World War was like the Second, but there were real similarities, and a real relationship, between the two World Wars and we should look for similar links between the Cold Wars.
In the First Cold War there was a disturbing tendency for the two sides to converge; Communists longed to become consumers and democrats strove for a security state. As I've stressed above, all other conflicts and dilemmas in the world were crammed into the Procrustean bed of the Cold War and made to serve it. This didn't lead to many solutions of world problems, as we can see with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but it must have been satisfying to the simple binary thinking of the elites of both sides.
The idea of a Second Cold War is also an analogy to the two World Wars. It argues, therefore, for a close, causal link between Cold War I and Cold War II. Perhaps the lesson to be drawn from World War II, and how easily it turned into the Cold War with nuclear overkill always lurking in the near future, is that hard choices have to be made about allies just as about enemies. The U.S. and the U.K. decided to support the Soviets so that they could bleed the Germans, thus sparing American and Commonwealth casualties.
But at what cost? A nightmare for the people who lived in the Soviet Empire, occupation for Eastern Europe, and the intense militarization of the Cold War. Short-term solutions lead often to long term problems. Trying to duct tape that leaky pipe or that faulty electrical switch, instead of really fixing it, can easily result in floods and fire. At this point in world history it will only take one catastrophic war based on short-term miscalculations to destroy civilization.
The World Wars were most of all about the organization of the international system. The victors choose it and then they turned on each other. The Cold Wars are equally about the organization of the world politically. In this case, the allies that have switched sides are the Russians and the Chinese. But that doesn't mean that this struggle is easily won, for the old rules of force don't apply. In Postmodern War God is not necessarily on the side of the big battalions.
So what is new beyond the First Cold War? How is postmodern war changing? Manuel Castells, perhaps the greatest sociologist of our information economy, has argued that power relations are profoundly shifting because of the centrality of information in all aspects of society. In his book The Power of Identity (1997) he argues that,
"The new power lies in the codes of information and in the images of representation around which societies organize their institutions, and people build their lives, and decide their behavior. The sites of this power are people's minds."
What this means concretely, he goes on, is that "projects aimed at cultural codes must be symbol mobilizers." He describes two main agencies for doing this: Prophets and networks. Prophets are important. They can be inspirational and nonviolent, such as the Catalan leader Jordi Pujol or someone such as Martin Luther King, or they can be revolutionaries like Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, or they can be lone fanatics, such as the Unibomber, or they can be someone like bin Laden.
But, important as they are, Prophets are expendable. It is networks that are the prime agency for change now, Castells argues. They are harder to recognize than the centralized movements of the past, but are no less powerful for that. And since they aren't grounded on traditional forms of power they are difficult to pinpoint, let alone conquer or defeat. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But this is not just the problem of this new Cold War, even as I have broadly defined it as about Fundamentalism in all ist forms. The forces that seek to commodity all life are their own network, and one that is even harder to clearly see than the network of links between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and, symbiotically, with Fundamentalists from totally different creeds.
We are starting to understand that the world isn't binary and it isn't a simple Newtonian system of cause = effect. It is a complex, living world, where small events can have gigantic consequences (the butterfly effect), where certain events forever change everything (singularities, bifurcations), where events and energies are drawn together around seemingly inconsequential entities (strange attractors), and where beautiful new systems can emerge out of chaos and dysfunction (emergence). It is a world that cannot have perfect information (Godel, Church-Turing), where not only do actions change reality, but observation -- what we pay attention to -- changes reality (Heisenberg).
This is why RealPolitick doesn't work, because it is based on illusions of simple rationality, of simple cause and effect, of a disjunction between beliefs and consequences, and, fatally, on very simplistic notions of power. We cannot be so simple minded any more, the stakes are too great. And a good place to start thinking complexly is with our understanding of technology.
The atomic bomb did not cause Postmodern War
Atomic and nuclear weapons are merely symptoms of Postmodern War. The fire bombings of Tokyo, after all, killed more people then died at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It is not any particular technology that makes war too horrible to be "politics by other means" any more, it is technology as a whole. And it isn't just weapons of mass destruction, although they are the greatest direct threat.
We can see that very weak or small groups can use the complex technologies of everyday life to wreck incredible havoc. Without jet planes, and skyscrapers, both of which are totally dependent on computerization on every level from construction to utilization, then September 11 would have been impossible. And the broadcasting of the attacks and their aftermath around the world instantaneously and continuously, equally dependent on technology, magnified their impact a million-fold. The Vietnamese and the Afghans won against the superpowers because they used appropriate technologies for victory, not the most sophisticated technologies available. And, of course, they spent freely of their lives to liberate their homelands and to serve their implacable ideologies.
One other major difference between the First Cold War and the Second needs to be emphasized. Victory won't be through the economic collapse of the weaker states this time. The economic troubles in the Third World are the fuel of this fire. The economic success of nations such as Afghanistan and the Sudan would be more of a setback to the hopes of bin Laden and the Taliban then any economic, or perhaps even military, blow could be. But this must be balanced by an understanding that, in the long run, unrestrained corporate capitalism would be everyone's loss. We need a new world system that goes beyond Postmodern War and the McWorld it nourishes and the Cold Wars it spawns.
Unfortunately, the only way out seems first to go deeper into the horror of September 11 and try to understand what it can teach us. So, what lessons can we draw from this tremendous act of murder?
- Amoral political realism will come back to haunt not just ist practitioners, but innocents as well.
- Technology not only will not solve everything, it is a problem in itself. Old forms of understanding, of power for example, are rendered irrelevant by new technologies and by the technologization of society itself.
- When you kill civilians with bombs from planes -- with technology in other words -- you can't expect the victims to accept this as inevitable collateral damage. Is it morally different to kill civilians with strategic bombing aimed at residential neighborhoods (World War II), "free-fire zones" including villages (Vietnam) or "killing boxes" full of civilians (Gulf War) as opposed to suicide planes? If we were in a declared war with Afghanistan, New York would be a legitimate target for their military. And the high-tech "legitimate" methods of killing civilians work much better than the most successful "terrorist" attacks. So why is one moral and the other not? Just because they seem psychologically different? * There is no such thing as bloodless war, as some people have hoped. Crashing airliners is a favorite scenario in Information War theory. Does it seem bloodless?
- Revenge leads to revenge. Any response that is quick and easy and without sacrifice will be useless, if not actually counter-productive. Horrors such as this have their origins in the real world and in complex situations. There are no easy solutions.
- In the long run war is our greatest enemy. The longer it takes us to confront that truth, the more likely it is that war will win. But peace is not just the absence of war. Real peace is justice and tolerance. All other kinds of peace are just pauses before the next spasm of killing.
On September 29, 2001, the first big anti-war rally of the new millennium was on C-Span2 and I watched some of it. They had a chant there that I had a complex reaction to. It went: "Another World is Possible! Another World is Possible!" My first reaction was, "Yes, that's right. This world is not inevitable." Having been an organizer off and on for many years, I know how hard it is to help people believe that we can indeed change the world. But then I thought, "Lots of other worlds are possible, and most of them are even worse then this one." That set me back a bit.
So I thought about it and decided that, if I was into chanting, which I generally loathe (except for my old favorite "More mindless chants!"), it would have to be "A better world is possible." Not easy I imagine, I grant you, but I do believe a better world is indeed possible. And even more, I believe it is necessary.
October 11, 2001
The battle for Afghanistan is well underway. It won't be hard to drive the Taliban into the mountains although there will be a blood price. The hardest part of the battle is fostering a stable government in Afghanistan. Failure there will lead to further war and terror in the future. This Second Cold War is, in part, a series of battles about nation-states and who will rule them. Some of the most important: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Palestine/Israel. The other arena of conflict is networks: of terrorists, of police, of media, and of finance.
The best possible outcome of this war would be a strong international civil society that would not allow the injustices and fantaticisms that underlie these Cold Wars to continue. The worst possible outcome is extensive nuclear and biological war. No doubt our future will fall somewhere in between. Where exactly will depend on what we all do, not just the governments and the non-state combatants but all of us, all the citizens of the world. Bibliography
Chris Hables Gray, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of the Cultural Studies of Science and Technology and of Computer Science at the University of Great Falls. His book on contemporary conflict, Postmodern War (Routledge/Guilford1997) has been translated into Turkish and Chinese and is being translated into Hebrew. Other work of his on information war and other aspects of war today have been translated into German, Japanese, and Spanish. This is an excerpt from his latest book, Information, Power and Peace (Routledge 2002), which is on how new information technologies impact the chances for global peace. See also in Telepolis: Dreading the near Future. The growing threat of chemical and biological warfare.
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