Iraq imbroglio has turned out to be bloody, gruesome and terrifyingly
real. The forces which created and guided it, on the other hand, operate
with clean hands, far from the violence and horror, in the hazy twilight
between reality and simulation.
short months into the war (a war which has supposedly been over for
five of those months), and we've already seen everything the
weapons of mass destruction,
multicultural marriages, the stage-managed
toppling of Saddam's statue and his symbolic, triumphant return,
in the form of guerrillas who claim to be avenging both him and an Islam
humiliated while perhaps
in reality serving neither.
forgotten Afghanistan still vexed
by "Taliban remnants" and battling
warlords vestigial President Hamid Karzai praises Kabul's
new traffic jams as signs of progress, while Vogue magazine helps
Afghan women learn "to be beautiful again."
symbol of "progress" was (quite literally) paraded in front of us last
month, in the form of the alluring
Miss Afghanistan never mind the fact that she's actually
student from California. Forget about the bunker busters and gunship
helicopters it's the sight of her majestic carriage that will
prove lethal for hardened Taliban fighters.
is addictive. The government pours on heavy doses of symbolism whenever
a propaganda value can be extracted from real or staged events while
simultaneously guarding against any 'unfortunate' event (i.e., one less
in line with the government agenda) acquiring symbolic value.
This policy has now led traditional Pentagon protocol to be reversed,
journalists from photographing military funeral ceremonies.
remember May Day when the war in Iraq officially ended. Warrior-emperor
in full regalia onto an aircraft carrier to announce victory, under
a tri-colored banner reading "Mission Accomplished." Democrats have
been gleefully noting the discrepancy between that statement and Iraq's
continuing reality of violence and confusion, 6 months later. Referring
to the banner, Senator Tom Daschle
opined, "…this latest fabrication is yet another illustration of
their (the Republican administration's) unwillingness to except (sic)
possible that a typo could be fated? Taken at his (reported) word, Daschle
is clearly incorrect: the Bush Administration has been in the business
of "excepting" reality from public discourse since Day One.
more tenuous the simulation, the greater becomes the need for reinforcements.
Shortly after the stunt on the aircraft carrier, KB Toys already
responsible for the sickening Special Forces
fun house came out with a George
Bush action figure. This collector's item (dubbed "George W. Bush,
Elite Force Aviator") depicts the president in strapping military garb,
looking stoic and regal and determined, just as he did on that portentous
day. According to KB,
realism and exacting attention to detail demanded by today's 12-inch
action figure enthusiast are met and exceeded with this action figure."
a relief! At least the action figure (if not its model) can not only
meet but also exceed its requirements. A derivative simulation breeds
a derivative sense of comfort (in those seeking it), or alienation (in
the rest of us).
affair and the aircraft carrier arrival were both replayed over and
over on American television. Could they somehow become more real with
each repetition? Actually, they just became more iconic which amounts
to about the same thing in this age of illusion.
one could just as easily cling to other images on the screen associated
with the war, but no patriot likes to watch re-runs of
American helicopters crashing. After all, why would they when the
Hawk Down with its superior cinematography, punchy soundtrack
and heavy symbolism, contains a drama so much more easily accessible
and digestible? As for the raw footage of real events, that is just
too fast, too jumbled and regrettably too real to symbolize anything.
Options for Working with Reality
no humane person likes to watch soldiers getting maimed or screaming
Iraqi civilians being vaporized. The real is suppressed, pushed down.
Posterity evades it, and recapturing it becomes a very tough battle.
exist for fighting this battle, however. First, there is the simple
reporting of ugly facts (a la Robert Fisk). Second, the devious use
of the propagandists' own weapons against them.
could we not petition KB Toys to make a "Limbless Ali" doll? As with
Dubya's, this toy would be indisputably part of the Iraq war nostalgia.
As with "Elite Force Aviator Bush," it would have to be "…a meticulous
1:6 scale recreation."
I forgot. Ali's gotten his free artificial limbs. That should shut up
the little ingrate.
it comes to America's creation of jihad spirit
in Iraq, the irony is thick perhaps even thicker than the whipped butter
one might find at the National Prayer Breakfasts attended by notables
like President Bush and CIA Director George Tenet. Last winter, the
latter revealed to the assembled diners his agency's latest strategy
in the war on terror:
teaches us to be resolute in the face of evil, using all of the weapons
and armor that the word of God supplies."
This soft spot for
religious symbolism in an allegedly dualistic struggle after all,
characters like Gen.
William Boykin are taken seriously when talking about demons, principalities
and powers may help explain why the government continues to fall under
the spell of fairly insipid simulation strategies, like the CIA's interactive
anti-terrorism video game.
late September, the CIA announced a very different
plan for fighting terror:
agents will become make-believe terror chiefs, playing a new video game
devised to make them think more like their most wanted enemy, Osama
bin Laden, it was revealed yesterday. The CIA's Counter Terrorist Centre
(CTC) is developing the computer game which will help agents adopt the
mindset of an evil mastermind character, bent on terror and destruction.
other agents cast as themselves, or law enforcement officials, they
will do battle against one another on the multi-million dollar game.
CIA said the idea was to help its agents "think outside the box."
God for that! In this wide world there is simply not a box big
enough to contain these geniuses. After all, it would take an idiot
savant, or a character
out of Borges, to painstakingly craft a simulated reality so real
that it could almost pass for the real thing. Yet Americans (as the
prevalence of fantasy baseball leagues would attest) do have
a perverse addiction to the unreal. It's an easy sell.
the reasons for creating this game (besides blowing taxpayer money),
is that CIA officials feel their agents aren't naturally evil
enough. Straitlaced Americans are so moral, they believe, that it will
take virtual, video-game experience to make them embrace the diabolical
mindset of the terrorist. One wonders if, once settled into the role,
the trainees would be able to pull themselves out of it afterwards.
Would they return to reality? Or would Osama win new converts, as glassy-eyed
as he and as mentally programmed as his unwired, scruffy Afghan acolytes?
think about the practical aspects of the CIA's terrorist Play Station.
Would the novice operatives become so engrossed in the game that they
might actually mistake it for the real thing? Would they arrange secret,
off-line meetings with allies, contacts and informants to help defeat
the forces of evil (or good, whichever side they've been given)? Could
CIA trainees become so enchanted with fueling and foiling terror in
the virtual world that they didn't notice when all hell started breaking
loose in the real world outside?
the most wonderful thing about video games is their creation of an environment
in which mistakes have no consequences. In games, intelligence
failures don't lead to airplanes crashing into buildings or coalition
hotels getting firebombed. US security officials have become, not unreasonably,
quite sensitive to criticism these days. They don't like to make mistakes.
We're just fortunate that a lack of pressing security concerns in the
real world at the moment allows agents the luxury of practicing on-line
until they're no longer susceptible to making mistakes.
Business Obliges: the Case of Viacom
amazingly stupid Big Idea was greeted with little comment from the media.
Certainly it didn't get anything near the reception that TIA and the
future market embarrassment before it did. Perhaps, in this age
of simulation, media deception and stage-managed events, everyone has
come to accept such endeavors as part of the territory.
at least, has embraced it. In this, they've clearly taken their cue
from the government. Media giant Viacom sucked up to the Bushies with
a highly flattering rewrite of the September 11th attacks
in a cable drama entitled, "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis." According to one recent tragicomic
production includes the cast of Star Trek, a comedian known for his
role as "the ripper," and financial subsidies from Canada where this
pro-American patriotic epic was actually made to avoid paying union
finally appeared on Showtime on September 7th.
This was no accident: airing such propaganda on the eve of the Second
Anniversary helped the Bush Administration to benefit from, while simultaneously
feeding the symbolic myth of 9/11. Meanwhile, the same administration
is trying its best to keep the reality of that fateful day shrouded in secrecy,
and many nagging issues, such as the precise character of Israeli involvement
in the event, remain largely ignored.
to KB Toys or Viacom's contributions, there are many more examples of
Big Business' hearty entrance into the world of government simulation.
A bizarre recent example comes from Boeing. The gargantuan military
contractor plans to spend $20 million by next year on a "virtual
war simulation center." A customer showroom with pyrotechnics, the
center is meant to show the effectiveness of its products in a real
wartime setting a sort of military theme park.
anticipating the need for mounting a self-defense, the report highlights
the great benefits Boeing's new project will have for the greater St.
Louis area: the facility would "employ about 75 when completed, and
grow to about 150 employees in three to four years."
logic here is that anything contributing to job creation, no matter
how outrageous, is a good thing. But how will it come off? Will we soon
hear someone say with nonchalance, "yeah, I work down at DisneyWar."
A military theme park will do the great service of allowing those armchair
generals who've had their fill of seeing "real" war on TV to get a chance
to see it (sort of) really close up.
'Full Spectrum Warrior'
the CIA has "no plans" to release its terrorist simulation game commercially,
we can have higher hopes for the Army's offering: "Full Spectrum Warrior,"
an X-Box-based interactive game that simulates urban warfare.
games were dreamed up by the Institute for Creative Technologies in Marina
Del Ray, California, "…a $45 million endeavor" intended to "…connect
academics with local entertainment and video game industries." The ICT
perfected "Full Spectrum Warrior" in tandem with Los Angeles-based Pandemic
Studios. These producers have the best of both worlds while their contracts
utilize taxpayer dollars, they are crafting their national security
training games with
an eye to generating "commercial sales:"
is already busy creating a retail version that will add multiplayer
capability, streamline the controls and dispense with such realities
as death from a single gunshot wound.
explosions will be bigger. Smoke will develop more quickly. A squad
leader could call in an F-16 strike,' said Jim Korris, creative director
for the Institute for Creative Technologies. 'That doesn't happen in
the real world.'"