War as Virtual Reality

Even though I am opposed to the current wars, and believe they will cause nothing but trouble for decades to come, in a sense they don't exist for me, and, I suspect, for a lot of other people.

Because of Vietnam , in which domestic protests involved several bombings and many riots, war has now been sanitized and removed as far as possible from the public. There is no draft these days; instead kids from small towns, who join because they can only find jobs in fast-food restaurants, are used as cannon fodder.

My last year in college, an Army officer showed up in one of my classes and told us that if we joined, "you'll be taken care of." The grunts, he told us, "we don't care what they want." College graduates were to be officers; poor or uneducated kids were to be on the front lines. That was the legacy of 58,000 American casualties in Vietnam .

Modern war has now become a video game. We watch it on TV; middle-class kids don't have to fight; it's so heavily censored we don't see our coffins coming home or blown-apart Iraqi 12-year-old kids with no arms. For all practical purposes, the wars don't exist for most people. That's the way the military and the administration wants it. Most people won't be affected by the wars until it bothers them economically or until casualties get too high. And that day will come, quite soon. I think it's already starting.

I am reminded of spectators in the Coliseum, who apparently didn't see the combatants as real people. To them, it was like TV for us today. The current wars aren't truly real for us, because they don't affect us. We watch them on TV, like a video game. The mass of people have made no true sacrifices, and won't for some time. They haven't had to give up their SUVs and cell phones and big-screen TVs. The only thing that's affecting them right now is the price of gas.

Jean Baudrillard, in his book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, argues we have entered a new age of warfare. It's no longer hand-to-hand. It's radar and images on TV screens and buttons pushed and missiles launched. It's spectators in the Coliseum. The US is so strong militarily, and so technologically advanced, that the wars we engage in can't really be called wars anymore. If a Rottweiler kills a Chihuahua , is that really a fight? That's what Baudrillard meant when he wrote the war "did not take place."

He points out the Gulf War was so lopsided that that fewer US soldiers were killed than would have died in traffic accidents if they had stayed at home. He called it "an atrocity masquerading as war." Yet nationalists, who always are convinced they are patriots, cheered it.

One of the most important natural laws that exists is Cooper's Law: "All machines are amplifiers." They amplify whatever abilities we have. We use machines and technology to insulate us from the vagaries of nature. That's one side of the coin. It has also allowed us to wage total war, while simultaneously insulating us from it. That's the other side.

I am remined of the movie 'The Matrix.' Everyone was asleep and living in a virtual reality . . . then reality intruded on them. Their insulation evaporated. Only in this day of advanced technology could such a movie be made, or be so relevant.

Currently George Bush's public ratings are the lowest they've ever been. It's because people have seen 1,500 American casualties and billions wasted. The rationales for the wars are ever-changing. First it was because of (non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction, then it was to impose democracy on places that don't know what it is, and certainly won't be able to make it work. That's what I mean by trouble for decades to come.

Someday, there will be a tipping point against these wars. At first the media supported American intrusions into Vietnam . Then they turned against it, viciously. It'll happen here. One thing that will cause it is if the administration tries to impose a draft, which will go over like a lead balloon. It's one thing for throw-away kids from trailer parks to join the military. Honestly, who really cares about the Neanderthalish Lynndie England and her sloping forehead and receding chin? It's another thing entirely if the administration tries to draft middle-class kids in its hopeless attempt to play Woodrow Wilson and "save the world for democracy."

Sooner or later, the wars will cease to be video games and a spectator sport, no matter how desperately the military and the administration fights to prevent it. When that day comes, when the reality of it breaks through to the general public, that is when the true protesting will start.

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Bob Wallace's picture
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