Saturday, November 19, 2005


“I was just thinking one thing when we drove into that ambush.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City . . . It was f---ing cool.”-
A U.S. Marine in Iraq, quoted by embedded Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright in his book “In Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Capitan America, and the New Face of American War”.

All nations honor their war heroes. Norway honors the World War II resistance fighters and the French have the Maquis who battled the German occupiers. Russian men and women who turned back the Nazis in the “Great Patriotic war” are national treasures.

Americans too, have a pantheon of war heroes. Conjure up a few American war heroes and you see backwoodsman Alvin York shooting squirrels at 200 yards. Audie Murphy plinking at bottles on his hard scrabble Texas tenant farm. Or the plucky Minuteman loading his musket while he waits for the oncoming Redcoats. Those men are military icons, enshrined in Americana.

Now time shift to today. Army recruiting ads show computer networks and weapons launched by mouse click. Most kids signing up for service have never fired a gun. But most have worked their finger pads raw shooting at electrons at photons on Playstations.

The Marine that is quoted above, and his comrades, may share little with their predecessors from World War I and World War II. They are different, writes Julia Baird of the Australian newspaper “Sydney Morning Herald”. Baird writes:

Each generation produces its own war literature. This batch, from both the recent Iraq War and the Gulf war before it, is different not because of how they end up - usually jaded, depressed and displaced - but how they start the war.

Today's young soldiers are cynical - they know they are being used, and they know this war on terrorism is unlikely to end. They laugh at the "retards" who command them. They are not wide-eyed, seduced by noble aims and determined to save the world from evil, like their forebears in the two world wars who were often reluctant to kill. [i]

American boys flocked to enlist for World War I and World War II. In high spirits, glittering generalities like “Patriotism and Freedom” cut and pasted upon their innocent tongues. Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mortia.[ii]

The American kids killing and being killed in Iraq are apparently having less jingoistic imagery and drawing more from the barbarous truth of war. The flags and speeches and talking points are for the grieving families and panderers holding political power. These kids walk in already wised up. The Iraqis just happen to be downrange.


This is not a post about the Iraq war. The Iraq war is just the latest of the serial failures of the human species. Vain, petty, and fundamentally insecure men telling reformatted lies to mask their greed and ambition. “Leaders” who have a pathological need to hear the grateful multitudes proclaim their names and dampen in their ears the whining echoes of their earlier, unresolved failures.

The call to elective war echoes as a horripilating howl down the centuries. And tinny men of megalomanic delusions all do it the same way. Find one of many bogeymen, parade a new fear down the main street of the nation, and inveigh against the rational dissenters as more dangerous than the bogeyman himself.[iii] Betray the sons with an ignoble call to duty for the leaders’ desertion. Ennoble their senseless deaths with parade-ground swagger, marble-writ bravado and ritualized remorse.


As the Author wrote in the first post on this blog, and in the first footnote to his first newsletter, “The Desert of the Real” is the recognition that the world can be a simulacrum, a hyperreality, an eroding “place” that moves through the following successive phases:

It is the reflection of a profound reality.
It masks and denatures a profound reality.
It masks the absence of a profound reality.
It has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum.[iv]

Go to Disneyworld and tell yourself you have not been pumped up into hyperreality. Sit down at any of 100 Crackerbarrel restaurants and enjoy a seat in simulacra. Or play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City during your aimless adolescent hours, sign up, and ship out to Iraq.

Jean Baudrillard wrote after the first Gulf War in 1991 that the “Gulf War never happened”. Of course Baudrillard knew that a conflict was fought, people died, and landscapes were destroyed. But in the 24-hour news cycle and infotainment culture where war is branded as “Operation Desert Storm” and given its own logo, the living-room and sports-bar tailored broadcasts are the hyperreality.

The reporters in Saudi Arabia broadcasted the “rockets red glare” of Patriot missiles streaking onward and upward at the Scud missiles. The Patriots illuminated the screen as they missed the warheads but ignited the mostly spent Scud fuel tanks. They had little tactical effect but tremendous propaganda effect. They were spectral across the hyperreality.

Burning Iraqi tanks masked the funeral pyres inside. Nightvision helicopter gunsights, the blurry color of chlorine gas, signed the deaths of thousands with fast streaks and distant flashes.
Grainy, and in a still DOS command-line computer world, this hyperreality masked the molten-metal immolation of men.

The satellite-fed simulacrum of the television war was near universally experienced, while only a relative handful of rough men slaughtered each other along this un-pixilated frontier. And television wars spin off the next generation of video games. Through Windows 95 we came to Windows Millennium. And an X-Box and a Play Station.

Each successive simulacrum has faster graphics but uses more memory. Hardware serves up faster. Software gets smarter. But it still needs the wetware.


In the language of geekspeak, humans are wetware, liveware, meatware. The operators of the computers. The tiny serial batteries that power the Matrix. What’s between the chair and the keyboard.

And the young Marine is in the simulacrum of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as his unit is ambushed in the simulacrum that is the war in Iraq. Blood on the Playstation. Hyperreality poured down broadband. We, the hyperrealising millions, have a 0 or 1 switch. The Marine, in his own little hyperreality, has the unique option to come home as liveware or boxed-up as decaying meatware.

General Sherman, who made the oft-repeated understatement, “War is Hell”, would still recognize war, but wouldn’t recognize the hyperreality of 21st Century Warfare. No draft riots in New York City, no executions of deserters, no excise taxes, no shortages on the home front. Of course there would still be the looters and profiteers of the Home Guard.

In hyperreality, war can only be hell if you burn some sulfurous incense and rotting cadaver candles.

The simulacrum is never what hides the truth-it is the truth that hides the fact that there is none.
So the simulacrum is true. Ecclesiastes.

Rejoice, oh Young Man in thy Youth. Ecclesiastes 11:9 King James Version.


[ii] Owen, Wilfred, Dulce Et Decorum Est. (1917).
[iii]"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." Nazi leader Hermann Goring.
[iv] Baudrillard, Jean, “Simulacra and Simulacrum”, p. 6 (1981).
[v] The Meatmen were a punk rock band from the 1980s and early 1990s. One of their better CDs was “We’re the Meatmen …and You Suck!”