Anita Mage on Mon, 10 May 1999 10:10:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Friedrich Kittler: The Veil of Air Warfare

The Veil of Air Warfare

By Friedrich Kittler

German television, one hears on Geman television, has reached its
system-theoretical apex or late phase. With "reality of the mass media"
Niklas Luhmann was referring not only to the mere reality that radio and
television transmit, but also the reality they generate. No domestic
broadcaster demanded humanitarian measures for the Kuwaitis before the
second Gulf War, but for the Kosovars before the present NATO intervention
they most definitely did.

Did television then, before it found its way back to its own peace - that
is - exclusively humanitarian devotion, conjure up this war?

An arrogant question. Modern mass, one-way media are as old as the mass
armies of the nation-states for whom they have drummed support and
mobilized for more than a century. In 1866 a Times reporter saw more from
high up in a church steeple at Sadova than Moltke, the victor, from his
command-post in the field. In 1939 a world war began as its own simulation
in the recording studios of Radio Gleiwitz. First as too many images of
dead conscripts in South Vietnam flowed back to the USA did the media
switch over from war reports to humanitarian foreign reportage and the
nation states (with exceptions, such as Germany) from mass conscription to
professional armies.

But professional soldiers don't make media events for the very reason,
that they themselves are products of the media. Since the second Gulf War,
press censorship takes care once again to uphold this state of affairs.
Combat troops must appear all the less often in television, the more their
battles are fought exclusively via computer moniters, night-vision
apparatus or satellite images. The U.S. Army christened this whole media
spectacle with beautiful amiguity Vision 2000 - television war is not an
iconography. Even 'our man in Bagdad', the lone CNN reporter on his hotel
balcony, saw less than the old Times at Königsgrätz. In order to disperse
propaganda at all, the Vision only has the television-eyed cruise-missiles
send back their own target-images shortly before they strike. For
television there remains as well a basic missed opportunity: to comprehend
its technical identity with the aggressor.

But now the war is back in Europe. The combatants have learned a couple of
things. NATO, finally, is fighting not an enemy, but a nation state.
Yugoslavian air-defense officers, it is rumored, have flown to Bagdad to
exchange experiences with their Iraqi colleagues. Western reporters are
expelled, their cameras destroyed (not without the last camera settings
transmitting their own destruction). Something is happening in the media,
as creeping and inconscpiuous as ever.

The only Belgrade radio station that could be called independent, B92, had
been banned from broadcasting, but was accessible on the internet : B 92
is permitted to put the bombs of the B52s on the Net, thereby catapulting
the oldest combat airplanes into the newest of media. Correspondeing
exactly to this, Serbian hackers were able to if not make the worst fears
of the Pentagon come true, at least illustrate them. Instead of breaking
into top-secret computers, as the semi-official prognoses known as
Information Warfare foresee, the hackers attacked only the NATO public
relations activities, and only them, with computer-viruses and junk
e-mail. For hours, the alliance shone brillantly by its web absence until
the victorious net attacks, (according to Nato-speaker Jamie Shea) could
be traced to a Belgrade computer address.

Something is happening in the media that increasingly deprives the mass
media of the double-edged reality of which Luhmann spoke. The dream, or
nightmare, of German television - to be an accomplice to the outbreak of
the war - can be interpreted as a symptom of this process. For fifty years
the states could rely upon a discrete solidarity from the television
stations who, already on account of the miserable picture quality,
preferred to broadcast talking heads and refugee children, rather than to
record a total desert storm. But along with the image resolution, the
times are changing. The computer moniters in the offices, as opposed to
their old doppelgänger before the living room couch, can handle all the
megabytes. And the contemporary war iconography is none other than this.

"One mouse-click on the file-size line, which is found under every
thumbnail image" is all it takes "to download high quality print-ready
photos". So reads the NATO homepage, now that it has fought its way free.
For myself, those thumbnail images, the tiny twin icons that present the
air defense at Belgrade or the air fields at Batajnica "before" and
"after","pre-strike" and "post-stirke", are sufficient to heed the NATO's
request: "Please credit NATO photos".

One must simply give credence to a military alliance that holds digital
copyrights. One denies any source-verification for their reconnaissance
photos for the mere reason that they are just the tip of an iceberg. What
comes out by the end-users, press deadlines, news studios, has been, one
can be sure, emptied of information. Only the NATO staffs receive the
latest registrations of the air campaign practically in real time, within
60 seconds of their taking.

But that media power is no longer alone in this regard. During the Bosnia
war it was still hackers and freaks like Geert Lovink who managed the Net
connections from Amsterdam to Budapest to the Balkans. At that time it was
possible, despite the veil over the national and mass media, to circulate
belated emails between Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade in the aftermath of
skirmishes and massacres. But this too has changed. The interactive media
today seems to have almost reached NATO real time. Someone, who we have
only just learned to call a Kosovar, need only entrust the death happening
before his eyes to a compact media kit consisting of a palm pilot, modem
and cell-phone to make his village known worldwide. The replacement of the
reporter by survivors happens by means of arming the victims with the
equipment of the professional soldiers. Without NATO and fiber optics,
satellite communications and global positioning systems there would be no
talk of globalization. In this regard the current air warfare may well
just be a veil that mercifully - that is, experientially, conceals the
fact that information warfare scorns everything experiential.

But what about the ground war, the refugee trecks, in short, the evening
news? Whether fear of the former of the latter, both still have "the
media" as a veil - however they wish to call themselves. But ground troops
and waves of refugees share the same fate, and have since the next to last
German war: they must wander this old earth. But they wander an earth
that, as Heidegger said, by every trespass upon her, breaks to pieces.  
Oh karstified balkans, Europe's undead ancestress.

Original German version: Nr.17/1999
Translation: Anita Mage

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