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[Nettime-ro] [CTHEORY] 1000 Days of Theory: The Mask of War

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 1000 Days 022    03/11/2005    Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker


                            1000 DAYS OF THEORY


 The Mask of War

~Jean Baudrillard~

~Not for or Against~. Quite the contrary.[1] This is precisely the title of Cedric Klapisch's film. Neither for, nor against the war. "Quite the contrary"[2] signifies that there is no difference between the war and the non-war, and that before deciding, it is necessary to be clear about the status of the event. However, this war is a nonevent, and it is absurd to come to a conclusion about a nonevent. It is first of all necessary to know what it masks, that which it holds in place, that which it exorcises. There is no need to search for long: the event that opposes the nonevent of the war is September 11.

 The analysis must start with this will of cancellation, obliteration,
 and laundering of the original event, which makes this war ghostly,
 to some extent unimaginable since it does not have a final purpose, a
 necessity, or even of a true enemy (Saddam is only a puppet). This
 war merely has the form of a conspiracy, of an event that is
 precisely impossible to do away with. The result is that it is
 already perpetual, before even having been started. In fact, it has
 already taken place, and the suspense itself is part of this
 masquerade. It opens towards an endless war that will never take
 place. And it is this suspense that awaits us in the future, this
 diffuse topicality of blackmail and terror in the form of a universal
 principle of prevention.

 One can grasp this mechanism in ~Minority Report~, the recent film by
 Steven Spielberg. On the ground of preventing future crimes, police
 commandos intercept criminals before they have a chance to act. It is
 exactly the same scenario with the war in Iraq: to nip a future
 criminal act in the bud (the use by Saddam of weapons of mass
 destruction). The question that irresistibly arises is whether the
 supposed crime would have taken place? One will never know since it
 will already have been prevented. (Saddam himself is of no
 importance.) But what is apparent through Saddam is an automatic
 deprogramming of all that could have taken place, a kind of disease
 prevention on a worldwide scale, not only of any crime, but also of
 any event that could disturb the hegemonic world order.

 This is an ablation of "evil" in all its forms, an ablation of the
 enemy who does not exist anymore as such (one exterminates it quite
 simply), an ablation of death: "Zero death" [~Zero Mort~] becomes the
 leitmotiv for universal safety. A veritable principle of
 contraception and deterrence (dissuasion), but one without a balance
 of terror. This dissuasion without a cold war, this terror without a
 balance, and this relentless prevention placed under the sign of
 security will become a planetary strategy.

 "Evil" is what arrives without prevention, and therefore without the
 possibility of prevention. It is, of course, the case with September
 11. It is precisely that event that is radically opposed to the
 nonevent of the war. September 11 is an impossible and unimaginable
 event. It is carried out even before being itself possible (even
 disaster films did not anticipate it; on the contrary, they exhausted
 the imaginary possibility of such an event). It is about the extreme
 unforeseeable (where one finds a paradox according to which a thing
 does not become possible until only after it has taken place).

 The difference is complete with the current war, which, by contrast,
 has been envisaged, programmed, and anticipated so much that it does
 not even need to take place. And even if it takes place in "reality,"
 it will already have virtually taken place and thus it will not be an
 event. Here, reality is a virtual horizon. This take-over by the
 virtual is further reinforced by the fact that the announced war is
 like the double, the clone of the first Gulf war (just like Bush is
 his father's clone). The crucial event has thus been bracketed by two
 cloned events.

 One can understand better from this perspective how this current war
 is a substitute event, a ghost event, and a puppet [~fantoche~] event
 bearing the image of Saddam. This is an immense mystification -- for
 the Americans themselves. With September 11 a gigantic task of
 contraception developed at the same time as a process of mourning.
 The idea was to ensure that September 11 had, in fact, not taken
 place, using the same principle of prevention, but this time
 retrospectively. An endeavor without hope or end.

 But then, what is the final strategy or at least the objective result
 of this preventive blackmail? It is not to prevent the criminal act,
 to bring into being the Good, or to correct the irrational course of
 the world. Even oil and direct geostrategic considerations are not
 the underlying reasons. The ultimate reason is to create a
 securitized order, a general neutralization of peoples on the basis
 of a final nonevent. To some extent, the goal is the end of history,
 but not one that would be placed under the heading of a triumphant
 liberalism, or with a democratic realization as seen in Fukuyama, but
 rather on the basis of a preventive terror putting an end to any
 possible event.

 Terror is distilled everywhere. The system ends up terrorizing itself
 under the aegis of security. This is the very point at which the
 victory of terrorism manifests itself. And if the virtual war is
 already won on the ground by the world power, it is rather terrorism
 that has won the symbolic victory through the instauration of a
 general worldwide disorder. It is, in fact, the attacks of September
 11 that have completed the process of globalization -- not the
 globalization of the market, of the flows of capital, but of a
 symbolic system that is much more fundamental for world domination --
 by causing a coalition of all the powers, democratic, liberal,
 fascistic or totalitarian, spontaneously made to be complicit and
 solidly in defense of the world order. All powers are geared against
 a single "alien."[3] And all the rationalizations are raging against
 the advent of "Evil." Still, it is against this world power that
 everyone rises, and it is against it that the eruption of the
 symbolic system of terrorism finds its counter-force. Terrorism will
 have burst the arrogance and the disproportional power that holds the
 whole world with respect to the imminence of an incomprehensible war.

 This preventive terror, in total contempt for its own principles
 (humanistic and democratic), reached a dramatic extreme in the Moscow
 theatre incident where everything happened exactly as in the "Mad
 Cow" affair: one butchers the whole herd out of precaution. God will
 then recognize his own. Hostages and terrorists are confused in the
 massacre and thus virtually become accomplices. The terrorist
 principle is extrapolated to the whole population. It is the implicit
 assumption of power: populations themselves are a terrorist threat
 for it. Terrorism, in its action, seeks this solidarity with the
 people but without finding it. But here it is power itself that
 carries out this involuntary complicity in a brutal fashion.

 We are power's virtual hostages, and we are dealing with a coalition
 of all the powers against all the populations. This is completely
 visible today with the proximity of the war that will take place in
 any case in total contempt for world opinion.

 This global situation gives credence to Virilio when he speaks about
 a planetary civil war. The most dramatic political consequence of
 these events is the collapse of any concept of international
 community and, more generally, of any system of representation and
 legitimacy. And the recent world mass demonstrations against the war
 where, one believes, a rising countervailing power is emerging, are
 themselves only a worrying symptom of this hiatus, of this fracture
 of representation. Nobody wants the war, and yet it will take place
 no matter what, with the more or less camouflaged approval of all

 One deals from now on with an exercise of power in a pure state, a
 power without sovereignty. As long as power draws its sovereignty
 from the concept of representation, as long as it has a political
 reason, its exercise can find a balance; in any case, it can be
 fought and disputed. But the obliteration of this form of sovereignty
 leaves an unrestrained power, without an opposite number, in a state
 of nature (with no longer a natural brutality, but a technological
 one). And this power that does not have a legitimate reference any
 longer or even one true enemy (since it transforms it into some kind
 of criminal ghost) turns without compunction against its own

 But the integral reality of power is also its end. An integral power
 that is no longer one of prevention, dissuasion, security and control
 is a power that is symbolically vulnerable. It can no longer be
 brought into play and, finally, it turns on itself. It is this
 weakness, this internal failure of world power, which terrorism in
 its own way reveals, just like an unconscious angst is betrayed by a
 failed act. This is properly speaking "the hell of power." September
 11 thus appears from the point of view of power like a gigantic
 challenge in which world power lost face. And this war, far from
 taking up the challenge, will not erase the humiliation of September
 11. There is something terrifying in the fact that this virtual world
 order can make its entry into "reality" with such facility.

 The terrorist event was strange. It was an unbearable strangeness. As
 for the non-war, it inaugurates the worrying familiarity of terror.


 First published in Rebonds, ~Liberation~ on March 10, 2003.

Translated by Alex Barder

Acknowledgements: -----------------

 Special thanks to Francois Debrix for his very helpful comments on
 this translation


 [1] The French title of the film is ~Ni pour ni contre (bien au
 contraire)~ which has been translated for the English language
 version of the film as ~Not for or Against~. Baudrillard's reference
 to ~bien au contraire~ present in the French title has been
 translated separately as "Quite the contrary."

 [2] Quotations are used in the original text.

 [3] English word used in the French text.


 Jean Baudrillard is an internationally acclaimed theorist whose
 writings trace the rise and fall of symbollic exchange in the
 contemporary century. In addition to a wide range of highly
 influential books from _Seduction_ to _Symbollic Exchange and Death_,
 Baudrillard's most recent publications include: _The Vital Illusion_,
 _The Spirit of Terrorism_, _The Singular Objects of Architecture_,
 _Passwords_, _The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos, Texts, Interviews_
 (September 2005) and _The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact_
 (November 2005). He is a member of the editorial board of _CTheory_.

 Alex Barder is pursuing graduate studies at Florida International


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