The Archive and the Virus: The Ruin of Military Information in Real Time

On Baudrillard, Virilio, War, and Speed

DAVID LONGSTREATH | Credit: AP

The spectacular event of the Gulf War in 1991 is entirely a non-event, fitting for a non-war. The Gulf War was a programmed operation that seemed to showcase the new possibilities of military technology, and yet real ground war was inconsequential to the virtual victory that was achieved. Baudrillard states how “the victory of the model is more important than victory on the ground. Military success consecrates the triumph of arms, but the programming success consecrates the defeat of time.”¹ The “clean war” that was promoted by the media featured little to no American casualties despite the military’s initial anticipation for many. For most of the world, the war was purely a product of the media’s coverage: footage shared amongst stations, officials answering questions diligently, completion of “real-time” to capture instantaneity of information, and general non-politics. In 1991, Jean Baudrillard wrote a series of articles focusing on the Gulf War, or lack thereof, and denounced the sort of event that it had become: his coverage consisted of watching the media coverage on TV as he understood the virtuality of the operation: the meaning of the war was to be found in an analysis of the relationships mediated by images.

To supplement Baudrillard’s analysis it is essential in understanding Guy Debord’s theorization on the spectacle, especially as it can be applied to the society of the United States. Debord’s Society of the Spectacle was written in 1968 and aimed at progressing the field of critical cultural studies in light of new advancements of technology and its appropriated usage by Capitalist systems. First and foremost, the spectacle refers to a “social relationship between people that is mediated by images,” as well as “capital accumulated to the point of where it becomes image,”.² This ought to say much in reference to modern structures of power present in places such as the United States, where the totality of images, signs, Law, and general conditions reflect a system for mediating discourse. In identifying accumulated capital as essential to its creation, one can look no further than the military interventions of the United States for the greater half of the 20th Century.³ For Jean Baudrillard, the Gulf War was something different. While the Gulf War displayed another concession to the military-industrial complex, it was also a dead war, a decomposing corpse while being a moment of profound crisis.⁴ Baudrillard writes how everyone is susceptible to intoxication from the media, its allure is almost hallucinogenic: by the complete dissemination of the spectacle of war via mass media outlets, pleasure is taken in collective “indifference and our irresponsibility”.⁵ Observation from modern contours in military operations and accumulation of spectacles present new perspectives on technologies of control that are being accelerated in a new understanding of “real-time”.

It is impossible to speak of methods of control without explicitly mentioning the groundwork that Gilles Deleuze wrote in 1992 titled “Postscript to the Societies of Control”; Deleuze’s expansion on Foucault’s ideas considering disciplinary societies is more relevant now than ever before. Deleuze recalls Felix Guattari’s fantasy of a city where each “dividual” had their own card to gain access to areas of the city, and the power of being able to decline people of their spatial freedom is immense. Even more so is the power to subconsciously inject a method of self-discipline into an individual, where Debord would certainly cite how the spectacle is capable of constructing concrete ideological foundations, even more how the spectacle is the material “expression of estrangement, of alienation between man and man.” Deleuze wrote about the changing proletarianization of the world, meaning as the exploitation of a larger population of people grew, so did the power of the corporation compared to that of the factory. Apparatuses that were in some form their separate nature were now coded figures, capable of being weaponized in the marketplace. Each unit of the school, the family, the clinic, and the prison all have been configured to efficiently provide ideological control over a given population. This should be of no surprise when one looks at the aspects of control on a purely technological scale: Neither Debord or Deleuze saw an iPhone, however the capability of global access to the internet has magnified the concepts they brought forth immensely.

The convergence of all these networks may very well be regarded as surveillance. In a changing private landscape, citizens are converted to subjects, to consumers, and become a part of capitalist society, bearing upon the world a self-replicating model of existence, caught within the estrangement of labor nonetheless, fantasizing for the commodified form packaged as indifference and irresponsibility. The subject is directly controlled by the ideological apparatuses they find themselves subsumed within, yet all constitute an “epistemological base” which unites them along with their material conditions which are assumed or recognized by capital itself. For Baudrillard, the subjects of the Gulf War were hostages, as non-war was characterized with hostage manipulation and negotiation, both held hostage to the media and hostages to global capital.⁹ This reorganization of war was technical, as advancements in surveillance and reconnaissance shifted strategies in the military as well as the State itself, where military action was followed up with support from legal infrastructure.¹⁰

Technological edges were not uncommon to strive toward in times of war, but new advancements in broadcasting capabilities allowed for the US military to adopt strategies that were based on the accumulation of information. M. C. Elish writes in “Remote Split” how airdropped sensors during the Vietnam war were used to aid in target selection for disrupting the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos, all analyzed and charted by the computer located in a secret base.¹¹ Since the capability of technology was shown to have value on the battlefield, the US military shifted to accumulating quantitative data for precise conflict; the possibilities of the clean war would be realized with the advent of the Gulf War, where bombs could precisely hit their targets and minimize excess casualties. Discourse within the Department of Defense shifted to reflect the changing tides of technological progress: “systems of systems’’ thinking was promoted and thus turned the world into dividual data points capable of being controlled. A key component of the new shift in military engagements is ISR, “Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance”.¹²

Intelligence, taken at the broadest sense, has been accelerated by technological progress in military settings. Computer aided flight planning was developed in 1981 for the US Air Force, becoming more popular in 1983 with the creation and widespread dissemination of FPLAN (“flight planner”).¹³ The Gulf War exposed many officials to the software, and more importantly proved the possibility of the system, leading to new developments in the pursuit for accurate, instantaneous information. Mapping software was able to be run on early PC infrastructure, although technological bottlenecks eased over time and became more of a frictionless endeavor. By 1997, mapping computers had found themselves to be an integral part of aerial operations and saw popularity in the budding entanglement with technological giants like Microsoft.¹⁴ One consequence of this shift in information collecting is the production of civilians in modern conflict zones. Christiane Wilke displays the unmasking of individuals as civilians or militants is based on “professional vision”, a feeling toward a target that incorporates information such as their “spatial locations, proximity, and patterns of movement.”¹⁵ The distinction between civilian and target is reduced to a certain set of data points that are scattered, only to emerge as a uniformed combatant through the conscious action of the professional military official.

Intelligence, of course, must be the product of an event’s capture, a recording of which by the state becomes one with its archive, a part of its collected impersonal memories as a state. The archives, however, are hardly impersonal as they are directed by the owners of history, the temporal directors.¹⁶ Prior to the fulfillment of a total dissemination of the internet and cell phones, the archive was limited by the speed information could effectively travel; it wasn’t until the “completement of the event ‘in real time’, of that instantaneity of the event and its diffusion.”¹⁷ that the archive could be fully realized in its totality. Here Daniel Respreto notes that there is an epistemological gap between what we deem as a target and one we deem as a non-target. Respreto notes how terrorists or militants in active warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan are without uniforms and other distinguishing insignia as well as rarely are brandishing weapons openly. The lack of concrete evidence leads to the situation in which terrorists or militants are functionally naked, that is, in a state of critical vulnerability.¹⁸ While the epistemological gap raises questions concerning the ethics of killing supposed targets, the epistemological gap has more to say about the historical implications of an error in the archive. With new technological leaps of modernity, at intersections of profound authenticity, society experiences the “acceleration of [a] country’s history… [and] the acceleration of reality.”¹⁹

Baudrillard references Virilio’s view on the speed of information and its effect on war, contrasting Virilio’s impending apocalyptic vision with his own indefinite virtual deterrence. While Virilio sees the real time capture of the archive, the instantaneous memory of the state, as acceleration toward Apocalypse, Baudrillard states that the speed of information is simply too fast to make sense of and humanity lacks the coherence to see its completion of the Apocalypse.²¹ In any case, both theorists identify a kernel of instability within the archive that has roots in the speed of information and causes an epistemological shift of ideologies. Wilke documents how professional vision is “collective, collaborative, and discursive,” leading to guidelines in training the professional eye.²² In 2013, the US White House released a fact sheet that detailed the procedure for drone strikes in counterterrorist missions; Restrepo argues that “Obama’s ‘continuing, imminent threat’ standard is stricter than international law requires’, affording more security to naked terrorists than naked soldiers.²³ In practice, however, the Obama administration committed egregious acts of terror which misrecognized civilians as targets, a real consequence of real time professional vision and distortion of information due to the speed of transmission and archival.²⁴ The legal apparatus has certainly displayed no interest in pursuing justice by holding the state responsible for their actions. The completion of the non-war is the discursive virtual victory over the real, occupying an impossible hyperspace as “war has become definitively non-Euclidean”.²⁵

If war has become non-Euclidean, it should be safe to assume that logic that adhered to the previous contours, axes, and topologies no longer apply when dealing with the speed of light and an entirely globalized system. If war has become non-Euclidean, capture of such events are rendered distorted not only through an ideological lens but also from the misrecognition of the characteristics of the collective memory. Once again, an epistemological gap presents itself, furthering the grain on the captured image. While technologies can attempt to edit or correct, the gap enables errors to go unnoticed if it ultimately raises no concern. Where there are gaps, voids, lapses in vision, exists vulnerabilities to the system.

Deleuze determines that computers are the new machines of the control society “whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy or the introduction of viruses”.²⁶ The introduction of viruses is a new concept that calls into question the medium in which viruses would travel: if a virus is introduced into the archive, its enclosure is both everywhere and nowhere. Virilio writes how “to invent the train is to invent the derailment,” and in the same logic the invention of the computer is the invention of the virus.²⁷ To invent the archive, complete in its instantaneous record of events, is to invent the archival virus and the archival terrorist attack. In his work Fanged Noumena, Nick Land explores the properties of the virus in its relation to modern society; Land’s virus is present everywhere, much like the spectacle, yet has no proper substance nor sense beyond its own reproduction.²⁸ While the spectacle has underlying logic that adheres to the capitalist system, the virus only accelerates. Land distinguishes different viruses from each other: biovirus, a virus that hacks and reprograms cellular DNA, ethnovirus, a virus that targets brains, technovirus, a virus that targets socio-economic production processes, and infovirus, a virus that targets digital production processes.²⁹ Land continues on:

“Hypervirus targets intelligent immunosecurity structures: yes yes no yes no nomadically abstracting its processes from specific media (DNA, words, symbolic models, bit-sequences), and operantly re-engineering itself. It folds into itself, involutes, or plexes, by reprogramming corpuscular code to reprogram reprogramming reprogramming reprogramming. ROM is melted into recursive experimentation.”³⁰

The conceptualization of the hypervirus furthers the study into discursive formations in the virtual age, a look into the logic of non-Euclidean dromology. Land future explains the inherent danger in certain viruses:

“Subtle viruses are slow, synergic, flexible and elusive. They execute sensitive behavioural control that prolongs the life of the biomachinic resources, maximizes opportunities for propogation, infiltrates and disables hostile security systems, and feeds-back positive -+-++-+-++ in in in innovation technoscience. In the macroversion, a VR prey animal hid in its enemy’s head. When hunting for hype hypervirus look ok ok ok for its primary host species, which will be undergoing logistical behavioral sophistication indexed by an explosive increase in communicative intensity, population density, sexual disorganisation, cultural promiscuity, and technical sub sub subtilization (leading to neurogenomic feedback and fluidization on off on off off on of all hard-wiring into into cybernetic fluxes).”³¹

Once again, there is an epistemological gap in the archive: the archive cannot determine the uniform of naked data. While processes of surveillance may unmask targets for professional eyes, trained to be collective, collaborative, and discursive, professional eyes are not yet present to accurately record and capture moments of insanity and of true discursive formations. This break in access to the realm of speed, where we have reached our terminal velocity in terms of comprehension, creates an intersection of Apocalyptic destruction and suspended animation.

The perspective and context that Baudrillard and Virilio write in give way to a viewpoint that neglects to mention the asymmetrical spatial-distortions that arise with the asymmetrical distributions of resources. The audience that Baudrillard wrote for in The Gulf War was receptive to his proclamations on the impact of the non-war, greatly calling to attention to total inconsequence that it amounted to. It is hard to defend that point when met with the real consequence it has had on citizens caught between lines of fire. Subsequent conflicts have showcased the brutality of modern warfare despite the claims of maintaining a policy of “clean war”, western audiences of atrocities act bewildered to see protests against American diplomacy despite their supposed sympathy and reverence toward the innocent. While the US government attempts to subvert the masses, whistleblowers uncover or acquire information admitted into the archive that was not distorted enough from its instantaneous dissemination and bearing on ideology. The fundamental misunderstanding relates to the uncomprehension of the speed in which we must discuss memory on a concrete basis. The virus infects any form of modern collective memory.

The methodologies used by these philosophers and researchers should be taken seriously and applied in innovative interdisciplinary ways, bridging the gap between the epistemological issues of the archive and real time, as well as bridging the pragmatic gap of developing a strong enough critique to transform into a real political organization. While the atrocities committed on behalf of global capitalist supremacy may have been accelerated due to innovations in technology, nothing is stopping individuals from introducing personalized bioviruses into enclosures of control. Where individuals can identify themselves as the subject of capitalist ideology, subjects of history, conscious of their present relationship to the real means of production, only then can resistance to non-Euclidean logic take place. Only then the world might negatively accelerate, surrendering to the speed of information in an act of humble introspection.

References

¹ Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1991), https://archive.org/details/BaudrillardJean.TheGulfWarDidNotTakePlace.IndianapolisIndianaUniversityPress1991.0004/page/n1/mode/2up. Page 55.

² Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black & Red, 2010). Pages 12, 24.

³ This point is illustrated by the earliest and strongest denunciations of the emerging imperialist tendency by Smedley Butler: “War is a racket.” One should look no further than the military interventions of Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s and the involvement of corporations in justifying the conflict. Post-Gulf War conflicts showcase the marriage between defense contractors and the military; economists like Robert Higgs argue that government spending for defence reached over $1 trillion in 2007. See Robert Higgs, “The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here,” The Independent Institute, March 15, 2007, https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=1941.

⁴ Baudrillard, The Gulf War. Page 23.

⁵ Ibid. Pages 24, 75.

⁶ Debord, The Society of the Spectacle. Page 151

⁷ Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” The MIT Press, 1992, https://www.jstor.org/stable/778828. Page 6.

⁸ Debord, Society of the Spectacle. Page 150.

⁹ Baudrillard, The Gulf War. Page 24.

¹⁰ M. C. Elish, “Remote Split,” Science, Technology, & Human Values 42, no. 6 (2017): pp. 1100–1131, https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243917731523. Pages 1113–1114.

¹¹ Elish, “Remote Split”. Pages 1107–1108.

¹² Ibid. Page 1111.

¹³ Jon R Jon Lindsay, “‘War upon the Map’: User Innovation in American Military Software,” Technology and Culture 51, no. 3 (2010): pp. 619–651, https://doi.org/10.1353/tech.2010.0027. Page 626.

¹⁴ Lindsay, “War upon the Map”. Page 635.

¹⁵ Christiane Wilke, “Seeing and Unmaking Civilians in Afghanistan: Visual Technologies,” Science, Technology, & Human Values 42, no. 6 (2017): pp. 1031–1060, https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243917703463. Page 1033.

¹⁶ Debord, Society of the Spectacle. Page 71.

¹⁷ Baudrillard, The Gulf War. Page 47.

¹⁸ Daniel Restrepo, “Naked Soldiers, Naked Terrorists, and the Justifiability of Drone Warfare,” Social Theory and Practice 45, no. 1 (2019): pp. 103–126, https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201911153. Pages 105–106.

¹⁹ Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb (Verso Books, 2005), https://soundenvironments.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/virillio-information-bomb.pdf. Pages 77–78.

²⁰ Baudrillard, The Gulf War. Page 49. “, [Virilio and I] concluded that this decidedly strange war went in both directions at once”.

²¹ Ibid.

²² Wilke, “Seeing and Unmasking Civilians”. Page 1041.

²³ Restrepo, “Naked Soldiers, Naked Terrorists”. Page 107–108.

²⁴ See Letta Tayler, “The Truth about the United States Drone Program,” Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/24/truth-about-united-states-drone-program#. Various violations have been collected by the HRW detailing abuses of international humanitarian law. In 2015, the Obama administration attacked the Doctors’ Without Borders hospital in Kunduz to which they place blame on miscommunication.

²⁵ Baudrillard, The Gulf War. Page 50.

²⁶ Deleuze, “Societies of Control”. Page 6.

²⁷ Paul Virilio, “The Invention of Accidents,” n.d., pp. 22–27, https://sporastudios.org/mark/courses/articles/virilio_invention_accidents.pdf. Page 24.

²⁸ Land writes how hype is a product of virus, writing “products that AT AT trade on what they will be in the future, vir virtual fashion on off, imminent technical standards, self-fulfilling prophecies and and or and artificial destinies”.

²⁹ Nick Land, Fanged Noumena, 2nd ed. (Urbanomic, 2012), https://s3.amazonaws.com/arena-attachments/406213/42bdb859549f609953a0ca61aca0bee3.pdf. Page 385.

³⁰ Land, Fanged Noumena. Page 386.

³¹ Ibid. Page 388.

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Evan

Evan

B.S. in Law and Society. I am interested in political theory, philosophy, and society at large.