Matrixes of War

By Zimmermann, Patricia R. | Afterimage, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Matrixes of War


Zimmermann, Patricia R., Afterimage


Sorties

The 78-day United States-led NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo in the Spring of 1999 produced over 3000 bombing sorties and 650,000 refugees. The Old World "moral order" envisioned the bombing as destructive of life and its environs, a necessity to restore coherency and order through technological mastery over catastrophe.

Human Rights Watch reported that the bombing campaign deployed a "higher percentage of precision-guided munitions than in any other major conflict in history." Yet Yugoslav civilian, deaths still occurred during Operation Allied Force, during all kinds of weather, with all kinds of bombs, in almost every kind of attack, and on every type of target. [1] In Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, (2000) Michael Ignatieff observes that the war in Kosovo only felt like a war for the Kosovar Albanians and Serbian civilians killed in air strikes. It mobilized civilians as well as spectators; war was calculative rather than visceral. The actual number of Allied combatants was small: 1500 members of a NATO air-crew and 30,000 technicians and staff. [2] The 1999 NATO bombings marked a huge shift from weaponry to computers that military analysts call "the revolution in military affairs" or RMA.

General Wesley K. Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, relied on American-supplied intelligence, aircraft and precision ordinance. Ignatieff points out that the bombings were "fought and won by technicians and Clark's team produced a virtuoso display of technical improvisation." [3] Sortie planners at European and stateside airbases used SIPERNET, a U.S. military network, to calculate targets through analysis of aerial reconnaissance, military significance, collateral damage, moral assessment and legal evaluation. [4] Arthur and Marilouise Kroker identify this virtual war as "all about beta-testing: systematic program testing of virtual warriors in their virtual flying machines." [5] The bombings were laboratories for conversion from analog wars of bodies to virtual wars, of imaging and calculation that conceal the racialized phantoms that propels them. [6] In a perverse inversion, this new regime of cyber-civil wars engaged the psychic production of a digitized catastrophe. The NATO campaign targeted th e networks and circuitry of the digital: planes bombed a Serbian television station in late April 1999 and then electrical grids with special graphite ordinances. [7]

Amid this perversity where life itself is robbed of its own death, it is impossible to analyze war images as stable, fixed or singular. The images and their imaginaries are multiple, sedimented, mobile, linked. No longer significations, these war images are vectors of movements and interfaces between images and social imaginaries. No longer images, they map nodal points in the invisible digital networks.

Pierre Levy has advanced that the art of cyberspace constantly resamples, remixes and remakes images, obliterating the borders between author and reader, creator and interpreter. These mutations in the art and information domains create open works that function more as environments and landscapes than as a message or an image. They blur "distinctions between emission and reception, creation and interpretation." [8]

As mediations through images, the 78-day Operation Allied Force excessively fixated in nostalgic historical formations, where phantasmatics of World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War were imbedded within the images and imaginaries so profusely that they deleted history with a dangerous transparent narrativity. Explanation exceeded words, incomprehensible phantoms etherized history. Psychoanalyzing this trauma, Robert Jay Lifton has shown that "the insight begins with the shattering of prior forms. Because forms have to be shattered for there to be new insight." [9] In the images presented by the transnational media corporations, the fantasy historical was grafted ferociously as a modality of transparency rather than as a modality of agency. …

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