Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Tourists or Vagabonds? Space and Time in the War on Terror

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Tourists or Vagabonds? Space and Time in the War on Terror

Article excerpt

It is commonly argued that time is the defining element in modern warfare. Whether one looks to military strategy, or to critical academia, the analysis is often the same: time and speed, not mass and space, are the essentials of warfare. In the 'Global War on Terror' this is the case for both the Western high-tech militaries and their asymmetrical terrorist opponents. This article attempts to qualify the current relation between time and space in war. By heuristically applying Zygmunt Baumann's concepts of the tourist and the vagabond, this article claims that, although new technologies of time have changed the relationship between space and time, space has not lost its importance. Paradoxically, by employing new temporal means, the making of space becomes the central issue in current globalized warfare. KEYWORDS: warfare, time and space, terror, globalization, military transformation


In 1904, the British geographer Harold J. Mackinder argued before the Royal Geographical Society that the world had become one political system in which "every explosion of social forces...will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe." (1) New means of communication and transportation had shrunk the world, creating a new relationship between space and time with immense consequences for both politics and warfare. What Mackinder was arguing about was, in fact, globalization. Currently, continued changes in the relationship between time and space are of equal importance, as the United States is engaged in what has recently changed from "The Global War on Terror" to "The Long War."

This article investigates the current relationship between time and space as it unfolds in the long war between the United States and global terror. The current orthodoxy in US military thought, as well as in critical academia, is that time has conquered space. This suggests that space has lost its importance and meaning. For instance, Zygmunt Bauman claimed that September 11 was "a symbolic end to the era of space." (2) Although there have been changes to the meaning of space, I argue that we are not encountering the end of the era of space. Its meaning, and its relationship with time, are changing; however, it has not been left symbolically in the past. In fact, I argue that the predominance of time changes the function and increases the significance of space in current warfare.

Conceptions of space and time, and the relation between them, construct and justify particular lines of action, or, in military terminology, strategy. The formulation of strategy is preceded by thoughts about oneself, one's place in the world, as well as one's opponent. In other words, action requires a rationalized conception of how the world is. It requires a theory of both ontology and action, or what Rasmussen calls a "praxeology." (3)

In current strategies underlying much US military action, speed and movement are given priority over space and boundaries. The same is true for strategic thought in general. (4) In the following, I investigate key public military-political documents of the US Department of Defense aimed at defining what the war on terror is, how the US military should fight it, and who the opponent is. In other words, I examine documents that authoritatively express the general praxeology of the US military in the war on terror. I argue that the praxeology, expressed in a very particular way through the structure of these documents, reveals how the war on terror, military strategies, and asymmetrical opponents are conceived. All actors are measured according to their ability to function in time. Speed, instantaneous movement, and virtuality are seen as the most important characteristics in this war. Space is left behind as it is effortlessly traversed by e-mail messages, in the case of A1 Qaeda, or B2 bombers with global reach, in the case of the United States.

Next, I critique this particular praxeology. …

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