“War,” “Terrorism,” and “Spectacle”:
On Towers and Caves
“WAR” AND “terrorism” have traditionally been associated with one another, but to link them both to “spectacle” constitutes a relatively new phenomenon. To “link” does not, of course, mean to identify: it does not suggest that war, terrorism, and spectacle are the same. But it implies a necessary relationship among them. And that is new, in a very specific way. War has traditionally been associated with spectacle, with pageantry, parades, and demonstrations of all kinds, but perhaps never in the way we are witnessing it today, when a certain kind of theatricalization has come to constitute one of war’s most essential components, one not, as in the past, limited primarily to the celebration of its victorious outcome.
To be sure, a certain theatricalization has always played an important part in the conduct of military affairs. Intimidation of the enemy has always been a major goal in combat operations, and reliance on spectacular effects of all kinds has been a long-standing result. In the German Blitzkrieg, dive-bombers of the Luftwaffe were outfitted with deafening sirens in order to add psychological terror to physical destruction and thus more fully demoralize the adversary. And of course concerted propaganda campaigns also demonstrated the importance of presenting a perspective and narrative of the ongoing struggle that would not be decided by strictly military means.
Yet to understand the distinct role played by theatricalization in conflict resolution today, it is important to take into account the new political and military significance assigned to the notions of “terror” and “terrorism.” This may well be the first time in history that the world’s reigning power has declared “terror” to be its main enemy— and, moreover, an enemy whose reach is no less global than its own.
On the day following the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, President Bush proclaimed that the events