January 18, 2007

Is America complacent about war?

Filed under: map, politics — ubikcan @ 8:19 am

Having as I said just returned from the UK, it is interesting to draw a contrast between attitudes to war in general, and the costs of war in terms of civilian and military deaths, not to mention its cost.

My overall sense in the UK is that there is more recognition of this than in the USA. This was underlined yesterday by these comments from Glenn Greenwald:

…what is most striking in retrospect is the casual and breezy tone which America collectively now discusses and thinks about war as a foreign policy option, standing inconspicuously next to all of the other options. There is really no strong resistance to it, no sense that it is a supremely horrible and tragic thing in all cases to undertake — and particularly to start. Gone almost completely from our mainstream political discourse is horror over war. The most one hears is some cursory and transparently insincere — almost bored — lip service to its being a “last resort.”

Glenn suggests several reasons for this, primarily the idea that the first Gulf War was carried out with such high-tech and remote equipment that it desensitized us (an argument also made recently by the geographer Derek Gregory in his book the Colonial Present):

It was the first fully televised war, and it made war seem like nothing more significant than killing bad people by zapping them from the sky with super high-tech, precision weaponry that risked nothing — war as video game, cheered on safely and clinically from a distance.

Likewise in his book, Gregory argues that war is made possible by casting it only as remote targeting and the transformation of people and places into map coordinates:

“Locating” involved a largely technical register, in which opponents were reduced to objects in a purely visual field–coordinates on a grid, letters on a map–that produced an abstraction of people as “the other.” American bombs and missiles rained down on K-A-B-U-L not on the eviscerated city of Kabul, Israeli troops turned their guns on Palestinian “targets” not on Palestinian men, women and children; American firepower destroyed Baghdad buildings and degraded the Iraqi war machine but never killed Iraqis.

Despite the academic language, he’s clear that the cost of winning the war is a certain soulessness in America, a process in which maps and GIS technology is complicit.

A very disturbing thought.


1 Comment »

  1. I think it’s also part of a larger picture of cultural differences. We here in the U.S. are generally more accepting of violence than of sex. Look at the uproar over the exposure of a women’s nipple on t.v. vs. the daily barrage of violence in t.v. news and cop and crime shows, etc. Or the acceptance of (one might even say, demand for) the death penalty vs. the resistance to sex education or gay rights. Or support for quick and easy access to all sorts of firearms with no need to license or require safety training vs. restrictions on media portrayal of nudity. It’s almost as if graphic portrayal of violence, even real violence, is more acceptable than graphic portrayal of nudity (much less, sex).

    Comment by anon — January 18, 2007 @ 10:17 am

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