Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Friday, October 08, 2004


Andrew Robinson
School of Politics, University of Nottingham

[1]The so-called "war on terror" is rapidly becoming a global disaster. Operations by American and British military forces have already killed more civilians than died in the infamous attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. The recolonisation of the Islamic world may well be underway: Afghanistan is a de facto colony in which western troops have a permanent presence, while American troops have also entered Yemen, Georgia and Somalia. While the invasion of Iraq and the resultant situation of constant conflict may have stemmed the tide of intervention, America’s status as an actively militaristic power has been firmly established. The post-Vietnam reluctance of the American state to countenance direct invasion seems to have been laid to rest. Amnesty International reports a serious deterioration in human rights around the world since September 11th, with practices such as torture, unfair trials, restrictions on free speech and anti-foreigner laws spreading across the U.S.A., Europe, Asia and elsewhere ^1^. A global anti-war movement has emerged to fight such developments, but the war has some degree of popular support in the west, or at least had such support prior to the Iraq debacle. How do states intent on terror, violence and colonialism manage to retain this support?

[2]War appears, on the surface, to be an instance of action, not words; this is, as I shall show below, a central part of its mythology. War is, of course, in a central sense about action. Violence against people is a defining feature of war, and the present war has seen more than its share of brutality and barbarism - from the inhumane conditions in Camp X-ray to the repeated bombing of wedding celebrations and convoys in Afghanistan. But violence does not emerge abstractly, from a void. Behind acts of violence, there are human beings with fingers on triggers or over buttons, or who give orders or sign laws. Behind an effective war, there are also millions of others who are passive or who give emotional support which sustains the "war effort". The people who engage in and support wars, or any other kind of social action, are motivated by a conception of the world, i.e. a set of conscious or unconscious beliefs and assumptions which make their course of action seem justified, necessary or desirable. For war to exist, its prerequisites must be operative in language and psychology. As E.P. Thompson puts it, people 'can kill thousands because [they] have learned to call them "enemy". Wars commence in the culture first of all and we kill each other in euphemisms and abstractions long before the first missiles have been launched' (51). The forms of discourse which defend war may be believed sincerely, or may be used by manipulative leaders to win popular support. Either way, they involve mythical and oppressive forms of discourse which involve contradictory and invalid uses of language and which serve to make mass slaughter 'thinkable' and 'defensible'.

[3] In this essay, I shall identify and analyse a number of myths and discursive forms which have been used to defend wars and repression since September 11th, a position I term "militarism". I have chosen the period of the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, thereby sidestepping the difficulties involved in examining the less successful attempts to construct an ideational basis for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. My main target is the discourse used in the mass media, especially the attributed remarks of politicians and officials, although I also examine popular arguments as revealed in letters to magazines and in T.V. audience participation, the arguments of pro-war academics, and the discourse of journalists to the extent that they reproduce militarist modes of argument. My choice of examples is unstructured, but expresses instances of what I believe to be common discursive strategies and claims. Through my critique of militarism, I aim firstly to demonstrate the fallacies behind pro-war positions, and secondly to demonstrate how war is rooted in forms of discourse which operate in everyday life and in various social organisations, so that an effective anti-war strategy and the possibility of ending war and colonialism depends on a critique of "common sense" and of oppressive forms of discourse. My point is, firstly, to show that militarism is based on a series of myths, and not (as its advocates claim) on reality, and secondly, that these myths construct a mindset which is insulated both from humane concerns and from evidence.


[4] 'Myth', argues Roland Barthes, 'does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply, it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification [and] a clarity which is not that of explanation but that of a statement of fact' (2000:143). Usually, this involves a second-order distortion of signs in which an ideological signified is made to appear to be directly connected to an initial sign of a more-or-less factual kind; objects are conceived intensionally, as reducible to an essence which transcends other aspects of the object in significance or which determines it entirely, rather than as an extensional series classified on the basis of language. There are, for instance, many women, but "femininity" - a characteristic which fixes the essence of all women - is a myth. Myths are transmitted and received via connotations and are not consciously "read" except by their critics. They operate to abridge discourse, appearing, in the words of Herbert Marcuse, to 'impose themselves with an overwhelming and petrified concreteness', and operating, in Barthes's terms, as 'an order not to think' (1991:91) ^2^. It creates a closed, monological discourse from which supporters of myth can confront opponents with a brick wall or an apparent position of strength, such as a moral or pragmatic "high ground". As Trevor Pateman argues, photo-journalism offers a good example of this process: a particular image may be taken to "sum up" an entire category such as "fear" or "violence" (72-3). Here and elsewhere, the various mythical figures can be mobilised in narratives and dramas - freedom versus terror, for instance - which have little or no relationship to the individual people or objects subsumed under the essentialist categories.

[5] Some good examples of mythical photojournalism have appeared in TIME magazine since September 11th. When Kabul was "liberated" by the Northern Alliance, TIME printed a large photograph of a woman with her face uncovered, with the headline "HELLO SUNSHINE". In another issue, a photograph of an al-Qaeda fighter engaged in target practice is declared to be wearing "THE MASK OF DEATH", and in another, a row of police outside a W.E.F. summit in New York are accompanied by the caption "PROTECTED" ^3^. In all of these cases, the magazine gives a direct (and contentious) ideological message directly by means of an image which is implicitly asserted to carry the meaning directly. The caption presents no argument for interpreting the image in this way; it peremptorily resolves ambiguities by attaching the meaning directly to the carefully selected image. Reader are expected to see "freedom" directly in the face of the unveiled woman or "death" directly in the picture of the fighter. Yet the woman is alone in a crowd of others who are veiled, and she still wears a partial veil herself; while the fighter could as easily be a masked "anti-terrorist" operative in almost any state military. And the police are only "protection" from one side of their barricades; from the other side, they are a potential source of repression and violence. The questions raised by the captions are serious: Who do police protect? Has the war against the Taleban helped Afghan women? Yet as soon as the questions are opened, they are closed: the picture is supposed, by means of the caption as shifter, to provide a peremptory answer. It encourages the view that such questions can be resolved without asking difficult questions - without, for instance, consulting Afghan women about their circumstances, or looking in detail at police actions. Particular words, phrases and ideas - which are at best ethical abstractions and at worst purely mythical - are posited in this way as self-evident and beyond criticism. Readers are enouraged to jump to conclusions and to see a particular ideological image of the "war on terror" as immediately, self-evidently and visibly real, above and beyond any arguments which can be made for or against it.

[6] Myths are not openly stated, but they are transmitted, and some readers receive them effectively. Misook Kim, from Brussels, writes: 'When I saw the photograph of the smiling Afghan women with their uncovered faces in the sun, I knew that America and its allied had done the right thing... [T]he women and men in those pictures are happier now than they were before'. Noman Sattar from Istanbul adds: 'It is heartening to see normal life on the streets of Kabul, women unshackled and smiles on the faces of the people' (my emphasis). Paula Marnitz from Cape Town writes, 'I hope all those who opposed [sic] the war have seen the pictures of grateful Afghan civilians similing and playing soccer and women going back to work' ^4^. An entire illusory world has been created where so-called "normal life" is projected onto Kabul, regardless of the situation; nobody seems to have asked Afghans about it, and the empirical basis for such inferences is exceedingly light. Noticeably, in the readings of the pictures, the *single* woman is turned into a *multitude* pluralised: Kim refers directly to 'women with their uncovered faces'. Also, a string of emotional states are inferred which may or may not accord with the situation in which the pictures were taken, including transcendent happiness and gratitude. The political meaning of the war and its human and social effects have been covered up by myths: the 'image which says everything' has made it so nobody else has anything left to say, even when the image itself is misleading.

[7] One finds the same devices operating in language. Often, supporters of the war do not justify their views by argument, but try to present their own views as directly expressing something real while relegating potential criticisms to a lower epistemo-ontological status where they need no longer trouble anyone. TIME magazine columnist Lance Morrow provides a clear example of this in his response to the September 11th attack. Of the concept of asymmetrical warfare, he remarks: 'Asymmetry is a concept. War is, as we see, blood and death'. This provides a basis for a clarity which was formerly impossible. 'This is the moment of clarity [which] separate[s] the civilized from the uncivilized', and '[w]hat seemed important... became immediately trivial' on September 11th. For Morrow, the real has somehow emerged directly in language, and debate is no longer necessary: '[i]t's a practical matter, anyway'. The reference to sight is indicative, because Morrow denies any conceptual status to war; he believes this word directly expresses a reality. All signifiers express a 'real' content in a conceptual way, yet Morrow wishes to divide signifiers between some which are directly real and others which are concepts. What this actually involves is the privileging of some signifiers over others, not by demonstrating their validity or usefulness, but by positing their 'reality' by a gesture of authoritarian imposition. By this gesture, Morrow gives his own position a clarity which precludes counter-argument and which creates the illusion that political decisions are merely 'practical'. (How he is able to portray war as extra-linguistic will be discussed below).

[8] How is the impossible transcendent reality of the word 'war' demonstrated? By tautology. For Morrow, 'enemies are enemies'. Of course, this tells readers nothing, either about what an 'enemy' is, or about how one tells an 'enemy' from, say, an innocent bystander. 'Enemies' are denied motives, history or any meaning aside from their characteristic as 'enemies'. Far from demonstrating the real, tautology operates to split language from any reference-point. Barthes describes tautology as 'a choleric break between the intelligence and its object', an insistence that 'thought must not range too widely', a rational gesture that simultaneosly denies itself, and a 'minor ethical salvation, [giving] the satisfaction of having militated in favour of truth... without having to assume the risks which any somewhat positive search for the truth inevitably involves' (2000:152-3; 1997:59-61). Dispensing with the need to have ideas, it treats this negation as a stern morality. (Critics, says Morrow, are too intellectual for decent company). The accidental failure of language is magically transmuted into a natural resistance of the object (2000:152; 1997:61). The argument may well convince some people, because the attacks on September 11th were real; it is tempting, therefore, to produce a language which claims directly to encode this reality. But all language is an attempt to signify realities, and no part of language can be privileged over any other in this sense. Morrow's discourse is in the last instance based on an indefensible privileging of particular words by decree.

[9] Morrow's remarks find echoes in pro-war letters, which demonstrate similar discursive sidesteps. 'War is about winning', says Anurag Bahadur of Hyderabad, attempting to defend the killing of civilians. 'Life is not fair. Neither is war', adds Jim Kontilis of Texas; further, unfair trials are justified because '[t]he terrorists need to understand the consequences of attacking the U.S.' ^5^. The actions in the "war on terror" are not defended but transmuted. War - actually a human action, a series of acts of waging war, any one of which could have been refused by particular agents - is treated as an external category which can be described, as if as a fact. Acts of retaliation become 'consequences'; these are also presented as a fact which others have to 'understand'. As with other types of myth, this does not answer criticism; it simply displaces issues to a different field.

[10] The ill-founded certainty provided and/or legitimated by myths is clear in so many of the remarks of politicians: 'we know he's guilty' and don't need to provide evidence, says George W. Bush of Osama bin Laden; treason cannot be defined, but everyone would immediately recognise it if they saw it, says Tony Blair; it is 'obvious' that the war against Afghanistan will reduce the risk of further attacks against America, says Colin Powell; '[w]e cannot have a situation where if we know someone is a terrorist we do not have the legal power to detain them indefinitely', says Blair ^6^. In each case, the statement is contentious if not blatantly false. How can one know someone is guilty without evidence? How can one 'recognise' something which has not been defined and for which, therefore, there is no point of comparison for recognition? Why is it 'obvious' that war reduces the possibility of attacks, when it produces new enemies? And why cannot "we" (whoever "we" are) have a situation where the government is banned from detaining whoever it feels like, on suspicion? In each case, politicians offer signifiers of certainty as a susbstitute for any basis for certainty, or even for taking the claims seriously.


[11] Throughout the myths examined above, a set of images recur. Something is posited as obvious, in the sense of self-evidence or of a fact. It is conceived, either as something which can be directly 'seen', without the intervention of thought between sensation and conceptualisation, or as something which is 'known', aside from and against any evidence or basis for knowledge. In all of these cases, therefore, an unquestioned intellectual construct is misrecognised as something 'known' (decided through thought) or 'seen' (sensed physically in the world). Emotion takes the place of argument, and emotion is conceived as if it were either thought or sensation, i.e. as if it were in itself a proof of claims (whereas it is actually a result of discursive and libidinal articulations). This is even clearer when one examines Tony Blair's defence of the war in late October, which takes an entirely emotional approach, urging viewers not to forget 'how we felt watching the jets fly into the towers' and even how 'we' felt about the 'menace' in bin Laden's face ^7^. Reactions are short-circuited so as to cut out argument: events (or rather, symbols of events) are seen as directly producing emotions (which 'we' share), and these directly justify a course of action. This is not a use of language to argue for the war; it is a use of language to escape or preclude argument, and logically speaking, it justifies nothing. Further, the question of why "we" - or rather, the militarists - are more shocked at the New York attacks than at deaths in Afghanistan remains unexplored.

[12] The structure of meaning inferred from emotional responses is relatively standardised across a number of accounts: the attacks on September 11th, because of their emotional impact, are encoded as a moment of fundamental transformation ("everything changed"); this transformation is conceptualised in terms of the emergence, return or visibility of an unintelligible demonic force. In David Held's terms, presented in his article "Violence and justice in a global age", the attacks were no less than a 'defining moment for humankind', an 'atrocity of extraordinary proportions' which 'ranks among the world's most heinous crimes'. I shall return to the issue of the basis of this exceptionalism below; suffice to say here that it is not empirically based and that it relies on the framing-out of similar, or worse, atrocities outside the west, including some (in Iraq, Serbia, Panama and Chile, for instance) committed by the American state. Once conceived as exceptional, September 11th requires a response, and this response is conceived in terms of a need to "do something". Thus, action - "doing something" - can itself become a myth, encoded as a good in itself or as necessary, regardless of the ethics or even the practical effectiveness of particular actions; "action" becomes a player in the mythological drama alongside "freedom", "terror" and "death", and anti-war campaigners are tarred with the brush of being defenders of "inaction". In this mythical formulation, action is separated from language and discourse, and conceived of as located directly in the sphere of the real, along with "war" and "enemies". The binary "action/inaction" blots out consideration of particular actions; "action" becomes a mythical immuniser against failure. 'It is time for action, not words', says Bush, in an attempt to use anger at the attacks to silence critics. He later adds that 'inaction is not an option'. 'Of course there will be some who worry', argues Blair, 'but I think most people say, "The answer is not to hide away from this but to get out there and sort it" '. He does not see 'how we could possibly stand back and do nothing', and the choice for him is simply between going after the attackers and not going after them. Of course, this way of posing the question justifies any *particular* action by a sidestep which imposes a lexical ordering without justifying it: a member of the audience on a debating show states that he does not want Afghans killed, but he cannot see any other way to get bin Laden out of Afghanistan ^8^. All criteria for assessing action disappear in such myths: that action can fail, or be counterproductive, or be a greater evil than what it opposes, is ruled out a priori. Consequences of action are something one "does not want", but all such concerns are couched as secondary in the mythical drama.

[13] Since "action" is presented mythically as a good in itself, the logical steps between the problem ("terrorism") and the response (retaliatory violence) disappear from militarist discourse; the latter is seen as resulting directly from the former, and the progression between the two as "obvious". As a result, militarist formulae seem to their users not merely as ethically transcendent (indeed, they sometimes denounce the niceties of ethical discussion as beside the point); they seem as if they are an external "necessity" which imposes itself regardless of human will. As former U.S. nuclear targeter Henry T. Nash remarks in a different context, '[c]risis conditions made targeting seem imperative, which, in turn, made it morally acceptable' (64). The introduction to a book of poems by U.S. air force pilots shows how this attitude produces contempt for critics: 'These people do not know, nor will they ever know, what it means to be a FIGHTER PILOT... [We have a] tradition that will never die as long as enemy aggression challenges for supremacy of the skies and free men rise to defeat them. "Anything else is rubbish" ' (cited Smith pp. 141-2). Such positions involve a meta-ethical self-contradiction, since the denouncement of ethical qualms coexists with a perfectionist ethical praise of those who "do what needs to be done". The apparent "kneejerk" quality of such responses is probably a result of the way in which emotional reactions are re-encoded symbolically by means of mythical formulae; because of the connotative character of myths, their discursive character (as "words" rather than "actions", "concepts" rather than the "real") is concealed, and they can fuse with direct perceptions and emotions in such a way as to allow emotions to be misrecognised as external realities and mythical formulae to be misrecognised as both. Some myths are thus pseudo-concrete, appearing to their advocates as immediate outgrowths of reality despite being, if anything, the exact opposite of this, i.e. intensional narrative constructs with no direct "real" or "external" reference-point. *Myth creates a situation where emotion proves truth and justifies a response*. This process is clear in the case of Tony Blair's remarks following the de facto hijacking by the British navy, due to an alleged "terrorist" threat, of what turned out to be an innocent cargo ship in international waters. Blair begins with a muted and tentative 'I believe...'; this later is replaced by a factual claim in the form of an appeal that people should 'understand'; finally, it transmutes into an imperative based on the word 'must' ^9^. In mythical thought, because something is "believed" (which in Blair's almost Evangelical usage means "felt"), it is a matter of fact, and it produces a necessary response which is both felt and known - without any argument or reflexivity entering into the matter.

[14] The position 'felt' to be true is conceived as transcendent over the lesser status of other positions. Blair stated a few days after September 11th that 'the fact is that we are at war with terrorism' whatever the 'technical or legal issues' ^10^. Similarly, "GT", writing to Teletext, refers to opponents of Camp X-Ray as 'bogged down in semantics', contrasting this to how 'families of our troops feel' ^11^. Some positions are conceived as somehow above 'semantics' whereas others are reduced to an empty status. In GT's case, an ethical issue is transmuted into an epistemological one; in Blair's, it becomes a descriptive one. The suffering of prisoners in Camp X-Ray is no less real for being labelled 'semantics'; going to war is a decision however often it is labelled a 'fact'. The role of such discourse is to block discussion. The denouncement of 'technicalities' and 'semantics' does not, of course, stop militarists from using their own 'technical' distinctions - for instance, between a prisoner of war and an illegal combatant. The general point, however, is that the feelings of one group are treated as a direct expression of reality.

[15] Thus, in a letter to TIME magazine, Frank D'Angeli argues that, because 'Americans wait in fear for airplane bombs, biological warfare and other threats', nuclear strikes should be used against states which 'sponsor terrorism' if even a single American dies in a terrorist attack ^12^. The pseudo-concrete is clearly at work here: the immediate reality of threat - directly identified with an emotion, fear - is taken to justify the decisiveness of the response, but this calculation is based on emotions, not realities; the human and ecological, and even the practical and political, effects of using nuclear weapons are clearly "realities" but are outside the frame of D'Angeli's picture, presumably because they are not emotionally significant enough. In the same issue, Elaine Harris writes that '[n]o one will care if the military are accurately hitting targets in Afghanistan if people here at home are dying of anthrax' ^13^. This may be "realistic" in terms of how many westerners react, but she stops at the descriptive level as if it justifies the position. Crucially, her realism is group-specific: "no-one cares" because "here" matters more than "there"; presumably, people "there" care about being slaughtered, but they are somehow framed out - so much so that they are presented as "no-one". Similarly, Tony Gallo, presenting - from an explicitly particularist and ethnocentric perspective - 'our strategy for survival', writes: 'The threat of anthrax does not worry me a tenth as much as the political correctness, exaggerated sensitivity, tentativeness and muddled thinking that have chronically infected our national leadership. There is only one response...: immediate annihilation of the terrorists and their friends in a manner that elicits such fear in sympathisers... that further attacks become impossible' ^14^. In this case, the illusion of the immediate reality of emotion is particularly clear: emotion (specifically, fear) is the means through which war is intended to succeed, and the accusations of defective thinking and metaphorical illness on the part of national leaders refer directly to their lack of a particular emotional state. The implication is that their lack of the correct emotions is directly a failure to apprehend reality, encoded through the descriptive style ("there is only one response") and the reference to "survival". It is also important to stress that the terroristic nature of the response is a necessary, not an incidental, part of its essence as conceived through such myths.

[16] It should now be easier to interpret Lance Morrow's claim that war is real ("blood and death"). War does indeed involve "blood and death", but this is not mainly what such formulae connote. Rather, "blood and death" are mythical equivalents for particular emotions; they express a claim for the transcendental status of emotional reactions to "terrorist" attacks and a system of myths which encode terroristic violence as a necessary direct response. Emotional responses are passed off as realistic and hard-headed because the reality, survival-relevance, necessity and "blood-and-death" quality of events is mythically encoded as a fuction of how a particular observer, or rather a group who share the mythical formula, *feel* about it. Militarists appear to be discussing the lived actuality of war but they are actually relying on a myth of "realness" constructed through the articulation of images and emotional reactions. Thus, their "realism" leads to a complete unawareness or a moral desensitization to anything which falls beyond, or on the wrong side of, the mythical narrative. In D'Angeli's discourse, even the "blood and death" of nuclear devastation does not qualify as a significant cause for concern; in Gallo's, the accusation of "exaggerated sensitivity" (on the part, amazingly, of Bush!) suggests that any affective reaction to "blood and death" in Afghanistan is nothing short of absurdity. In a different context, E.P. Thompson accuses many Americans of a 'diminished reality-sense in which wars are something which happens "over there". These illusions are fed by massive media propaganda... [and] electoral humbug, until crowds can shout (of the Iranians) "Nuke them!" without any notion of what the words mean' (43). Philip Paine similarly suggests that complacency about nuclear war may result from confusion of 'violence and death with its [%sic%] image on television, which does not hurt and can easily be enjoyed' ^15^. Ironically, the reference to "blood and death" is actually a way of avoiding serious discussion of it: it is a way of giving a pseudo-concrete quality to official discourse, i.e. of glorifying the emotional gap for many westerners between "blood and death" in the west and "blood and death" elsewhere. The selective framing of concerns shows that emotional commitment, not some actual or empirical quality of war, is the basis for militarist responses to the September 11th attacks. Militarists' claims to be "hard", "tough", "clear", certain, orderly, rigorous and so on have less to do with their substantive arguments (if they provide any) than with the emotional intensity with which their views are held. Their clarity does not follow over into their application, for, while myth has constructed an extremely clear intensional division between (for instance) a "soldier" and a "terrorist", the terms by which any particular person is classified or can assert an identity as one or the other is left unclear (or in practice, is left to the whim of the producers and distributors of myth, such as generals, politicians and newspaper editors).

[17] Beneath militarist rhetoric are emotional responses based on particular libidinal and characterological structures. For instance the overtones of Gallo's anathemas suggest that, alongside anti-intellectualism, his position involves a masculine cult of "hardness" and a valuation of the process of repression of emotion by investing it with the very emotional energy denied to "sensitivity". This is a political equivalent to what Wilhelm Reich terms an "affect-block": far from being an unemotional position, emotions are distorted through being turned against themselves. Beneath the strong claim to be advocating necessity rather than ethics or preferences, there is a position which is solely emotional, an undeclared ethics or strong emotional preference, which, through its elevation to "real" or "necessary" status, is declared beyond criticism by decree. The role of emotional energy in such alignments is to nullify the affective impact of the suffering caused by war and to create psychological barriers to analysis of anti-war arguments.

[18] The link to various accounts of character-armour and authoritarian personalities is clear, since key features of these concepts are present in militarist discourse. This discourse seeks security through the repression of emotions and gratification (sumission to "necessity", hostility to "sensitivity") and through identification with the most threatening figure, who is transmuted from enemy into potential master (hence dismissal of concerns about civil liberties). Meanwhile, the fear, anxiety and anger initially directed at this threatener is projected onto enemies, who are identified both with the repressed emotions and with the threatening characteristics of the master-figure. Rooted in early experiences and consisting on the whole of unconscious and semi-conscious stereotyped reactions, the resultant political alignments respond in the manner of a "reaction-formation", reacting to stimuli which trigger existing psychological categories rather than to the specificities of a particular situation ^16^. Thus, appearances of strength - "doing something" or expressing intransigence - directly produce support from authoritarians, and the arrogance of particular statements, such as Bush's insistence that '[w]hen I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations' or that Taleban concessions 'do not meet American requirements' ^16^, may appeal on this basis. Further, since authoritarians identify with powerful masters, discussions are carried on with reference to a collective self ("we", "America", etc.) to which the individual authoritarian attributes interests, fears, needs, etc.

[19] Crucially, therefore, violent responses to perceived threats do not have to be practically useful or consciously justifiable to appear as necessary on the basis of authoritarian character-structures. It is enough that they be comprehensible in a different register - the register of the psychological categories embedded in the character-armour. As long as perceptions of events continue to confirm assumptions operative in this register, action appears to authoritarians as necessary and effective. It becomes clear why some people are so unconcerned about the evidence of the guilt of any particular individuals - for instance, about military tribunals in America, about Camp X-Ray, or about the U.S. government's prolonged refusal to offer any evidence of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the September 11th attacks. Proof of guilt, let alone causality, is beside the point for authoritarians; what matters is the discovery or invention of an enemy against whom to act out a particular narrative. As Yannis Stavrakakis argues about witch-hunts, animal killing and scapegoating in early modern Europe, '[t]he function of stigmatisation was about gratification, not causality'; it operated to 'vent discontent', and '[t]he choice of the group to be stigmatised is not determined by any reasonable connection' (159). Just as the motivation behind such violence has little to do with actually preventing attacks, so the security it provides is not physical but emotional. It is significant that David Blunkett sees the role of government as being to make people *feel* safer, and that a British ambassador calls for war against Iraq to combat the *worry* caused by terrorism ^17^. In such claims, the emotional basis of militarism becomes clear: war does not combat terrorism, it exorcises fear. More accurately, it is an attempt to exorcise fear; in practice, the ineffectiveness of war, its irrelevance in relation to the causes of fear (which may be displaced from other spheres or include displaced and projected fears of militarism), and the inability of modern war to provide emotional release require that the acting-out be constantly increased and escalated indefinitely ^18^. It is ironic, given the raft of special laws directed against the psychologically different, that "normal" authoritarian alignments are so dangerous.

[20] Although there is an affect-block against "sensitivity" in militarist discourse, militarism effectively mobilises emotions such as anger, giving permission for an officially-sanctioned release of negative emotions which may have their roots in completely different situations, as Thompson argues (34, 36). At a September 11th charity concert in New York, actor Richard Gere was booed for advocating 'love and compassion'. New York resident and Guerrilla News correspondent Anthony Lapp‚ reports that, beneath the superficial patriotism, 'there is a simmering rage', a carefully orchestrated 'bloodlust for revenge' ^19^. Lance Morrow's article is entitled "The Case for Rage and Retribution", and he repeatedly demands and advocates negative emotions as an appropriate response to September 11th, portrayed as if they are a necessary and functional rather than an emotional response. 'We shouldn't feel better... Healing is inappropriate now, even dangerous'. Instead, he demands 'rage'. 'What is needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury', the logic of the 'fatwa' and of 'focused brutality', 'a ruthless indignation', 'a lost discipline, self-conscious relentlessness', 'hatred' and 'a wholesome and intelligent enmity' sufficient to impel even a 'messily tolerant organism' like America to act. Crucially, Morrow does not simply *feel* these emotions; he tries to portray them as entirely rational and as impelled by something akin to a divine imperative ("what is needed", what it is "dangerous" to do without, etc.). This is similar to Gallo's rhetoric in the letter cited above. It is crucial to note how Morrow wishes to advocate such destructive emotions while also clinging to the moral and intellectual high-ground: the enmity is wholesome and intelligent, America is still, whatever it does, 'messily tolerant' to a fault, and Morrow also terms his position 'civilised'. Crucially, he directs his ire against any attempts to *think* about the attacks or the response: to think becomes the opposite of to know, and his main targets are the 'self-indulgent' and the 'messily tolerant', the 'humane' and advocates of a 'corruptly thoughtful relativism'. One gets the impression that Morrow relishes the clarity, simplicity and moral renewal he sees as present in terrorism and war. But this clarity is the clarity of an unthinking commitment which, far from its self-proclaimed realism, has no reference beyond the self-affirmation of its own tautology. Anti-intellectualism, says Barthes, is the death of lamguage and of sociability, for, as he says of Poujadism, 'what is inculpated here is any form of explicative, committed culture, and what is saved is an "innocent" culture, the culture whose na‹vet‚ leaves the tyrant's hands free' (1997:134).

[21] The role of displaced anger and the arbitrariness of the selection of targets accounts for the use of terms such as "justice" and "defence" since September 11th. Such rhetoric frequently relies explicitly or implicitly on liberal conceptions of justice. This is, however, mainly a cover (although liberal theories of justice, especially when applied in practice, are frequently caught in contradictions due to their inability to defend the drive to punish which is at their core). Whereas official theories of justice are dependent on ideas of "responsibility" and "guilt", responses to September 11th are characterised by a desire to act out a punishment in which demands that those punished be guilty are secondary. Strictly speaking, liberal theories only advocate punishment where an individual can be "proven guilty", and could not apply to an attack in which the attacker was killed. This means there are in principle situations in which inaction is advised or inevitable. In militarist discourse, in contrast, there is no option of "doing nothing". Even the handover of bin Laden by the Taleban would not have been enough, presumably because it would have denied America the right to a violent acting-out. Further, categories of guilt have shown constant slippage via ideas such as "harbouring", "aiding and abetting", and "creating conditions" for terrorism. Such slippage ensures that there is always a target who is sufficiently "guilty" for authoritarians to justify violence to themselves.

[22] Of course, not all supporters of war are authoritarians, although a surprising number of liberals have reproduced authoritarian-style arguments since September 11th (eg. David Held and Agnes Heller). There are other psychological dynamics at work: the false certainty produced by the tautological world of myth can be a source of euphoria; war and crisis give a sense of meaning to increasinly simulated western societies; and war can create a sense of togetherness within an imagined community which may be valued ^20^. Nevertheless, the basis of militarism in emotional reactions *which result from previously-established psychological structures and not from present events* is crucial to understanding how myths can operate effectively. How authoritarians convince, or silence, those who oppose them is another matter, and some myths also operate in this way. The media, for instance, frequently represent acts motivated by an authoritarian logic in liberal terms, and euphemise brutality in various ways. When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf decided to execute clerics who opposed him, Ceefax claimed he had 'come down hard'; when he ordered the military to shoot protesters dead, TIME claimed he had acted 'swiftly and decisively' instead of 'mollycoddling' ^21^. This clearly expresses the authoritarian logic, but presents it as something less harmful - as decisiveness, for instance, rather than as a cult of violence. Liberals usually distance themselves from authoritarian schemas, but in crises they are easily drawn into the authoritarian camp by insecurity. Further, several liberals have made remarks which suggest that they share important aspects of the authoritarian mindset; David Held, for instance, calls for 'zero tolerance' of terrorists and for war on those who are 'harbouring' or who 'protect and nurture' them.

[23] The effects of authoritarian and mythical logics are insidious. Myth is above all a question of preaching to the converted; it offers signals to be received, not arguments or evidence. Often, its main role is to articulate a present event to pre-existing mythical and psychological categories. Its closure is central to its functioning, and purveyors of myth frequently try to monopolise media and other discursive space at the expense of their opponents. Myth creates a sense of an obvious and common reality which is not, however, demonstrable to someone who does not 'feel' it (by receiving and psychologically reworking myths). Further, most myths are vulnerable if their basic structure is visible. As a result, discourses based on myth rely on the exclusion of or assignation of diminished status to opponents.

[24] Myth may link directly to attempts to suppress opposition, or to more subtle devices. One such device in common use is to assign a voice to opponents of (for instance) the bombing of Afghanistan, but only as an "opinion", i.e. as an option in the marketplace of ideas and not as a set of claims to be answered. This 'repressive tolerance' precludes the listener from feeling any need to assess her or his existing beliefs in light of this critique. In contrast, the pro-war position is often identified with the general framework which permits the expression of "opinions". This renders the anti-war "opinion" apparently self-contradictory, without any arguments changing hands. Further, mythical expressions appear to their supporters as immediately self-evident, and this renders debate and opposition unnecessary. Anti-war arguments come to seem at best an indulgence and at worst a danger, and there is an ever-present threat that those who support myths may make the right to hold an "opinion" *conditional* on acceptance of the myths they associate with this right.

[25] This attitude is shown when defenders of pro-war positions are faced with questions or counter-arguments. British Government minister Charles Clarke reduced a question by Jeremy Paxman to the status of an 'entertaining point' rather than a potentially true or valid one; David Blunkett accused the Conservatives of not showing 'seriousness' because they opposed parts of the Anti-Terrorism Bill; Lance Morrow says that '[a]nyone who does not loathe the people who did these things [i.e. the September 11th attacks] is too philosophical for decent company'; and Agnes Heller treats acceptance of her own views about September 11th as a prerequisite for any possible discussion ^22^. Thus, debate with opponents, on the rare occasions where it happens, is reduced either to a patronising denouncement of their lack of realism or to an attempt to bar them from discussion unless they accept the predominant myths.

[26] Myths which run against strong counter-evidence often find ways to conceal or distort this evidence so that it does not undermine the myth. The killing of Afghans, especially civilians, by western forces is a particular problem since it throws into question the image of these forces as defenders of life and upholders of good, and supporters of war deal with it in various ways. In addition to jargon such as "collateral damage" which euphemises killing, they frequently rely on de-agentifying forms of discourse which recognise the killing but conceal its origin. Barthes discusses this phenomenon in the context of the Algerian war of independence, noting how terms such as "lacerations" allow pro-war commentators to bemoan the suffering without linking it to French military activity (1997:103-4). The conflict is similarly sometimes described in terms such as "plight" and "humanitarian catastrophe" which avoid specifying an agent or which specify an agent of a mythical kind, rendering Afghans victims of fate rather than of western bombers. Jack Straw stated that the 'situation' regarding civilian deaths was unbearable, without specifying what caused this situation ^23^. Hilary Benn displaces agency onto the mythical figure of "war", claiming that it is the 'nature of war' that it is 'uncertain' and 'people get hurt', and Peter Hain defended the Qala-i-Jhangi massacre with the phrase 'nasty things happen in war' ^24^. It is as if nasty things happen of their own accord and people mysteriously end up hurt, as opposed to there being human agency behind such happenings. The use of 'war' in these passages is clearly essentialist, and relies on myths which portray 'war' as something which is imposed on participants by reality. This word is given an almost magical character; once invoked, agency vanishes. Another distortion involves blaming bin Laden for the acts of the west. For instance, referring to anti-immigration crackdowns *by the American government* since September 11th, TIME magazine reported: 'Mexico wasn't one of bin Laden's targets, but it got hit anyway' ^25^. Perhaps this is because it was not bin Laden who ordered the "targeting".


[27] Just as the use of myth transmutes factual concepts into tautological references to existing emotional states, so it tends to remove the specificity of ethical concepts, i.e. the possibility of using them to assess and critique actors and activities. Words such as 'freedom', 'democracy', 'peace' and their negative equivalents such as 'violence' and 'injustice' are transmuted from concepts into empty labels which are used to attach opprobrium or praiseworthiness to particular agents. They are used as if they refer to a definite principle or goal, usually a 'self-evident' one, but actually they operate to trick people into thinking they support a principle when in fact they are supporting an agent. When ethical concepts are turned transmuted in this way, into what Trevor Pateman calls 'boo' and 'hooray-words', the resulting situation is something like that pertaining in George Orwell's dystopia 1984, where leaders can decide that war equals peace and 2+2=5 because they have the power to do so. As Herbert Marcuse comments with regard to the Vietnam War, 'in the mouth of the enemy, peace means war, and defense is attack, while on the righteous side, escalation is restraint, and saturation bombing prepares for peace' (1988:261). 'In the established vocabulary', he adds, ' "violence" is a term which one does not apply to the actions of the police, the National Guard, the Marshals, the Marines or the bombers. The "bad" words are a priori reserved for the Enemy, and their meaning is defined and validated by the actions of the Enemy regardless of their motivation or goal' (1969:75). The result is to prevent such words being used in any way other than to slander. 'Organised in this discriminatory fashion, language designates a priori the enemy as evil in his entirety and in all his actions and intentions' (1988:261). Further, as Roland Barthes explains, the structure of sentences can be rearranged to accomodate boo- and hooray-words and other empty terms, often by using non-falsifiable terms such as 'will be' and 'would be', or presenting the word as if its meaning is already known. As he states of French discourse on the war in Algeria, 'moral inflation bears on neither objects nor actions, but always on ideas, "notions", whose assemblage obeys less a communicative purpose than the necessity of a petrified code' (1997:108). This code is further reinforced by the use of signifiers of authenticity48. The use of such signs (eg. 'don't be under any doubt at all') is especially characteristic of Blair's discussions of war ^26^.

[28] The fallback on "notions" is typical of a number of commentaries. Agnes Heller refers to the September 11th attacks as 'a wave of terror... threatening liberal democracies' and David Held called them 'an attack on the fundamental principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and justice', despite the fact that it is patently impossible to destroy a principle or a political ideology with military force. (It is, however, possibly to destroy liberal systems with laws such as those brought in by the British and American states since September 11th). The concept of 'terrorism' is treated in a broad and often tautological way. The new Terrorism Act in Britain defines the word as meaning anyone the state considers to be a terrorist. While referring in its usual uses to a category of acts (similar to words such as 'murder' or 'burglary'), it has been used, for instance by Bush, as if it refers to an identifiable group or force which can be directly attacked, in the sense that one can wage a war against 'terrorist acts' ^27^. The idea that war could destroy a category of acts which could in principle be perpetrated by anyone is so ridiculous as to suggest that Bush is almost certainly using the term as a proper name for a group of people. Thus, the U.S., whatever it does, cannot be 'terrorist'. The same has happened to official uses of a whole range of ethical concepts.

[29] Often, the use of words as boo- and hooray-words leads to a situation where their use, if assessed by conceptual meanings, is blatantly self-contradictory. Thus, David Held calls September 11th an attack on justice, despite listing 'gross inequalities of life' and lack of a 'just peace' as being among its causes. Lance Morrow calls September 11th the moment which will 'separate the civilized of the world from the uncivilized', even while advocating hatred, retribution and fatwa. American officials claim to be defending democracy in Afghanistan, even while installing an unelected government on the criterion of its conduciveness to neighbouring states ^28^. One British government minister, Charles Clarke, bases his defence of the war in Afghanistan on advocacy of the liberties available in the west, even while another, David Blunkett, attacks 'airy-fairy civil liberties' ^29. And Bush can call on nations to 'respect the rule of law' ^30^ while breaking international laws on (for instance) the treatment of prisoners. All of this is possible - and mostly unnoticed - because the terms in question have been reduced, in official discourse, to the status of hooray-words. They apply to the commentator's own side *regardless of whether this side's actions fir any conceptual account of the word*.

[30] Ultimately, as Senator Richard Selby admitted when defending repressive laws in the U.S.A. and trying to debunk comparisons to the Soviet Union as a 'red herring', the justification for not seeing contradictions is 'faith' in the system which generates them ^31^. Faith in the system becomes the only basis for ethical assessment in a discourse based on hooray- and boo-words. Bush defends attacks on civil liberties in America with the phrase '[w]e're an open society, but we're at war' ^32^. The 'but' covers a gulf between "is" and "does" which justifies the inference of a characteristic unjustified by actions; Bush does not say that America has ceased to be open society because it is at war, but rather tries to retain the label even when a qualifier (of a mythical kind, i.e. the essence of war) nullifies its content.

[31] The difference between conceptual uses of words and hooray-words became clear during a televised debate between rightist Nicholas Soames and liberal Martin Bell. Bell expressed concern that measures should be restrained so as to ensure that liberal and democratic rights are not undermined. Soames' reply to such concerns was: '[w]e are a liberal democracy, and always will be' ^33^. Crucially, while Bell's use requires that, to qualify for a label, actors meet particular criteria, for Soames the positively-loaded word connects directly to an agent - "we", Britain - without any need for this agent to meet particular criteria. Similarly, Bush calls Americans 'a peaceful people' even while they (or rather, the American state's agents) wage war ^34^.

[32] In this context, apparently ethical principles become pawns in power-games. Questioned by an interviewer on the subject of human rights in western client state Saudi Arabia, Blair replies: '[t]here are positions taken there which are not the positions I take here in my country. I'm not going to get into the business of attacking the Saudi system'. When the interviewer remarks that Blair is prepared to criticise the Afghan system on the same issues, Blair says, '[y]es, but we're in conflict with the Taleban regime' ^35^. Though claiming a universalist position when criticising the Taleban, Blair renounces such a position when it is not an enemy involved. In another case, Charles Clarke tries in effect to prevent interviewer Jeremy Paxman from raising questions about the war by asserting that if he lived in Afghanistan, the Taleban would not allow him to do so; his liberty to question is dependent on supporting the western side ^36^. This is basically an argument which uses freedom as a premise to reach its nonexistence as a conclusion: Paxman is not to criticise because his right to do so is dependent on his not doing so. Goals posited in terms of hooray-words also tend to cover up practical failures and counterproductiveness. They also lead to a demand for nothing short of open-ended support. One American spokesperson on Newsnight seemed to think that anything short of an unconditional right of the U.S. state to respond instantly and as it sees fit to any perceived attack is unfair and a submission to foreign dictators which should be overridden by American public opinion. Just as for Lance Morrow America is an excessively tolerant society and for Selby it is too open, so for this spokesperson America has been 'extraordinarily considerate' to the Arab world ^37^.

[33] Similarly, enemies are guilty whatever they do. TIME magazine writes of American Taleban fighter John Walker Lindh: 'nowhere in the statute books does there seem to be a law that precisely fits the crime he may have committed' ^38^. In other words, because he is an "enemy", he is assumed to have committed a "crime" even though he has broken no law. [34] In classic Orwellian fashion, attack can become defence through the boo/hooray-word system. The E.U. referred to retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan as 'self-defence', and Bush wishes to speak of 'self-defence' even against targets unconnected to the attack to which they are a response. In an even more blatant instance of doubethink, the United Nations announced that the U.S.A. has the right to 'attack' Afghanistan 'in self-defence' ^39^. American officials similarly claim that they are not planning to 'attack' Iraq, since their acts are either to 'avenge' or 'defend' themselves^40^. Attack and defence are mutually exclusive categories, and a first strike or retaliatory act is still an "attack" in most uses, including the terminology of the U.S. legal system. Clearly there is an attempt to claim that a particular side cannot on principle "attack" but is always "defending" whatever it does.

[35] Similarly, in pro-war discourse freedom equals slavery. For David Blunkett, 'robust', i.e. repressive, laws would 'protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them' ^41^. The word "our" may have a specific meaning here, referring only to people the government likes, since the whole idea of repressive laws is to reduce rights. The basis for Blunkett's calls for a "new balance" between freedom and repression results from a displacement of conceptions of threat from the government onto the Enemy, as if "terrorists" could be more of a potential threat to British people than the British government could be. In a letter by Teresa Neumann of Oregon, she provides an even more blatant example of doublethink, stating that 'freedom-loving people' should be prepared to sacrifice 'superfluous liberties' to gain a 'new appreciation of what it costs to be free' ^42^. For Neumann, if one loves freedom, one should sacrifice it, in order to appreciate it. Since up to 70% of people in Britain supported crackdowns in the aftermath of September 11th ^43^, doublethink must be extremely pervasive.

[36] What applies to freedom also applies to justice. In what could be the seminal statement of a new theory of "justice as unfairness", Jim Kontilas of Texas, in a letter to TIME magazine, directly defends unfairness on the basis of justice. 'Are military tribunals fair? That's a good question. But why not also ask if crashing airliners into U.S. buildings is fair? When a country goes to war, there is nothing fair about that decision. Life is not fair. Neither is war. President Bush is trying to ensure that justice prevails. The terrorists need to understand the consequences of attacking the U.S.' ^44^. Lurking behind Kontilas's position is the "war is war" tautology: as in other cases, war justifies anything. Here, however, the contradiction is blatant: not only does he refer to unfairness as an excuse for unfairness; he also claims to be doing so in the name of justice, which is close to being a synonym of fairness. The same contradiction is involved in Bush's references to the 'rule of law', and in the denouncement of 'traitors' from the west who fight for the Taleban at the same time that the west fights a proxy war through Afghan allies. Even knowledge becomes a casualty of doublethink. For Blair, '[w]e cannot have a situation where if we know someone is a suspected terrorist we do not have the legal power to detain them indefinitely' ^45^. In addition to a highly problematic use of "we" and an argument which amounts to assertion, this statement is self-contradictory if 'knowledge' is taken to be compatible with 'suspicion'. If someone is a 'suspected' terrorist, they are not 'known' to be anything, and the addition of the word 'know' therefore functions as an empty signifier of authenticity; its effect is potentially trick careless listeners into thinking Blair is discussing 'known' terrorists, when this is not what the grammar of the sentence, if read carefully, reveals.THE ENEMY VERSUS "US"

[37] In a world overshadowed with myth and assessed through hooray-words, complex issues are crudely simplified. Events cease to be seen as historical, human or causal, and become abstract mythical dramas playing out conflicts between ahistorical essences. Thus, Bush refers to the war as a mission given by history to rid the world of evil ^46^. TIME magazine joins in by describing the flattening of Afghan villages as being 'as though a finger of retribution reached from the sky and pointed to every house, one by one by one' ^47^. Lance Morrow adds of the September 11th attacks that '[e]vil possesses an instinct for theater'. And Bush refers to enemies as an 'axis of evil', a category in which he subsumes regimes which have fought each other and which vehemently oppose each others' ideologies. In this mythical drama, all goods and all evils become equivalent. 'Some say it's utopian', says Blair, '[b]ut the point I am making is simply that self-interest for the nation and the interests of the broader community are no longer in conflict. In the war against terrorism the moralists and the realists are partners' ^48^. By ignoring complexities, everything becomes clear. The singular and the universal now coincide; we have utopia - and, unsurprisingly since the 'utopia' is at war, its flip-side of unconditional Evil.

[38] In the myth of war, Good and Evil become personified in quasi-mythical agents identified with the sides of the conflict. On one side, there is "us". The use of "we" is rarely defined - David Held, for instance, refers to 'our founding principles' without stating who 'we' are, though clearly 'we' do not include 'the terrorists'; most often it is one of the empty terms Barthes discusses, which is invoked as if known without being explained. It seems to connote an imaginary identity between the individual and the "nation", conceived as a unitary being (Morrow calls it an 'organism') acting through its leader. Though its unity is largely a figment of the imagination, the nation becomes a kind of collective self through a process of identification. This identification is attached to an actual agent in a basically substitutionist way ^49^. Soldiers and others fighting in the war are treated as part of "us", even by people with no actual link to the fighting. A Conservative M.P., speaking on Question Time, says that since 'we' have sent 'our' troops to carry out objectives, they should be 'allowed to do what is necessary', and Labour M.P. Hilary Benn also referred to the use of cluster bombs 'to protect ourselves', as if 'we' the audience and panellists were directly fighting ^50^. 'We' is taken to express the nation, even when the population of 'the nation' is divided on the subject of the war. Bush, for instance, claims to express the 'national will' ^51^. Panorama, echoing the self-contradictions occurring across pro-war discourse, contrasts the 'UK majority' to a 'Muslim minority' who oppose the war (rather than a UK minority), and discusses 'British Muslims' who will fight 'against Britain' ^52^. Since a British Muslim is by definition part of "Britain", it is illogical to suggest that she or he could fight against it; the formula operates by attributing an essence to Britain and therefore projecting the contradiction onto the Muslims themselves. 'We' are also given a number of mythical characteristics, such as being easily victimised due to 'our' peace-loving nature, and this becomes an excuse for behaving out of character with this nature ^53^. One Dutch prosecutor, arguing (successfully) for detention without evidence of guilt, said 'after September 11th, some things have changed... We learned... that our westen society is vulnerable to martyrs and suicide groups, that means we have to act in a cautious, precise and restrained manner' ^54^. Here, the myth of vulnerability is an excuse for repression. The gap between actual activities and imagined identity is often bridged through the slippery idea of 'exceptional' cases; this is used to get out of defending attacks on civil liberties both by Blair (on backdating laws) and by U.S. Senator Richard Selby (on mass arrests) ^55^. Another excuse authorised by in-group identity is the idea of 'national security', used by Blair to defend as justified what turned out to be an unjustified seizure of a transport ship, in an arrogant way which involved a complete refusal to recognise that the navy had turned out to be wrong and a reduction of the effects of this attack to mere 'inconvenience' ^56^.

[39] In this conception, collective identity becomes its own tautological justification. It is this deproblematisation of agency which makes possible what Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man, terms "operationalism" - the technical vocabulary which reduces political and ethical problems to problems of administrative effectiveness. In a letter to TIME, Dick Standaert argued: '[t]he President needs everyone to help. We will win or lose this war against terrorism based on public support or the lack of it. It's time to pull together' ^57^. This is not actually an argument for "pulling together", but an attempt to use the importance of "public support" as a basis for giving it. An operational necessity becomes in and of itself an argument for a substantive ethical and political position.

[40] On the other side, there is the Enemy. In militarist discourse, particular enemies are usually reduced to a mythical figure of the Enemy, infused with all kinds of negative projections and imagined characteristics. The role of such a figure, as E.P. Thompson argues, is 'closing up people's minds and mouths' (46-7). As Marcuse puts it, political linguistics is 'the armour of the establishment'; it 'not only defines and condemns the Enemy, it also %creates% him; and this creation is not the Enemy as he [%sic%] is but rather as he must be in order to perform his function for the Establishment'. Crimes against the Enemy cease to be crimes, whereas 'what the Enemy does, is evil; what he says - propaganda' - even self-defence by an Enemy is a crime (1969:78). The use of a contradictory language allows 'the Enemy' to be incorporated in speech without being differentiated; specific ethical terms are attached directly to the Enemy and to 'us' on the basis of a strong binary, even when the acts of the two sides hardly differ. The Enemy is usually labelled as having a string of ascribed mythical characteristics (dirt, disorder, contagion, absence of morals, animal cunning, treachery, love of aggression, etc.) which vary little between conflicts are are rapidly displaced when a particular group switches camps ^58^. The resultant binary is extremely harmful because it attaches value solely to the in-group to which all positive concepts are attached. As Thompson puts it (in a formula which applies whichever group takes the place of 'we'): 'We think others to death as we define them as Other: the enemy'; militarism is 'preparing our mindsas a launching pad for exterminating thoughts'. The thought of annihilation comes easily when it applies only to the Enemy; only against "us" is it unthinkable (52). In this context, reciprocal atrocities become not only possible but likely.

[41] Crucially, labels of enmity are often simply asserted. Take, for instance, the various excuses surrounding the extrajudicial imprisonment and torture of inmates at Camp X-Ray. While denying the most damning accusations, officials also defend the treatment of the inmates by saying that terrorists do not deserve the protection of the U.S. Constitution ^59^. It is not clear how the conclusion that they are 'terrorists' has been reached, especially since one of the suspended parts of the constitution is the part which refers to fair trials and the like.

[42] The enemy binary is also dangerous in that it tends towards slippage, steadily expanding in scope as military operations escalate. Crucially, the binary is usually posited in the most essentialist way possible: there is no middle ground; 'you're either with us or against us', and there is no choice except war or submission. For Bush, for instance, , there is 'no middle ground between freedom and terror', no 'neutral ground'; '[b]y aiding and abetting murder the Taleban is committing murder'; anyone who refuses to hand over suspected terrorists should be 'treated as an enemy themselves' ^60^. This means that opponents of the war can be labelled as enemies. For one British Conservative MP, anyone who doesn't support the war is an enemy ^61^. Two letters to TIME magazine also show this logic. One, by Paula Marnitz of Cape Town, argues against demonstrations, not on substantive grounds, but because '[t]errorists rely on demonstrators to sow confusion and dissention'; another, by Carlo J. Dominguez of Miami Beach, '[i]f civil libertarians don't like the idea of the Federal Government monitoring more e-mails or requiring a national identification card, I propose they move to Afghanistan' ^62^. In both cases, refusal to accept the in-group's discourse leads to direct conflation with the Enemy; since Afghanistan was and is run on lines at least as repressive as those in America, the net result of such formulae is to deny any space beyond repression, even in discussion. Similarly, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accuses opponents of racial dragnets of 'aiding and abetting' terrorists, Attorney-General John Ashcroft accuses critics of military tribunals of unwittingly helping the perpetrators of September 11th, and Bush accuses people who doubt the authenticity of videos of bin Laden of providing excuses for him ^63^. In these cases, the reply to critics is based on presumptions of the truth of precisely the claims critics are challenging.

[43] Media freedom is also under attack: Blair has accused the media of 'wobbling' for its failure exactly to reproduce the government line, and one MP accuses the BBC of being 'Taleban TV' for covering the issue of civilian casualties ^64^. Attempts are made to crack down on, for instance, the asylum system, to ensure that - whatever the effect on the innocent - those who are enemies may not use it ^65^. An entire range of slippages are covered by irregular terminology such as 'harbouring', 'abetting' and 'giving sustenance'; British anti-terrorist laws now define 'creating the conditions' for terrorism as a crime, while the E.U. wants anyone who supports the aims of a terrorist group deemed terrorist. In the Czech Republic, even criticising anti-terrorist laws is legally 'terrorism'. Crucially, the enemy binary involves denying any possibility that anyone may oppose particular members without being a terrorist - or at least, to refer to a similar Stalinist logic, an 'objective' terrorist. McCarthyist tendencies are never far from the surface of militarist discourse.

[44] Since the Enemy figure is partly mythical, rhetoric about enemies often relies on spurious analogies with previous wars and popular culture. In one speech Bush called for 'Wanted:Dead or Alive" posters for bin Laden ^66^, and terms like "axis" and "appeasement" constantly invoke analogies with fascism. Traditionally, such references are supplemented by dehumanising terminology. In the present conflict, official figures have been careful to avoid overtly anti-Muslim and anti-Afghan rhetoric, but subtle hints, hidden behind ideas such as "civilisation" and the "free world", have proliferated. Also, dehumanisation recurs from time to time: a university terrorism specialist calls al-Qaeda a 'snake' whose eggs 'are hatching and slipping off in all directions'; BBC News refers to 'smoking out' bin Laden from 'foxholes', Bush calls al-Qaeda 'parasites', and U.S. troops have taken to referring to al-Qaeda escape-routes as 'rat lines', for instance ^67^. Similarly Labour MP Hilary Benn thinks it is justified to use cluster bombs because Afghanistan is awash with land-mines anyway, and TIME magazine sees fit to joke about how Camp X-Ray captives lack a 'putting green' and are spared the cruelty of being 'forced... to listen to Fidel Castro's speeches' ^68^. In a more subtle case of dehumanisation, Bernard Cassen of progressive campaigning group ATTAC states that '[n]o one is in favour of bin Laden or terrorists' ^69^. If this were true, they would not exist; clearly, they are being denied a discursive status.

[45] The contradictory language used to define an Enemy covers over the structural similarities between the discourse of different militarist "sides". As Gwyn Prins et al put it, 'views are framed so heavily in the form of mirrored threats that they seem irreconcilable' (23). Two sets of rhetoric emerge to cover similarities: execution versus murder, informing versus betrayal, collateral damage versus killing innocents, coercive force versus violence, detention versus abduction, deterrence versus terror. Hence, ministers such as Jack Straw repeatedly insist that the September 11th attacks and the attacks on Afghanistan are 'not morally equivalent' ^70^, without explaining why they are not. The makers of Panorama are horrified at any prospect that Muslims may use 'violence' instead of 'peaceful' and 'democratic' means and David Held demands that protesters always be 'peaceful', yet neither seems shocked by the war and Held, who declares he is 'not a pacifist', actually supports it ^71^. A former Conservative Party advisor condemns the September 11th attackers for killing civilians, and adds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan are 'something we should just accept' ^72^. And Blair appears on al-Jazeera news station saying that 'blowing up innocent civilians' must be condemned regardless of its cause, on the same day that British and American bombs killed four United Nations mine-clearance workers in Afghanistan ^73^. Since Evil is monopolised by the Enemy, the in-group becomes able to commit any act without scruple. In doing so, it becomes just like the image of the Enemy. As a character in Sartre's play The Prisoner of Altona puts it: 'The beast was hiding, and suddenly we surprised his look... So we struck. Legitimate self-defence. A man fell, and in his dying eyes I saw the beast still living - myself' (165).


[46] Militarist discourse is sinister and pervasive. But it is not invincible, and it is not all-encompassing. However, the struggle against war must extend from the political field into everyday life. An effective anti-war politics needs to gain the capacity to see through and expose myths, to break down character-armour and to avoid accepting discourses which sustain militarist discourse. In the context of the expanding 'war against terror', it is important not to succumb to the urge to identify with either side. As E.P. Thompson puts it, 'we need not ground our actions on a "preference" for one of the... blocs... What is relevant is the logic of process common to both, reinforcing the ugliest features of each other's societies' (50). One should also try to be reflexive about emotions and psychological alignments, to counteract the ways in which myth infiltrates and manipulates these. Now is not the time to attack 'relativism' in the name of 'reality'; the critique of myth is more urgent than ever.

[47] Once myths and authoritarian libidinal investments are undermined (something which can only happen through active pedagogical activities directed at transforming popular beliefs), militarism may well become unsustainable, not only as a set of symbolic/imaginary codes but also as a practice of physical violence. As semanticist Alfred Korzybski remarked, 'the lavishing of "love" on shiny buttons and on regiments marching to their destruction, have favoured wars. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, the czar's soldiers were on the streets. But women did not love them then. Little children spat on them from behind corners. The result was that very soon the soldiers %refused to carry on this unapproved service%' (21). A more recent example is the Vietnam War, when mass opposition, protests and acts of resistance by soldiers, along with military defeats and opposition within Vietnam, led to a withdrawal of U.S. forces. Militarist discourse depends on the receptiveness of its audience to generate acquiescence in war; removing this receptiveness is a major step towards removing acquiescence and thereby war.

[48] Just as importantly, one should challenge the closure and tautology of the myths of war by refusing to submit to the vicious circle of choosing between lesser evils and by struggling instead for a different kind of society. One should avoid supporting militarism in either its western or its fundamentalist form. As Reich puts it, 'Those who attempt to beat the mechanical automatons with their own methods... will transform %themselves% into mechanical automatons and perpetuate the process their opponents have set in motion. In such a case the last vestiges of all living hope for a different kind of society, a permanently peaceful one, will vanish altogether' (1970:333).

[49] To provide an alternative to war, one should look behind it, to the discursive structures which generate and sustain it. If war seems inevitable, this is because one has not questioned the deep assumptions and myths on which it is based; it is because one has accepted the repressive reduction of thought to the present and the 'order not to think', and because one has forgotten the role of human praxis in shaping the world. War results from a particular social logic, a set of beliefs and assumptions which produce particular actions. Alter the social logic and one no longer has the same outcomes. Blair, Bush, bin Laden and the rest are trapped in a vicious circle due to their acceptance of a militarist social logic. If one accepts the logic behind atrocities, one risks reproducing them indefinitely. Alternatives to war can emerge from outside this logic, from attempts to build different modes of thought and action, and thereby a different world. Humanity does not need the stultifying and barbaric logic of militarism; worse, this logic tends to annihilate humanity both physically and spiritually. The logic of a different social praxis - the transformative, rhizomatic, creative potentiality present in the anti-capitalist movement and in resistance to capitalism and war the world over - should be extended into the struggle against the current war and spread, through both actions and words, to as many people as possible. In this way, perhaps anti-militarists have a chance to end militarism and its inhuman effects once and for all.


1. Amnesty, July/August 2002 pp. 20-1.

2. cf. also the work of Alfred Korzybski, who draws a distinction between intensional and extensional uses of concepts. Mythical concepts are clearly intensional in Korzybski's sense, i.e. they are projections of internal psychological constructs onto empirical objects, rather than terms which apply to a series of such objects. In The Fashion System, Barthes explains how myth enters language through the function of connotation. Certain 'phraseological markings' can be tagged onto statements to give these a 'latent signified'. Connotation usually relies on naturalisation; 'thus, phenomenologically speaking, it does not call for a declared operation of %reading%; to consume a connotative system... is not to consume signs, but only reasons, goals, images;... the signified of connotation is, literally, %hidden%' and cannot be reconstituted through immediate evidence or resources inherent in the language being spoken. The reader 'receives from the utterance a message structured enough for her to feel changed by it', but which is '%eceived% not %ead%. Barthes, 1985 p. 231.

3. Time, 26-11-01 pp. 37-8; 21-01-02 p. 30; 18-02-02 p. 53.

4. Time, 24-12-01 p. 6; 31-12-01 to 07-01-02, p. 12; 17-12-01 p. 8.

5. Time, 10-12-01 p. 7; 24-12-01 p. 10. Even the anti-war letter from Nigar Suleman repeats key themes from militarist discourse, suggesting that 'reality' is urging America 'to act without restraint'. The main difference is that he believes Americans should resist this urge. Time, 24-12-01 p. 10.

6. Ceefax 14-10-01, p. 105; 30-10-01, p. 107; BBC News, 21-09-01, 30-10-01. Since I am based in Britain, all television, radio and teletext references are to U.K. sources.

7. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01.

8. Time, 10-12-01 p. 43; Ceefax 20-09-01 p. 109; Newsnight, BBC2, 11-03-02; Esther, BBC2, 25-10-01; Question Time, BBC1, 24-10-01; Ceefax 25-10-01 p. 108.

9. BBC News, 21-12-01.

10. Ceefax 16-09-01 p. 104.

11. Oracle, 05-03-02 p. 147.

12. Time, 03-12-01 p. 11. Disturbingly given remarks of this kind, it is now widely suspected that the anthrax attacks originated from within America.

13. Time, 03-12-01 p. 11.

14. Time, 03-12-01 p. 11.

15. cited in Prins (ed.) p. 19. On this point, compare Baudrillard (1991) who argues that war has now been reduced to a degraded status of "non-war", a lethal 'operation without anaesthetic' which, however, carries little risk for the west and so is fought mainly as a media spectacle.

16. Ceefax, 14-10-01 p. 105; 20-09-01 p. 109.

17. Ceefax 26-09-01 p. 113; Newsnight, BBC2, 11-03-02. For more on the issue of scapegoating, see Cohen.

18. According to Marcuse (1988), 'the more powerful and "technological" aggression becomes, the less it is apt to satisfy and pacify the primary impulse [to aggression], and the more it tends toward repetition and escalation' (264). The lack of bodily involvement in aggression ensures that the aggressive impulses directed towards war are not exhausted by it but tend to sustain themselves. In the present case, the amorphous nature of the 'enemy' and the lack of any definite criteria of 'victory' further enhance this tendency.

19. Year Zero, issue 7, p. 20.

20. The quote is from Ceefax 18-09-01 p. 107. For the three theories of the psychological basis of war, see Baudrillard (1998), Barthes (1985) and Broadbent et al.

21. Ceefax 17-10-01 p. 110; Time 22-10-01 p. 66.

22. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01; Ceefax 09-12-01 p. 109; Morrow; Heller.

23. Ceefax 17-09-01 p. 111.

24. Ceefax 29-09-01 p. 104; Question Time, BBC1 25-10-01. For more on character-structure, see Reich (1970), Reich (1948) and Brinton.

25. Time, 11-03-02 p. 36. Osama bin Laden uses similar arguments, blaming his organisation's actions on the U.S. because he sees these actions as a necessary response. See the interview reproduced in What Next?, issue 21 pp. 9-10.

26. eg. BBC News, 28-02-02.

27. Radio 5 News, 19-09-01.

28. Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV 30-09-01.

29. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01; Time, 24-12-01 p. 48.

30. Ceefax, 01-02-02 p. 112.

31. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01.

32. Ceefax 29-11-01 p. 109.

33. Panorama, BBC1 30-09-02.

34. BBC News, 10-10-01.

35. Time, 10-12-01 p. 43.

36. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01.

37. Newsnight, BBC2, 11-03-02.

38. Time, 17-12-01 p. 84.

39. Asia Today, BBC News 24, 11-10-01.

40. Newsnight 11-03-02.

41. Ceefax 15-10-01 p. 109.

42. BBC News 23-09-01.

43. SchNews 28-09-01.

44. Time, 24-12-01 p. 10.

45. BBC News, 30-09-01.

46. BBC News, 10-10-01.

47. Time, 25-03-02 p. 40.

48. Time, 31-12-01 to 07-01-02, p. 97; BBC News 24, 31-01-02.

49. See Mandel on the subject of substitutionism. Mandel and other Trotskyites use the concept mainly as a criticism of the Stalinist attitude to workers, but I see no reason why it shoul not apply in other cases where one agent substitutes itself for another.

50. Question Time, BBC1, 25-09-01. The speaker who made these remarks was later forced into an embarrassing self-contradiction when he made the statement 'I don't set limits', regarding what weapons should be available to troops. When challenged on issues such as landmines and mustard gas, he stated a commitment to 'rules of engagement' - 'rules' which could, of course, be expanded to cover cluster bombs. This contradiction arose because he stated as a universal position something he was not prepared to endorse in all cases; his case was insufficiently particular to account for the particularity of his position. This kind of confusion of particular issues with highly general abstractions is common in militarist discourse.

51. BBC News, 21-09-01.

52. Panorama, 14-10-01.

53. Frank, p. 179.

54. Statewatch 12:1, January/February 2002 p. 19.

55. Newsnight, BBC2, 30-10-01; Ceefax, 21-10-01 p. 107.

56. BBC News, 21-12-01.

57. Time, 03-12-01.

58. Marcuse (1969) p. 78; Frank p. 179.

59. Time, 26-11-01 pp. 56-7.

60. Oracle 21-09-01, p. 303; Ceefax 14-09-01, p. 113; BBC News 24, 07-10-01; Ceefax, 01-02-02 p. 112.

61. BBC News, 14-09-01.

62. Time, 17-12-01 p. 8; 22-10-01 p. 12.

63. News and Letters, January 2002 p. 10; Ceefax, 07-12-01 p. 142; 14-12-01 p. 105.64. BBC News, 21-12-01.

65. Ceefax, 10-11-01 p. 107; Newsnight, BBC2 30-10-01.

66. Ceefax, 02-10-01 p. 112; Radio 5 News, 17-09-01.

67. Ceefax, 11-03-02 p. 106; Time, 21-01-02 p. 21; BBC News, 15-09-01; Time, 25-03-02 p. 41.

68. Question Time, BBC1 25-10-01; Time, 28-01-02 pp. 31-2.

69. Time, 12-11-01 p. 76.

70. eg. Oracle 17-09-01 p. 309.

71. Panorama, BBC1, 14-10-01; Held.

72. Newsnight, BBC2 29-10-01.

73. Labour Left Briefing, November 2001 p. 30.


Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. London:Vintage 2000 (orig. 1957).

Barthes, Roland. The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. Berkeley:University of California Press 1997 (orig. 1979)

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. London:Jonathan Cape 1985.

Brinton, Maurice. The Irrational in Politics. London:Solidarity 1975.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Consumer Society. Myths and Structures. London:Sage 1998 (orig. 1970)

Baudrillard, Jean. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Sydney:Power Publications 1995 (orig. 1991)

Lucinda Broadbent, John Eldridge, Gordon Kimmett, Greg Philo, Malcolm Spazen and Kevin Williams (Glasgow University Media Group). War and Peace News. Milton Keynes:Open University Press 1985.

Cohen, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London:MacGibbon and Key 1972.

Frank, Jerome D. "The language of the Cold War" in Neil Postman, Charles Weingartner and Terence P. Moran (eds.). Language in America. New York:Pegasus 1968.Held, David. "Violence and justice in a global age", London:openDemocracy 2001.

Heller, Agnes. "911 or modernity and terror". Constellations 9:1, Spring 2002 pp. 53-65.

Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity. Fifth edition. Englewood:Institute of General Semantics 1994 (orig. 1933).

Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. London:Routledge 1991 (orig. 1964).

Marcuse, Herbert. Negations. London:Free Association Books 1988 (orig. 1968).

Marcuse, Herbert. Essay on Liberation. Harmondsworth:Penguin 1969.

Morrow, Lance. "The case for rage and retribution" in Time supplement, 11-09-01.

Nash, Henry T. "The Bureaucratization of Homicide" in Thompson (ed.).

Pateman, Trevor. Language, Truth and Politics. Newton Poppleford:Trevor Pateman and Jean Stroud 1975.

Prins, Gwin (ed.). Defended to Death. Harmondsworth:Penguin 1983.

Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1970 (orig. 1946).

Reich, Wilhelm. Character Analysis. London:Vision Press 1948.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Altona and Other Plays. Harmondsworth:Penguin 1962 (orig. 1960).

Smith, Joan. Misogynies. Revised ed. London:Vintage 1993.

Stavrakakis, Yannis. Lacan and the Political. London:Routledge 1999.Thompson, E.P. "Protest and Survive" in Thompson (ed.).

Thompson, E.P. (ed.). Protest and Survive. Harmondsworth:Penguin 1980.


Post a Comment

<< Home