Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004


NOTE: This is a longer version of what eventually became "Killing with Words", with broader and more detailed reflections on militarism in the aftermath of the 911 attacks.

Andrew Robinson

War appears, on the surface, to be about action rather than words. Most of the immediately destructive effects of war occur because of actions, such as bombing, shooting and shelling. However, behind the actions there are human beings, and human actions are always motivated by conceptions of the world and of life, and ways of thinking and acting. The actions of each individual who pulls a trigger, drops a bomb or gives an order to attack are based on a set of conscious or unconscious beliefs and assumptions which make their course of action seem justified, necessary, or desirable to them. Thus, for war to be possible, its prerequisites must have been established in language and psychology. As EP Thompson puts it, 'We can kill thousands because we 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' (Protest and Survive). As a group of academics including Gwyn Prins put it, 'Key words in any discussion about war and peace have been so distorted by use in polemics and slogans that it is hard to set up a basic common vocabulary of agreed meanings... [I]n the present context... [l]anguage... actually influences what we think and feel' (Defended to Death p. 26).

Sometimes, the selective use of language is deliberate. Herman Goering, speaking at the Nuremberg Trials where he was charged with war crimes, explains how Nazi propaganda policy deliberately created the possibility for war. 'Why of course people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war... But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger' (cited Think Globally Act Locally, January 2001). At other times, the discourse in use is not deliberate. It is used almost unconsciously, out of habit or familiarity, or its users have become so accustomed to using it that it becomes, for them, unquestionable and identical with reality. It can become, as EP Thompson puts it, 'an inter-operative and reciprocal logic, which threatens all, impartially' (Protest and Survive p. 49). Thus, the language and symbolism which makes war appear legitimate is not all of one type; it exists on several layers, and what convinces one group of supporters may not convince another. In general, however, war is surrounded by a number of forms of discourse which have in common a lack of concern with logical consistency, a use of language which resists comparison to evidence, and a disappearance of concern with, or oversimplified representation of, causality. It is the critique of these forms that this essay addresses.


Roland Barthes, the founder of semiotic critique of myths, describes the gesture which establishes myths in this way: 'Myth 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, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact' (Mythologies p. 143). Myths operate through an invisible second-order distortion of a first-order (usually descriptive) sign. This second process of signification undermines the original signification by projecting into it a second signified, which is ideological and takes the first sign as an expression of an eternal category to which it may have no relation. Photo-journalism provides a particularly good example of the operation of myth. For instance, a picture of a woman unveiling in Kabul (TIME Nov. 26th 2001 pp. 37-8) is taken, not as an individual gesture (which may even have been instigated by the journalist who took it), but as a signifier for the abstract idea of liberation, under the slogan "HELLO, SUNSHINE". Similarly, a picture of a masked al-Qaeda fighter becomes, not simply a shot of an individual engaged in target practice, but "THE MASK OF DEATH" (TIME Jan. 21 2002 p. 30), a signifier of abstract ideas of death, violence and terror. Police outside the W.E.F. similarly become, not a threat of repression, but an abstract signification of being "PROTECTED" (TIME February 18 2002 p. 53). Through the use of myth, ideologues are freed of the need to demonstrate the process of deduction which leads to the conclusion that Kabul is "free" or the fighter is a "terrorist"; the mythical meaning is projected directly into the factual existence of the individual image used to express it, as if the labels "freedom" and "death" are of the same type as the description of the mask as "black" or the woman as "unveiled". The second, added, meaning is portrayed as natural or factual through its spurious conflation with the initial, descriptive, sign. What goes missing are all the middle layers of analytical conceptualisation. In Barthes's words, myths involve 'an order not to think' (The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, p. 59). They allow immediate emotional reactions to be mistakenly interpreted as accurate, factual interpretations which are beyond criticism; it therefore creates an illusion of the immediate self-evidence of particular phrases, words or images, presenting these as if they were immediately active or irreducibly real, above and beyond any arguments which can be made for or against them.

Myth is not openly declared in relation to either images or words; it is not read from a text, but is nevertheless received from it by audience members primed to respond to it. Myths can be disturbingly effective. Misook Kim of Brussels writes to TIME: 'When I saw the photograph of the smiling Afghan women with their uncovered faces in the sun, I knew that America and its allies had done the right thing. Whatever happens later politically, the women and men in those pictures are happier now than they were before' (Dec. 24 2001 p. 6). This reader has received the myth, rather than the empirical content of the image: in her letter, the 'women' and 'faces' are pluralised (since there was only one unveiled woman in the photograph, and the other women are veiled); a happy expression on a single face signifies many people happier than ever before; and all of this signifies that the war is justified. That such conclusions are not at all justified by the image in question is no barrier where myths are concerned. Compare also the following letter, by Noman Sattar from Istanbul: 'Liberation is sweet, whether it is in Paris, Kuwait or Afghanistan. It is heartening to see normal life on the streets of Kabul, women unshackled and smiles on the faces of the people. The international coalition has to make sure that the situation is lasting, and that there will be no going back to the days of anarchy, oppression and ignorance' (Dec. 31-Jan. 7 2002 p. 12). Here, the battle for Kabul loses its specific significance, becoming a carrier for an extra-historical narrative applicable equally to Paris or Kuwait; the face is again pluralised, and the 'liberation' becomes synonymous with an ending of 'oppression' and even 'ignorance'. Furthermore, change comes to signify the victory of a 'normal life' which remains amorphous and undefined. There is a counterpoint in among the letters - S. Moosa thinks the Northern Alliance are more barbaric than the Taleban (p. 12) - which points to a weakness in such claims: what has occurred is a specific political victory, and may not result in substantially increased freedom, let alone the utopia predicted by other letters. Such concerns go missing, however, when political meaning has been evacuated from discourse to make room for myths. The political implications of myth are shown clearly by a letter from Paula Marnitz of Cape Town: 'I hope those who opposed [sic] the war have seen the pictures of grateful Afghan citizens smiling and playing soccer and women going back to work' (TIME December 17th 2001 p. 8). In this case, images, encoded mythically, trump analysis.

Myths do not only occur in pictures, but also in words. In particular, myths operate by treating particular phenomena which arise from contingent historical situations as expressions of immediately present, eternal categories, usually expressed in the form of a mythological drama or narrative. For instance, George W. Bush speaks of the war in Afghanistan in terms of a mission he has been given by history to rid the world of evil (BBC News 10-10-01), TIME describes the bombing of villages allied to al-Qaeda as being 'as though a finger of retribution reached from the sky and pointed to every house, one by one by one' (TIME March 25th 2002 p. 40), and Lance Morrow can say of the September 11th attacks that 'Evil possesses an instinct for theater' (TIME supplement, September 11th 2001). Just as Evil is unitary, so is Good. 'Some say it's utopian', argues Tony Blair, '[b]ut the point I am making is simply that self-interest for a 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' (TIME, Dec. 31-Jan. 7 2001-2, p. 97). In the theatre of myth, there are no dilemmas because all forms of Good are equivalent.

To take another example, in Lance Morrow's response to September 11th (TIME supplement, September 11th), he portrays the attacks, including their symbolic and emotional significance, as somehow immediately "real", so that discussion of them is unnecessary or even dangerous. Of the term "asymmetrical warfare", he says: 'Asymmetry is a concept. War is, as we see, blood and death'. Of course, asymmetry is a concept. War is also a concept; it is not an immediate experience any more than asymmetry. In a sense, both are also real, since what they attempt to signify can be seen and felt. But there is no way one can establish some words as inherently extra-conceptual in the way Morrow does. His statement is typical of myth: he treats particular words as directly expressing real phenomena in an unchallengeable way, whereas other words are merely 'conceptual'. In this way, he evades the need to argue why 'war' matters more than 'asymmetry' (which, in terms for instance of global wealth inequalities, is just as much about 'blood and death').

Furthermore, 'enemies are enemies'. For Morrow, everything is simple in war. 'This is the moment of clarity' which 'separate[s] the civilized from the uncivilized'. Priorities, formerly contestable, become obvious. 'What seemed important... became immediately trivial'. Now, there is no longer a need for uncertainty. 'It's a practical matter, anyway', so that debate is unnecessary. Morrow's entire argument involves constructing an image of certainty out of statements expressing closure. 'Enemies are enemies' is a classical tautology; it doesn't actually say anything about what an 'enemy' is, or how one tells enemies from (for instance) innocent bystanders. Such tautologies are a common form of myth according to Barthes, in which the order not to think, 'a choleric break between the intelligence and its object', is particularly apparent; tautology is an insistence that 'thought must not range too widely' (Eiffel Tower p. 59). It involves a claim to know a truth which, however, one says nothing about; it is a ' minor ethical salvation, the satisfaction of having militated in favor of a truth... without having to assume the risks which any somewhat positive search for the truth inevitably involves' (p. 61). It gives all the benefits of a positive statement of truth, without the risk of it being undermined by anomalies or indeterminables. It dispenses with the need to have ideas, while treating this negation as if it were a stern morality (61). '[T]he accidental failure of language is magically identified with what one decides is a natural resistance of the object' (Mythologies p. 152). Tautology is a gesture of rationality which simultaneously denies itself (153). The other claims are as bad. No 'matter' can be merely 'practical', since the goal for intervention is necessarily ethical. War and its divisions are no clearer than any other social situation; all that is added is a tendency to invent clarity by labelling the undecided or non-categorisable as enemies.

The same kind of mistake is involved in the analysis of September 11th by the academic David Held. For Held, particular emotional reactions to the attacks - including 'shock, revulsion and horror', 'disbelief' and a 'desire for vengeance' - are 'perfectly natural'. What is important here is that Held does not provide arguments that such reactions are justified; he claims that they are somehow directly present in nature. Such claims are clearly spurious: reactions of this kind were not universal, and some of those he lists, notably 'disbelief' and a 'desire for vengeance', are clearly possible only on the basis of a pre-existing set of culturally-specific beliefs about what is likely to happen and about how one should respond to violence. As with many myths, there is an oppressive implication here, since, if someone has the "wrong" reactions - even in ways as being too peace-loving to desire vengeance or too cynical to feel disbelief - they are, by Held's account, implicitly 'unnatural', perverse, or even mad. The mythical discourse involved in such claims explains why many commentators seem unable to distinguish the entirely different pheneomena of sympathy for victims of the September 11th attacks and a desire for retaliation - a confusion which lurks behind the insidious misconception that all opponents of the war in Afghanistan are supporters of bin Laden.

A letter to TIME magazine by Anurag Bahadur of Hyderabad, India, reveals similar discourse. Regarding civilian casualties, he says, though '[w]ithout wanting to sound as if I lack compassion... such losses are inevitable' with the present level of technology. 'War is about winning' (Dec. 10 2001 p. 7). Ethico-political positions are subordinated to a supposed essence of what 'war' is 'about', and the pseudo-pragmatic nature of such discourse precludes such subordination signifying a lack of compassion. Other examples abound. For Jim Kontilis of Texas, 'Life is not fair. Neither is war'. Thus, for Kontilis, military tribunals are justified regardless of fairness. 'The terrorists need to understand the consequences of attacking the U.S.' (TIME, December 24 2001 p. 10). Affirmation of reified 'consequences' becomes an excuse for unfairness. Even for Nigar Suleman of Texas, an opponent of the tribunals, 'reality' is urging America 'to act without restraint'; the only difference is that he thinks Americans should resist this urge (TIME Dec. 24 2001 p. 10).

When one mistakes one's claims for direct expressions of reality, one avoids the need to provide evidence for them. So when the Taleban demand proof of bin Laden's involvement in September 11th as a condition for handing him over, Bush can reply: 'We know he's guilty' (Ceefax p. 105, 14-10-01). This "knowledge" does not, apparently, require proof, because it is directly contained within the mythical reading of the situation. Similarly, Blair refused to explain what a British person who supported the Taleban would have to do to be guilty of treason. Nevertheless, he claims that one would immediately recognise it if one saw it (Ceefax 107, 30-10-01). Politically, the immediate claim to knowledge of reality expresses itself in rhetoric which distances war from ordinary politics. For instance, Bush claims that the war on terrorism is a 'pledge' not a 'policy'. (Newsnight 11-03-02).

One characteristic of myth is its pseudo-concreteness. Despite its use of high-level abstractions, myth is, partly due to its emotional aspect, seen as directly expressing reality. Furthermore, since the added concepts - "freedom", "terror", etc. - may have an ethical dimension, myth can create an illusion that ethical decisions can be reduced to simple reactions to necessity. Supporters of war use phrases such as "doing what needs to be done", and "we couldn't just do nothing". War is portrayed as "unavoidable", "necessary", and "what works", and is seen as generating beneficial effects - without anyone producing the slightest argument or evidence as to whether such claims are either ethically or empirically valid. For instance, US official Colin Powell thinks it is 'obvious' that American attacks on Afghanistan will reduce the risk of further attacks on America (BBC News, 21-09-01). It is not obvious to everyone; opponents may point out that bombing Afghanistan will produce reprisals against America, or create a breeding-ground for further attacks in the future. But the operation of myth plants the appearance of obviousness directly in the descriptive concepts used to analyse the September 11th attacks and the war in Afghanistan, making it, in the minds of supporters of the war, all but invulnerable to argument. If their case seems obvious, supporters of the war can evade the need to defend it ethically; they can pose as puppets acting involuntarily in an eternal mythological drama, so that what they value is not the actions they pursue, nor the effects of these actions, but the submission to "necessity" involved in them. As Henry T. Nash, a former nuclear weapons targeter for the US Air Force, put it in an analysis of his motives: 'Crisis conditions made targeting seem imperative, which, in turn, made it morally acceptable' (in Protest and Survive p. 64). The manoeuvre involved in such perceptions is insidious: on the one hand, the assertion of necessity anathematises ethical argument as such; on the other hand, an extremely strong, quasi-perfectionist ethics is reintroduced in terms of moral credit attached to those who 'do what needs to be done' and condemnation of those who will not. This involves a self-contradiction on the level of meta-ethics: the statement 'I must do what is right on principle, regardless of practical effects' and the statement 'doing what is right is subordinate to practical necessities' are simultaneously affirmed.

Imperatives couched in mythical terms often arise without any attempt to argue for them. Take, for instance, Blair's claim: 'We cannot have a situation where if we know someone is a suspected terrorist we do not have the legal power to detain them indefinitely' (BBC News 30-10-01). He is proposing a contentious and controversial policy - yet he does not feel any need to explain why he feels this policy to be justified; simply asserting it to be intolerable is enough. Signifiers of conviction become a substitute for argument. Blair also does not explain who "we" are, who "know" and "cannot have". Similarly, when he made a speech trying to rally support for the war in Afghanistan, Blair relied not on arguments but on symbols and emotions, treated as identical: 'how we felt watching the jets fly into the towers', and even the 'menace' we supposedly saw in TV pictures of bin Laden's face (30-10-01). The assumption here is that war follows directly from such symbols, with no need for further argument.

Indeed, it is unclear whether the defence of war goes beyond a call to do something. In common with other abstract ideas, "action" can be separated from its particular contents and turned into a general idea, in such a way as to evade discussion of whether a particular action is justified or effective. Roughly speaking, "action" in general is presented mythically as a response to "threat" ot "terror" in general, so that "action" - any action - becomes a valid response to the threat. Take, for instance, the following remark from Tony Blair: 'Of course there will be some who worry, but I think most people say, "The answer is not to hide away from this but to get out there and sort it" ' (TIME, Dec. 10 2001 p. 43). Here, Blair is defending, not the specific actions he supports, but an abstract idea of action in general, counterposed to inaction in general. Similarly, Bush remarks 'It is time for action, not words' (Ceefax 109, 20-09-01), as if the two were separable and the former could exist without a discursive element, and as if a response at the level of action could occur immediately, without linguistic mediation. He later adds that 'inaction is not an option' (Newsnight 11-03-02), as if some transcendent principle of avoiding inaction can negate criticisms of particular actions, an assumption shared by a British ambassador on the same programme, who praised his 'real determination to end this problem' (11-03-02), as if determination has a value independently of justification and effectiveness. Claims that war is necessary due to the September 11th attacks, or that war is an appropriate response of 'action' in contrast to 'words', is based on a misperception of the passage from September 11th to war as natural and self-evident - including such clearly linguistic aspects as the distinction between terrorism and war. Crucially, the assumptions behind such a leap are either not mentioned or merely asserted; this is why supporters of the war find it difficult to go beyond insisting that there were no alternatives, that it would be 'impossible' to 'do nothing', etc. Presumably, this is linked to a belief that action in and of itself provides a solution to problems, probably linked to the identification of particular agents with Good and Evil and with a tendency to blame problems on supposedly external disruptive forces rather than structures of power or social relations. To 'act' becomes a mythical immuniser against vulnerability through which the myth of security can be reconstructed.

The myth of action as a good in itself recurs in the context of a discussion of possible attacks against Iraq. A U.S. spokesman tries repeatedly to justify attacks by asserting the primacy of a supposed duty to protect the American population from the risk of attack (Newsnight 11-03-02). Notwithstanding the xenophobic and racist implications of this standpoint, it is crucial to note that the effectiveness of war as a form of protection is taken for granted in such arguments, despite the fact that opponents had made clear the risks of angering public opinion in Arab countries. Thus, the argument has behind it an assumption that action reduces danger whereas inaction increases it, an asumption which is not openly defended and which is highly problematic.

Similar themes emerge in a particularly disturbing letter by Frank D'Angeli to TIME magazine, advocating nuclear strikes against states which 'sponsor terrorists' (TIME, December 3rd 2001). Here, the short-circuit involved in the pseudo-concreteness of myth is apparent in the way in which the reality of threat - of the fact that 'Americans wait in fear for airplane bombs, biological warfare and other threats' - to conclude that 'Enough is enough' - nuclear strikes should be used 'if one more U.S. citizen dies in a terrorist attack'. By way of explanation, he adds that thousands would die if terrorists had nuclear weapons. The pseudo-concrete is clearly a politically loaded category. The reality of the 'fear' of Americans falls within it, as does the decisiveness of a violent response. But the horrific effects of nuclear attack apparently do not - raising the suspicion that 'reality' in D'Angeli's mind has less to do with what it claims to express - the immediacy of 'blood and death', in Morrow's terms - than with his personal emotional state. Elaine Harris, in another letter, adds that 'No one will care if the military are accurately hitting targets in Afghanistan if people here at home are dying of anthrax'. She may be partly right - but the question is why. Clearly, perceptions of "reality" in such accounts have little or nothing to so with actual suffering; this is why concern about the human effects of war can be dismissed as "wishy-washy" while lesser suffering is felt as intolerable. Emotionally-based reactions are passed off as realistic and hard-headed because the "reality" of something is unconsciously taken to be a function of how a particular group feel about it.

Another letter in the same issue of TIME reveals the same confusion. Tony Gallo argues: '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'. He terms this 'our strategy for survival' (TIME, Dec. 3 2001 p. 11). Gallo's rhetoric involves presenting his own views through metaphors for solidity and strength, and his opponents as airy, weak and confused. This is achieved, however, by a string of mythical devices: a highly problematic analogy to germs (as if beliefs can be labelled undesirable as easily as diseases); the reduction of a "should" to an "is" in discussions of response, to make an ethical decision appear merely practical; the assertion of this "is", furthermore, as self-evident and unitary; and a reference to 'survival' which has very little basis (since there is hardly a risk Americans will be exterminated, which such language implies).

Crucially, the elevation of one's own emotions into absolute indicators of unquestionable realities is taken even further by Gallo. The 'disease' with which politicians are allegedly infected is an emotional one, 'sensitivity' and 'tentativeness'. (That these are stereotypically "feminine" sins is indicative of a deeper attachment to "masculine" values, suggesting a more general ethics of violence and self-denial). Furthermore, the effectiveness of war is asserted on the level of emotional responses: terrorism can directly be driven from the world through the emotional effects of American violence. Notwithstanding the dubious empirical status of the claim that fear can make a threat unthinkable (since one must be aware of what one fears in order to evade it; in Freudian terms, the repressed always returns), it contradicts Gallo's own reaction to threats, which is not to be terrorised into being unable to conceive of a violent response, but rather, to lash out.

The confusion of emotion with absolute knowledge of reality also arises in Blair's remarks on the incident in which a ship in transit from Africa was hijacked by British sailors while in international waters due to what turned out to be misinformation of a "terrorist" threat. Blair's discussions begin with the muted and tentative claim 'I believe...'. A little later, this becomes an appeal that people should 'understand'; finally, it transmutes into an imperative, involving the word 'must' (BBC News, 21-12-01). Therefore, a claim which is initially couched as little more than a personal opinion becomes, without any additional arguments being added, a definite and decisive claim. That such a transmutation can occur invisibly is testimony to how widespread the mythical confusion of emotion and absolute knowledge has become.

Because of the illusory certainty generated by myths, supporters of the war can confront opponents as if from a position of strength. The supporters are defending a course of action which is as bad as what it is supposed to prevent, which is failing to 'work' in terms of its own goals and is likely to be counter-productive; but, since they are certain, they can place the onus on opponents to provide a certain alternative. Since opponents cannot do this, we can be cast as indecisive, "wishy-washy" or unable to face up to "reality". I have attended one debate, for instance, where a pro-war panelist demanded from opponents an absolute guarantee that bin Laden did not have nuclear weapons (as if bombing an opponents who has these, risking hitting the warheads or provoking a nuclear strike, is a "realistic" policy). The trick is that they conceal the uncertainty of their own approach, setting up an unfair argument through misleading claims to directly express reality.

Another common myth is the idea that everything changed on September 11th. This idea, of a defining moment in which fixed certainties were shattered from the outside, so that nothing can be taken for granted any more, operates mythically as a way of legitimating breaches of previously accepted ethical or other standards. This myth, which implies a sudden explosion of an essential Evil into an otherwise certain reality, draws on previous myths establishing the certainty of existing norms and values. 'Nothing has ever been given or predictable', suggests Direct Action, 'except the fact that to bribe people to support war, you have to say something like "the gloves are off, forget yesterday, now is new and threatening, get ready to be violent and see violence" ' (Direct Action 21, Winter 2001-2). The world is not predictable even in periods of peace; furthermore, since September 11th happened, it follows that it was possible, so that the world was already uncertain and any sense of security was false. Therefore, what is connected to September 11th is not an increase in unpredictability, but rather, a myth which makes this event signify unpredictability as such. For this myth to be constructed, peace-time has to be re-imagined as something it wasn't: for instance, the idea that Americans suddenly started feeling unsafe on September 11th relies on the repression of the memory of how, before that time, they were frightened of 'street crime' instead of 'terrorism' (Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real). The danger with predictions - including predictions of unpredictability - is that those who predict can end up acting as if what they predict is true, and therefore making it come true in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The American state is acting as if everything changed on September 11th, and is in the process of creating a more violent world - but the myth of a sudden intrusion of unpredictability allows it to present this as an unintentional development resulting from mythical factors beyond its control. American and British military actions can be mystified as a restoration of balance and predictability, rather than as political actions. In particular, the extension of western control across the world can be portrayed as a restoration of predictability and therefore safety.

In common with several of the other myths used in the current war, the idea that September 11th introduced uncertainty rests on claims to exceptional status for westerners, while parading as a universal humanism. The "necessity" to respond to the September 11th attacks is often associated with their exceptional nature, as a defining moment. David Held, for instance, calls the attacks a 'defining moment for humankind' and an 'atrocity of extraordinary proportions' which 'ranks among the world's most heinous crimes'. However, such a nature can only be posited by abstracting these attacks from their historical context. It necessarily involves an ethnocentric and racist downplaying of other massacres and atrocities (in Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.)
which were not deemed to "change everything" or render a response "necessary". The attacks were exceptional only in where they occurred, not (unfortunately) in their extremity. The attacks lead to very different conclusions if their mythical status as exceptional is debunked: 'look, look hard, this is what men of violence do to cities, what British and American planes did to Basra in Iraq, what British and American planes did to parts of Belgrade. When I spout on about missiles slamming into the side of escaping Kosovan women, children and pensioners packed into a train, I mean it' (Adam Porter of Year Zero, cited in SchNews).

Well before September 11th, EP Thompson spotted tendencies in mainstream American culture to treat war mythically. As he puts it, there is a "dangerous tendency to craziness in the American view of the world. Protected geographically by two huge oceans, on a continent that has never been invaded or subjected to an aerial attack, the people suffer from a diminished reality-sense in which wars are always something which happens "over there". These illusions are fed with massive media propaganda, and are excited by electoral humbug, until crowds can shout (of the Iranians) 'Nuke them!' without any notion of what the words mean' (Protest and Survive p. 43). If anything changed on September 11th, it was this sense of immunity - though the American response seems above all to be about restoring, rather than reassessing, this sense (cf. Zizek). The perception of war through TV images certainly seems to reinforce tendencies to see war in mythical terms. Philip Paine, an Essex school inspector, explains why some children seemed unconcerned at the risk of nuclear war in these terms. 'Perhaps they confuse violence and death with its images on television, which does not hurt and can easily be enjoyed', he speculates (Defended to Death p. 19). When Lance Morrow says that 'war is real', it is by no means clear that it is the lived actuality of war - as opposed to the myth of 'reality' contained in the immediacy of media coverage (cf. Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Happen), which he had in mind.

Myths can also conceal the human and historical origins of situations, by describing such situations in terms which are vague and do not suggest an origin. Barthes notes how terms such as "laceration" were used in this way during the Algerian war of independence. By referring to the "lacerations" Algeria was suffering, commentators could avoid discussing the origins of Algerians' suffering in French military activity (Eiffel Tower, pp. 103-4). Similar terms, such as "plight" and "humanitarian catastrophe", are used to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. The implication is that ordinary Afghans are victims of a mythological essential Evil, or of nature, rather than of western (and Afghan) military activity.

In some circumstances, myths involve a sign substituting for what it is supposed to express. For instance, serious consideration of the effects of war may not be a part of the planning carried out by politicians, generals and bureaucrats; but they can create the illusion that it is by appropriating signs of seriousness, such as serious dress, a determined tone of voice, and words emphasising importance and authenticity.

Myth is, to a great extent, an issue of preaching to the converted. Because it is asserted and pseudo-self-evident, it is unlikely to convince anyone not already sympathetic to it. It does, however, serve an important function. It is what Ernesto Laclau terms an "articulation": it attaches existing beliefs (in this case, myths such as the idea of the immediate reality of particular concepts) to a contingent situation, in such a way as to mobilise support or head off dissent among those who hold the respective myths. To reach this group, however, the myths have to all but monopolise media space, and critics have to be excluded, silenced or discredited.

It is worth noting that, while mythical ideas often appear to their advocates to be "clear", "hard", "tough", certain and orderly, and although this is a central basis for attacks on opponents, this appearance has more to do with the emotional intensity with which the views are held than with the actual operation of the conceptual categories they construct. Often, the precise difference between (for instance) a soldier and a terrorist is unclear in terms of how a particular individual could ensure that they are treated as one instead of the other. The division is "clear" only in the sense that both categories are asserted as absolutes, as absolutely determinate and so on. The indeterminacy which would otherwise be present in language is not eliminated; it is displaced onto the process of assigning particular instances into the different categories. However, the operation of myth itself - its claim to immediacy and self-evidence - precludes this being done through a process involving contestation, argument or consideration of partial evidence. Thus, those who think through mythical categories become manipulable: they are dependent for their perceptions on whoever can control the flow of images in such a way as to determine (for instance) who is a soldier and who is a terrorist.

Myth may well create the imagined sense of 'shared' beliefs which makes possible other forms of discourse, such as boo-words and hurrah-words. Myth creates a sense of an obvious and shared reality which, however, cannot be explained to those who do not have direct access to it. It fuses into those parts of everyday discourse which deny the possibility of their own contestation, creating an illusory sense of a collective "we". David Held, for instance, refers to 'our founding principles', without giving the slightest indication of who 'we' are. Clearly this 'we' is exclusive, since 'the terrorists' fall outside it. Nevertheless, he claims that the principles he espouses are foundational. If the principles were genuinely foundational, they could not also be imposed, since this would imply a deeper foundation (in power) on which they rest. However, it is hard to see them as anything but an imposition if they rest on a division between 'we' who are inside them and 'they' who are excluded.


Myths are vulnerable if exposed to critique or even if their basic structure is made visible; their plausibility rests on their appearance of obviousness, and breaks down if this is undermined. Therefore, they must be sustained in such a way that opposition to them is concealed without this concealment being visible. As a result, overt censorship and misrepresentation is combined with a limited tolerance for dissent, which does not extend beyond a formal right to speak. In media discussions, opposition to the war is given a degree of legitimacy - but only after being reduced in status from a set of truth-claims which could potentially undermine myths to an "opinion" held by some people regardless of truth. In the context of what Herbert Marcuse terms "repressive tolerance", opposing analyses are given a formal but not an actual voice: we are allowed to speak, but never heard, because our claims are treated as an option among many rather than as a set of claims to be answered (or else, adopted). Furthermore, in the context of war, the framework of tolerance which permits expression of "opinions" is often itself mythically identified with the particular set of myths involved in the war (eg. the "free world"); in this context, opposition - already reduced to the status of "opinion" - is assumed to be in contradiction with the framework which makes it possible, which allows it to be easily dismissed regardless of the content of its claims. Further, this confusion of tolerance with core myths leads to a tendency to make the right to express an opinion conditional on acceptance of core myths. Certainly, myth contains the implication that, since particular perceptions are self-evident and do not need to be defended by arguments, debate and opposition are unnecessary - at best an indulgence, if not a danger. Myth therefore contains strong anti-democratic tendencies, clearly shown in the way Parliament has been reduced to a platform for government announcements, and the way supporters of the war have responded to criticisms. (Tendencies to rely on myths and reduce space for criticism of them were prevalent within the Blairite political tendency even prior to September 11th, since this political group relies perpetually on pseudo-concrete 'consensus' claims).

Though the British government still nominally recognises the right to criticise the war (against the wishes, apparently, of some backbenchers), they clearly do not take criticism seriously and do not try to answer the actual claims opponents make. Charles Clarke, for instance, patronisingly tells Paxman he has made an 'entertaining point' on one show, before explaining how the Taleban would not have let him do so (Newsnight 30-10-01). The choice of word - not valid, or difficult, but entertaining - shows the attitude Clarke has towards debate. This is not a necessary exercise in proving one's position to be legitimate, but simply a form of entertainment, similar to a game-show and no more important. Similarly, for war supporter "PL" of Manchester, if others disagree with his view of the war, they must simply be ignorant of the facts (Oracle letters, p. 147, 28-10-01). In a similar vein, David Blunkett in parliament accused the Conservatives of not showing 'seriousness' when they opposed parts of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (Ceefax 109, 09-12-01). Whereas serious debate involves the possibility of being proven wrong, the mode of argument adopted by many supporters of the war involves an evasion of any possibility of being shown to be wrong: opponents' arguments are simply not accorded the status that would allow them to achieve this.

Lance Morrow, whose faith in the power of war to induce clarity is even greater, shares Charles Clarke's view that opposition cannot be more than gameplay. He differs only in following the analysis through further. For Morrow, the pseudo-obviousness provided by myth leads to an intolerance for dissent. 'Anyone who does not loathe the people who did these things [i.e. the attacks], and the people who cheer them on, is too philosophical for decent company' (TIME Sept. 11 supplement). Attempts to understand the motives of attackers, or analyse their claims, involve a 'corruptly thoughtless relativism', and are evidence of a 'messily tolerant organism'. Morrow, the user of tautology, turns out to be as anti-intellectual as Barthes claims this particular device to be. The biological analogy is informative, because what is operating here is a replacement of argument with 'gut' reaction. Myth, followed through, leads inexorably to repression - even though Morrow's views may be even more 'messy' and 'relative' than those of his opponents.

The same anti-intellectual and anti-communicative tendencies arise, paradoxically, in the comments of Agnes Heller, herself a professional academic whose political philosophy is based around a supposed celebration of rationality, tolerance and freedom, and who, even now, calls on us to think with our heads (13). For Heller, some responses to September 11th have been 'over-sophisticated' (1), whatever that means. She treats agreement with her own reactions to the attacks as a prerequisite for discussion (1) and repeatedly conflates all her opponents into a small number of derogatory categories (3, 4, 11, 12). Again, tolerance becomes conditional on acceptance of a set of core dogmas constructed around the mythology of September 11th.


One of the most important myths used in relation to wars is the myth of the "Enemy". In common with other mythical figures, the "enemy" is dehistoricised by the process of construction of myth. Actual "enemy" groups arise in particular contexts, but myth performs its usual second-order operation to reduce such groups to an abstract structural category. As a result, concepts with moral loadings, which carry implications of "good" and "bad", tend to be stripped of their meaning and turned into attributes of the two sides (the collective self and the Enemy). A more extensive version of the same logic operates in totalitarianisms. Former U.S. official John Foster Dulles specifically spoke about creating a wartime psychology by inventing a threat from without, a process which, according to E.P. Thompson, relies on 'closing up people's minds and mouths' (Protest and Survive p. 46-7).

Marcuse expresses the role of the figure of the Enemy in closing down speech in the following passage. 'Political linguistics: armour of the establishment. If the radical opposition develops its own language, it protests spontaneously, subconsciously, against one of the most effective "secret weapons" of domination and defamation. The language of the prevailing Law and Order, validated by the courts and the police, is not only the voice but the deed of suppression. This language not only defines and condemns the Enemy, it also creates him; and this creation is not the Enemy as he really is but rather as he must be in order to perform his function for the Establishment. The end now does justify the means: actions cease to be crimes if they serve to preserve and extend the "Free World". Conversely, what the Enemy does, is evil; what he says - propaganda... [T]he defence of his own land, his own hut, his own naked life is a crime' (Essay on Liberation p. 78). The Enemy is encoded as unclean; as an absence of order, meaning and morals, rather than a different set of these; as contagious; and as threatening to a self-image portrayed as the opposite of these, i.e. as clean, healthy and orderly (p. 78).

Marcuse exposes several important aspects of the idea of the Enemy. The Enemy is a tautological construct: the category appears to be an empirical definition based on a standard of assessment, but the standard which defines the Enemy as such is identified with the collective self (eg. "our nation"). Further, the Enemy is condemned for breaching ethical standards identified as absolutes, at the same time that the collective self breaches the same standards. The use of a dual or contradictory language applying one standard to the Enemy and another to the collective self allows the figure of the Enemy to be incorporated into everyday speech, without the need for any specific differences between "Them" and "Us". Standards of right and wrong, good and evil, realism and extremism, civilisation and barbarism, and so on, are stripped of specific content and become identified with the two mythical figures, the Enemy and the collective self. This tends to preclude in advance any critique of the actions of the collective self or any possibility of defence of the actions of the Enemy. For instance, the process of construction of myth replaces concepts of freedom with a mythical Free World, which need have no particular attributes to be described as such (the mythical version of the concept of freedom is projected into the collective self as a pseudo-concrete second-order meaning). The construction of such polarities is an example of a strong mythical binary or dualism - what could be called the "Enemy Binary".

Jerome D. Frank adds several other characteristics, which are inherent in the mythical figure of the Enemy but which are assumed in each case to be characteristics of some particular group of people. "No matter who the enemy is or who we are, the enemy tends to be perceived as intellectually inferior but possessed of an animal cunning which enables him easily to outwit us. The enemy is seen as cruel, treacherous, and bent on aggression. Our side is seen as intellectually superior but easily victimised, peace-loving, honourable and fighting only in self-defense... It is remarkable how easily the stereotype of the enemy can be shifted from one group to another'. For instance, the respective positions of Germany and Russia in relation to American nationalism were reversed at the end of World War II, without any apparent psychological dislocation (Jerome D. Frank, "The Language of the Cold War", in Neil Postman, Charles Weingartner and Terence P. Moran (eds.), Language in America, p. 179). This ease of transference offers evidence that the mythical assumptions lurking behind the Enemy Binary are relatively fixed, and have little or nothing to do with particular groups labelled "enemies" at a particular time.

The image that the Enemy has "animal cunning" easily slips over into dehumanisation. It is almost certainly connected to the mythical perception that war - and the enemy binary it carries - are directly present in the real world, whereas other discourses are mediated. ("Asymmetry is a concept, war is blood"; "enemies are enemies" - see above). Several of the other characteristics listed by Frank are extensions of the general tendency to identify good traits with the collective self and bad traits with the Enemy. Since Frank's essay was written thirty years before September 11th, it is disturbing how many of his claims are borne out by the present crisis (for instance, Lance Morrow's idea of America as 'messily tolerant' and hence easily victimised). Some aspects of the image of the Enemy are self-fulfilling. For instance, treating someone as untrustworthy can easily make them untrustworthy, since one's own actions may seem to make oneself undeserving of trust.

How is the image of the Enemy formed? The mythical structure of collective self versus Enemy appears to precede its particular articulations, suggesting psychological roots. One possibility is that the Enemy is a projection outwards of something internal which is disliked or repressed. Another is that the Enemy is how others are perceived once one's sense of belonging is restricted to an immediate or mythical set of affiliations (Thompson). Or maybe the us/them division is constructed simply by its frequency. It is normalised by repeated use and made to seem banal by being encoded into news and other media, so that war simply mobilises pre-existing assumptions (Billig, cited in Stuart Allen, News Culture p. 172). Whichever, E.P. Thompson is right when he claims that '[w]e can kill thousands because we have first learned to call them "the enemy" ' (Protest and Survive p. 51) - except, perhaps, that some of 'us' are beyond the 'we'. Once the image of Us and Them is created, killing thousands of Them becomes preferable to losing a few of Us, as in the case of Hiroshima. This logic is clearly shown in the letters advocating nuclear strikes and the like if even one more American dies. Worse still, enemy deaths can become a kind of scoring rate, as they did in Vietnam. Through the Enemy Binary, humane objections to mass killing become restricted to the collective self. 'What is "unthinkable" is that nuclear war [or, I would add, September 11th] could happen to us. So long as we can suppose that this war will be inflicted only on them, the thought comes easily. And if we can also suppose that this war will save "our" lives, or serve our self-interest... the act can easily follow. We think others to death as we define them as Other: the enemy... [The mind] is the ultimate doomsday weapon - it is out of human minds that the missiles... come' (Protest and Survive p. 52). The Enemy Binary involves 'preparing our minds as a launching pad for exterminating thoughts' (52). And, Thompson adds, it is no excuse that the other side are 'thinking us to death' as well (52).

The Enemy Binary is dangerous because, like all myths, it posits its own self-evidence. Thus, the collective self and its supporters are relieved of any need to justify themselves. Further, anyone who finds her or himself excluded from the collective self is pathologised and invalidated as a result. In the aftermath of September 11th, David Blunkett urged ethnic minorities to adhere to 'British norms', and Blair called for 'social cohesion' and a 'sense of belonging' (Ceefax 110-11, 09-12-01) - remarks addressed mainly to people of Asian origin, which attracted criticism even from pro-Blairite community leaders. The pseudo-self-evidence of a mythical construct is apparent in Blunkett's failure to define the vague term "British norms", as well as in the implicit process of blaming people for the fact that they do not feel a sense of belonging. In a mythical binary, a lack of belonging to a collective self is necessarily a personal flaw, a conclusion which is far less tenable when considered empirically or historically.

The pseudo-self-evidence of the Enemy Binary also appears in general justifications of attacks, and resentment against demands that evidence be provided against those accused of being "enemies". In the present war, in contrast to most earlier ones, politicians are careful, in word at least, to avoid dubbing entire populations as "enemies"; this is not, we are told, a war against the people of Afghanistan, or against Islam. However, once someone is suspected of falling into an enemy group, the mythical illusion of self-evidence tends to remove the need for any more than suspicion. The present situation in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appears pre-planned, with the Enemy Binary a core focus. America has introduced fascistic procedures for military tribunals which can be held in secret, with suspects having no right to hear charges or evidence, to be represented by lawyers, or to appeal. The official excuse for this is that terrorists do not deserve the protection of the U.S. Constitution (TIME November 26th 2001 p. 56-9). Such arguments demonstrate how the Enemy Binary involves an illusion of self-evidence, because the supposed purpose of fair trials is to prove whether someone is a "terrorist", or otherwise guilty, in the first place. The removal of a need for proof clearly suggests a myth of self-evidence in which anyone who fits the mythical image of a "terrorist" is assumed to be one. This is particularly ironic since the Constitution itself is supposed to be 'self-evident'. One can also compare such discourse to actual actions, such as the case of Sheikh Abu Qataba, a refugee in Britain of eight years standing who had his assets frozen because Jordan declared him a terrorist (Ceefax p. 110, 19-10-01).

Similar assumptions are implicit in British laws which ban people from producing the conditions for terrorism or having links to members of terrorist groups (Socialist Campaign Group News, Dec. 2001 p. 7; Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Dec. 01/Jan. 02 p. 2), without defining either "conditions" ot "links". Here, another aspect of the danger involved in the Enemy Binary emerges. Since the myth assumes exclusivity - an exclusivity affirmed by the "either with us or against us" rhetoric used by politicians in both in America and Britain - it is assumed that nothing falls beyond the two categories, and anyone who does not fall into the collective self must be part of the Enemy. The dangers of this tendency are clearly shown by the creeping spread of McCarthyism in post-war America, where the invalidation of "communists" slipped across onto a range of other people whose fit with the myth of Americanness was insufficient.

Slippages of this type occur in many responses to the September 11th attacks. David Held wants to go after those who, as he puts it, 'protect and nurture' terrorism. A similar vocabulary of otherwise irregular words, such as "harbouring", "abetting" and "giving sustenance", have appeared in western leaders' vocabularies, expressing a vague sense that others who do not accept their own binary must be implicitly Enemies. For instance, for Bush, in contrast to the usual legal use of such irregular terms, states that '[b]y aiding and abetting murder the Taleban is committing murder' (Oracle p. 303, 21-09-01). In this way, an illusory clarity is created by labelling anything indeterminable or ambiguous as Enemy and thereby locating it within existing conceptualisations. There is a danger that, if effective, such a closure of socio-linguistic space could produce a totalitarian closure of both language and life around the standard of agreement or disagreement with the official ideology. In practice, the result is a gradual expansion of action against ever-widening circles of enemies. Bush wants anyone who refuses to hand over suspected terrorists 'treated as an enemy themselves' (Ceefax p. 113, 14-09-01), and adds that there is 'no middle ground when it comes to freedom and terror' (Ceefax 112, 01-02-02). A British MP claimed that anyone who doesn't support the war is an enemy (BBC News 14-09-01) and Tony Blair wants to make sure that those who 'don't play by the rules' can 'no longer play the system' (Ceefax p. 107, 02-10-01). Paula Marnitz of Cape Town condemns protesters, not because of substantive arguments, but because '[t]errorists rely on demonstrators to sow confusion and dissention' (TIME December 17th 2001 p. 8), i.e. because protesters undermine the false clarity constructed by warmongers and create an uncertainty that, from the standpoint of this clarity, can only be seen as helping the Enemy (since it undermines the Enemy Binary). US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accuses opponents of racial dragnets of 'aiding and abetting' terrorists in front of the U.S. Congress (News and Letters January 2002 p. 10). Similarly, for Carlos J. Dominguez of Miami Beach, 'If 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' (TIME letters, October 22 2001, p. 13). Presumably, Dominguez assumes that rejection of the collective self implies affinity with an Enemy which in practice exhibits similar repressive tendencies. The same assumptions lurk behind the accusation by Blairite MP's that George Galloway is a mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime because he opposes sanctions and war against Iraq (Ceefax 111, 06-03-02). The slippage goes even further in a definition provided by the Spanish Presidency of the E.U. which wishes to attack 'organisations taking advantage of their lawful status to aid and abet the achievements of terrorist groups' aims' (cited Statewatch Jan-Feb. 2002, 12:1, p. 17). In other words, even groups which use means which are legal should be considered enemies if they happen to share the same goals as a 'terrorist' group. Such is the pseudo-clarity created by the Enemy Binary.

Anyone who doesn't share the beliefs, myths and psychological alignments of the pro-war camp is subjected, not to persuasion, but to labelling, and this process of labelling renders the binary tautological: the binary, it is implied, must be accurate, because only enemies question it (or because questioning it helps the Enemy). The pseudo-clarity introduced by the Enemy Binary is psychologically reassuring; the myth of an uncertain world can be further refined through the identification of uncertainty as a product of the Enemy, while the sense of belonging to a collective self produces a sense of insulation from measures used against those who are supposedly self-evidently enemies. The binary generates false polarities such as "Better dead than Red" (Defended to Death, p. 29). Slogans of opponents of the war can easily be appropriated and turned back against us, as anathemas. In the 1980s, the media presented 'unilateralism' as a kind of cult (p. 30). One can compare in the present conflict the simplification of the concept of jihad by the western media, to reinforce images of enmity. In one case, News 24 even referred to protesters 'bent on jihad', using the term as a synonym for 'chaos' or 'violence'.

It is also inconsistent, since it would tend to render almost everyone guilty if applied to the actions of the west itself, undermining the image of innocent people under attack. The barbarism of such myths is apparent once one begins applying them in reverse. It would not be hard to convict people who worked in the World Trade Centre of "aiding and abetting", "giving sustenance to", "creating the conditions for" or having "links" with people involved in American policies in the Middle East, which would be enough to make them legitimate targets of attack under America's own logic. Indeed, bin Laden's arguments suggest something of this kind may have been the motive behind the September 11th attacks. Thus, it becomes apparent that the logic involved in such mythologies cannot be applied consistently. Its problematic status is increased by the untenable character of the binaries it involves. The fact that bin Laden was trained by the C.I.A. undermines the idea of a simple us/them division; as in the case of the Germans and the Russians, the category of Enemy evades its own previous articulations.

The false clarity produced by the binary and myths more generally, the removal of ethical imperatives through the identification of ethical language with particular poles of the binary, and the general resistance to argument involved in myth produce a dangerously dismissive attitude to anything not reducible to the binary, especially if it places constraints on the collective self. For instance, a NATO spokesperson referred to humanitarian concerns, including the Geneva convention, as 'blunting... objectives' (?Newsnight, ?23-11-01). Even apparently empirical terms, such as 'saving lives', become simple synonyms for the collective self and the Enemy, and escape analytical scrutiny. One advocate of I.D. cards, for instance, argued that they were worth whatever they cost if they saved so much as one life from terrorists (Panorama, 30-09-01, BBC1). This ignores the possibility that the cards could indirectly put lives at risk through increased state power, as well as the possibility that the same money (an estimated œ1 billion) could save more lives if spent on, for instance, healthcare or social services.

Since the structure of the Enemy Binary can be reproduced across many situations (including fictional ones), other instances of the use of the binary can be mobilised in support of present uses. The labelling of any enemy of the western powers as another Hitler is perhaps the most common, but there are others. For instance, during the current war, Jack Straw referred to so-called 'anti-Americanism' as 'the anti-Semitism of the left' (cited Labour Left Briefing, November 2001 p. 23), implicitly identifying opponents of the war with fascists. Jack Straw's claim - which is, as with most myths, asserted rather than demonstrated - that there are 'no other choices between appeasement and military action' (cited Labour Left Briefing, November 2001 p. 23) repeats the implicit appeal to images transferred from World War II. Similarly, Bush terms opponents an 'axis of evil' (News 24, 31-01-02), while his own side are 'allies'. The use of "axis" is particularly problematic, since the conflation of enemies (in this case, Iran, Iraq and North Korea) is a product of western perceptions, and, in contrast to the "axis" forces in the world wars, the three states have no alliances and are often hostile.

In other cases, the imagery is from films, usually action films and westerns (in which particular fictively effective but factually inaccurate figures of "terrorists", "outlaws", "bad guys" and how to beat them are developed and acted out). For instance, in one speech George W. Bush made explicit reference to 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' posters in relation to the search for bin Laden (Radio 5 News, 17-09-01). In both the historical and cinematic examples, the appropriation of a pre-established mythology provides an illusory certainty. The failure of appeasement of Hitler, for instance, is taken as evidence that no Enemy can be appeased, a perception which provides reassurance in the face of possible alternatives to war. The problem is even worse in the case of cinematic narratives, where film genres operate around repeated and predictable narrative structures with recurring characters (eg. the maverick hero), a predictable response to Evil (i.e. violent intervention by the hero) and a predictable end (victory for the hero). While relatively harmless within the cinematic universe itself, such narratives, when applied in politics, transplant a number of unfounded assumptions, most notably the two-camp (good guys/bad guys) model and the implication that violent intervention is both justified and effective.

Cinematic references can backfire, however. The pro-war lobby in America have taken to using the slogan 'America Strikes Back', apparently in blissful ignorance that the Empire (in The Empire Strikes Back) were the bad guys (Year Zero 7 p. 20). Allied forces in the Gulf War were also described in terms drawn from Star Wars, as 'Like Luke Skywalker zapping Darth Vader' (cited in Stuart Allen, News Culture p. 179. Star Wars, however, does not precisely fit the Enemy Binary. When Luke strikes down Vader in the cave, it is his own face he sees beneath the mask.

Of Snakes and Foxholes: Dehumanising the Enemy

The construction of the Enemy is implicitly dehumanising. Being 'human' is a positively-valued term, and therefore one which is implicitly denied the Enemy in the Enemy Binary. Furthermore, since the Enemy is taken to express Evil at a primordial level, it is unsurprising that enemies are often portrayed as primitive and primordially dangerous. Sometimes, such discourse is taken further, into overt dehumanisation. While comparing someone with an animal is not necessarily derogatory (eg. in some systems of myths in pre-literate societies), some such comparisons - especially to types of animal associated mythically with undesirable characteristics or with species seen as pests - can lead to people's claim to humane treatment, while still formally recognised in official ideology, being overridden. Enemies can also be portrayed as beyond reason, as evil or mad, and as different to such a degree that they require their own labels. Whichever version of dehumanisation is used, it is necessary to train troops to kill. As Marcuse puts it, troops are... desensitized to see and hear and smell in the Other not a human being but a beast' (Essay on Liberation p. 78). Dehumanisation is necessary to permit actions which would otherwise be unethical or otherwise undesirable (eg. "unacceptable" or unjustified) in terms of official standards, and to cover the contradiction between declared alignments (eg. to the Free World) and actual activities.

Dehumanisation and anathematisation of "enemy" groups is a dangerous game, because it risks alienating anti-racists and bolstering opponents of war. Faced with the risk that media images of dying children or distraught refugees will clash with images of entire nations as evil and guilty, politicians are more likely today to try to portray their wars as precise and targeted, confining the image of the Enemy to identifiable military and political forces. In the present war, the situation is further complicated by the need to keep Arab and Muslim regimes onside, which restrains the possibility of official, public mobilisation of the wealth of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes and prejudices built up over the years. However, governments send out subtle hints (for instance, about "civilisation" and "barbarism") which can easily be left for audiences, or the tabloid press, to interpret. When Berlusconi spoke of the present conflict in terms of a war of civilisations and used rhetoric about western superiority, he may well have been expressing what other leaders believe but dare not say.

In previous conflicts, dehumanisation and anathematisation were a central part of the ideology of the war. Former air force targeter Henry T. Nash, who has written an article analysing his own motives, reports that racist prejudices were a kind of fall-back position which insulated targeters from guilt and criticism. During the Vietnam War, terms of racial abuse such as "slant" and "gook" were in common circulation, and the Vietnamese were seen as not fully human. 'Since gooks were only half-human, their eradication was "no big deal" ', he recalls - especially since they were thought to care less than Americans do about temporal life, due to their religious beliefs (in Protest and Survive p. 70). Journalists in Vietnam similarly reported being made to feel that saying that Vietnamese people are human was a personal opinion falling beyond official 'objectivity' (Allen, News Culture p. 173).

It seems likely that the same kind of discourse is still operative among westerners fighting for America and Britain in Afghanistan, and probably also among their supporters, though there are also those, such as the Economist, who seem to take the image of a "clean war" absolutely seriously. This magazine has apparently reported that 'There has been no "humanitarian disaster" ' and that American 'technology and discipline have proved good enough to keep the numbers [of deaths] low' (cited in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! February/March 2002 p. 1). Clearly, attempts to portray the war as "clean" are in contradiction with attempts to portray deaths as "no big deal", although the two approaches are politically mutually supporting. Probably, this is a case where attempts to win support or acquiescence from different groups requires a graded strategy of propaganda. Pressure on journalists not to report the human effects of war have recurred.

Almost certainly, mechanisms of dehumanisation and anathematisation remain operative in the present crisis, albeit concealed for political reasons and relying on a decoding by sympathetic audiences. Images of the Enemy as unclean (eg. associated with anthrax), mad ('Mad Mullahs'), disorderly ('failed state') and contagious (capable of 'brainwashing') have occurred frequently. TIME magazine portrayed captured and killed al-Qaeda leaders in the form of a "scorecard", implying their lives are no more important than goals scored, and that a high "kill rate" is good.

Other analogies, arguments and terms suggest the persistence of imagery associated with dehumanisation. Magnus Ransdorp, a university terrorism specialist, says of al-Qaeda: 'The snake has already laid a thousand eggs which are hatching and slipping off in all directions' (TIME Jan. 21 2002 p. 21). BBC News also refers to 'smoking out' bin Laden from 'foxholes' (BBC News, 15-09-01), while U.S. troops have taken to calling al-Qaeda supply lines 'rat lines' (TIME, March 25 2002 p. 41). It doesn't matter if the west uses cluster bombs because Afghanistan is full of landmines anyway, argues Labour MP Hilary Benn (Question Time, 25-10-01). One supporter of the war tries to justify it by claiming that Afghans are warlike people anyway (It's Your Shout, ITV, 28-10-01). Al-Qaeda are 'parasites', claims Bush (Ceefax 106, 11-03-02). A more subtle dehumanisation occurs in the reduction of members of movements to labels: American officials have taken to referring to individuals who fight for al-Qaeda by the organisation's name (in phrases of the kind 'twelve al-Qaeda were killed') - a meaningless use of the term, since it means "the base". Such distortions have the effect of removing human and other elements from discussions and turning individuals into ideological categories. This tendency is reinforced by statements such as Donal Rumsfeld's claim that US troops are 'killing Taleban that won't surrender and al-Qaeda that are escaping' (Ceefax 106, 16-11-01). The use of "that" instead of "who" implies the status of an object rather than a person. The dehumanisation Nash reports resulting from mis-perceptions of Buddhism in Vietnam recurs in the arguments of a Question Time panellist who tries to justify Camp X-Ray on the basis that the inmates are 'tough men' and that shackles and cages are 'nothing' to people with strong beliefs (31-01-02). This argument implicitly assumes the guilt of the captives and is also self-contradictory, since the same panellist assumes that the prisoners will give information useful for protecting the west - hardly a viable standpoint if the methods used against them are 'nothing' to them. Similarly, TIME terms the camp 'better than you'd find in a cave at Tora Bora' and jokes about the lack of a 'putting green' and prisoners being spared the 'cruel' treatment of being 'forced... to listen to Fidel Castro's long-winded speeches' (TIME January 28th 2002 p. 31-2).

A related but distinct device, more openly practiced by western leaders, involves the portrayal of enemies as irrational. Formulations which imply that enemies are beyond rationality play important roles in pro-war discourse, since they make negotiation unthinkable and also stop those who accept them from considering issues of causality and motive. Regardless of ethical issues, the cause of the September 11th attacks almost certainty includes American foreign policy, but this is perpetually downplayed in official and media discourse. Instead, formulae involving the concepts of "evil" and "madness" proliferate. For instance, Bush refers to 'evildoers and those who house them' (Radio 5 News, 17-09-01) and Latvia denounced an opponent of the war as 'clearly mentally ill' (Ceefax 114, 09-11-01). Another variant of the same phenomenon occurs when it is implied that enemies are beyond discourse entirely (a variant which reinforces the "war is real" myth). For instance, Bernard Cassen of ATTAC states that 'No one is in favour of bin Laden or terrorists' (TIME November 12 2001 p. 76). This is patently inaccurate, since, if it were true, they would not exist. Such statements involve a withdrawal of empirical recognition of existence which is clearly illogical, suggesting that undesirability precludes existence despite using the same undesirability to found arguments for a response. 'Bin Laden and terrorists' are allowed enough of an existence to be bombed, but not enough to be considered agents with conceptions of the world - an inconsistency which slips across into dehumanisation.

One side-effect of dehumanisation is that enemies' abilities and strategies come to appear more unpredictable than they are. Enemies can end up being attributed almost superhuman powers, a perception which is useful for politicians seeking to justify repression. For instance, some politicians tried to get TV stations to stop showing bin Laden's public statements, on the flimsy pretext that they might contain hidden messages (Oracle 307, 11-10-01).


Another part of the mythical armoury of warmongers is deagentification. This device operates to shield actions by people from ethical or practical debate, by portraying them as if they are not actions by agents. Variants on this technique are manifold, ranging from the use of passive voice (eg. "twelve people were killed") to the attribution of agency to objects, locations (eg. "the streets erupted") or situations (eg. "violence broke out"). Deagentification can be used to deny a voice to opponents, but it is usually used to avoid criticism of particular actions.

Deagentification has been widespread in the present crisis. When asked about possible deaths of Afghan civilians, Jack Straw states that the 'situation' is unbearable (Ceefax 111, 17-09-01), as if the 'situation' rather than his government were acting. Hilary Benn similarly tries to defend the killing of Afghans, despite his having 'no quarrel' with the Afghan people, by talking as if war were a natural disaster which simply happens, without human agency being involved: the 'nature of war' is that it is 'uncertain' and 'people get hurt' (Question Time, 25-10-01). Benn is here using deagentifying formulations to cover a contradiction in his own ethics. People do not merely "get hurt" in war; somebody hurts them. Recognising the role of an agent brings the fact that British forces are harming "the Afghan people" into stark contradiction with Benn's claim to have "no quarrel" with them. Similarly, Peter Hain, defending what appears to have been a massacre of prisoners at the fortress of Qala-i-Jhangi near Mazar-i-Sharif against calls for an inquiry, states that 'nasty things happen in war' (Ceefax 104, 29-11-01) - as if 'things' just 'happen'. Actually, nasty things only happen in war because someone makes them happen; Hain's formulation, like Benn's, attaches an almost magical character to the word "war". A similar discursive form is involved in attempts to legitimate violence by state repressive apparatuses. For instance, during the present crisis, journalists reported that the army 'did have to' shoot at protesters in Pakistan (ITV News 12-10-01), when it violently attacked roadblocks.

Another variant of deagentification involves projecting one's own actions onto others, so that acts committed by (for instance) military forces can be treated as if they emanated from the Enemy. PL of Manchester (Oracle letters, p. 147, 28-10-01) denies that the war in Afghanistan is 'Bush's war'; he claims that it is 'everybody's war' because al-Qaeda target everybody. This denial of agency to western leaders implicitly excuses any actions they engage in, by blaming everything on al-Qaeda, a priori. TIME magazine makes similar remarks in a discussion of the impact of the current crisis on US immigration policy. Reporting on a crackdown on illegal immigration from Mexico which has led to some Mexicans dying because they tried to cross deserts instead of other crossings, TIME states: 'Mexico wasn't one of Osama bin Laden's targets, but it got hit anyway' (March 11th 2002 p. 36). That it was not one of bin Laden's targets is hardly a paradox, since the crackdown originates from American politicians and not from al-Qaeda. Such policies are implicitly defended from critique by the projection of blame onto bin Laden. A stronger version of the same discourse arises in bin Laden's pronouncements. For instance, killing the other side's innocents because they kill one's own side's innocents is, he states, 'permissible in Islamic law and logic' (ITV News, 01-02-02). How is this piece of logic derived? '[T]he U.S. is responsible for any reaction, because it extended its war to civilians' (What Next? 21, p. 9). 'With this kind of behaviour, the U.S. government is hurting itself, hurting Muslims and hurting the American people' (10). In other words, because the U.S. attacked civilians, reprisals are deagentified and blamed on the U.S. Deagentification is a recipe for evading consistent ethical standards, to such an extent that a blatantly self-contradictory position - that killing innocents is so wrong as to deserve reprisals, and yet that it is justified - can be termed 'logical' by its adherents.


The Enemy Binary relies not only on an image of an Enemy, but also on the construction of an image of a collective self. This process of construction is necessarily somewhat illogical, since the individual self must confuse her or himself with a mythical entity in order to be able to think in such terms. The collective self need not be a real entity in any sense; it is, in Benedict Anderson's terms, an "imagined community", and it cannot be pointed to, touched, located, or defined. It is, to all intents and purposes, a figment of the imagination, but it is one to which people devote huge energy and commitment. To be operative, however, the collective self has to be actually embodied in a particular group of people who, as individual selves, carry out actions and produce discourse on its behalf. This group is rarely identical with the collective self. Most often, it is a particular group which claims to be, or to represent, the collective self. In this way, the initial illogicality is compounded: people are not only expected to identify with a nonexistent entity, but also to see themselves as acting in cases where they are, in actuality, passive observers of actions by some other group (who may have no clear relationship to those they supposedly act for). Such a confusion (A claims really to be B, so that when A acts against B, this "is really" B acting against B's enemy) is best-known from the study of Stalinist regimes, where it has been labelled 'substitutionism' (Ernest Mandel, Power and Money).

Hence, Blair can send condolences after September 11th on behalf of everyone in Britain, without deigning to ask anyone, and Bush can claim to be expressing something called the 'national will' (BBC News, 21-09-01), despite the fact that some Americans oppose the war. The political consequences of such discursive devices are insidious, since opponents are placed, by fiat, beyond the 'national' population they are nevertheless simultaneously declared to be part of. In October 1979, the media reported that "Britain" had accepted cruise missiles. It later turned out that NATO command had made the decision, and that most British people opposed the missiles (Defended to Death p. 27). The use of 'we' is inappropriate since decisions are taken by politicians and generals with little popular input. Indeed, a previous political leader, Francis Pym, explicitly stated that nuclear weapons, as a 'security' issue, was one in which politicians should only 'take public opinion into account as far as one possibly can' (cited Thompson p. 27), in other words, that the group who make decisions do so on a basis which has little to do with the imagined community they claim to represent. This does not prevent some commentators from speaking as if the entire British and American populations are actively involved in planning and executing the war. One Conservative MP, speaking on Question Time during the present war (25-09-01), claimed that, since 'we' have assigned 'our' troops particular objectives, they should be 'allowed to do what is necessary' and not impeded by standards such as a ban on the use of cluster bombs: 'I don't set limits' on weapons or tactics, he declared. He is forced into a position of self-contradiction by opponents on the panel, since he is not prepared to follow this position through into justifying the use of landmines or mustard gas, and consequently appeals to 'rules of engagement' which do set limits on weapons and tactics. The use of "we" and "our" is nevertheless striking: his stance, apparently on ethical grounds, against restrictions is based entirely on a identification, as "we", with the troops and their objectives. Hilary Benn, on the same programme, also calls for use of cluster bombs 'to protect ourselves', as if 'we', the panelists and audience, are directly fighting. Such formulations involve an attempt to close the discussion by identifying the answerer with the standpoint of those whose actions the question is putting in doubt.

The effects of such repressive uses of the word "we" emerge in discussions of so-called "traitors" from Britain and America who fight for the Taleban. For instance, Panorama explicitly contrasts the 'UK majority' to the 'Muslim minority' (rather than the UK minority), and discusses 'British Muslims' who will fight 'against Britain' (14-10-01). While such phrases attempt to make Muslims seem inconsistent or disloyal, it is actually the arguments themselves which are self-contradictory: someone who is a "British Muslim", and therefore a part of Britain, cannot by definition fight "against Britain", any more than a person could fight her or himself. Numbers and norms are used to hide from arguments in a way which clearly stokes prejudice. If the situation was discussed in terms of one particular group, a small number of British Muslims, fighting another particular group, the Army as a particular organisation, without the addition of a repressive "we", the contradiction would be removed, but so would the pseudo-self-evidence of the media's alignment with the army, and the implications of disloyalty and betrayal. The question of whether the viewer should support one or the other of the two distinct groups (if either) would be left open.

Bin Laden also uses formulae of the same kind, although in his case, the appeal is to religion rather than nation. 'They think that a Muslim may bargain on his religion', when he will not (What Next? p. 10), claims bin Laden. In such a way, 'we', the Muslims, are distinguished from 'them', the Americans and other enemies. As in the western case, bin Laden's use is substitutionist: he claims to represent Islam in general, when many Muslims reject his views. As in the western case, the result is a sense of an unquestionable "we". '[W]hat the U.S. says... does not affect us, because we, by the grace of God, are dependent on Him' (p. 9-10).

The conceptual emptying of value-based concepts leads to taboos emerging around their use - however accurate on a conceptual definition - in relation to the oppositely-encoded side. For instance, Newsnight (30-10-01) presenters raised objections to a relative of a victim of the September 11th attacks implicitly labelling American and British leaders as 'warmongers'. Similarly, these 'warmongers' are reluctant to call the Enemy anything dignified. Algerian troops fighting France, Barthes claims, were not even termed an army or community; they were a 'band' of outlaws, rebels or criminals (Eiffel Tower p. 103). Fighters in Afghanistan are similarly not soldiers but 'illegal combatants' or 'terrorists', while the Taleban is a case of 'folkloristic excitement' (western spokesperson, Newsnight, 19-09-01) and not a political movement.

The same transmutation occurs in official uses of value-based concepts in general. Such terms sometimes operate as concepts in the full sense: they express a distinct idea which can be used to assess particular actions or agents. For instance, standards related to election procedure or to civil rights might be taken to establish someone's actions as "democratic" or not. In some circumstances, however, such concepts transmute into hurrah- and boo-words. A word or phraseis invoked in discourse as a means to appeal to supposedly shared views, and it is implied that it has some content, but in its practical use it is simply used by a particular speaker as an empty label attaching opprobrium or praiseworthiness to anything she or he does or supports. Hurrah- and boo-words involve an empty, non-conceptual use of language which tricks people into thinking they are supporting a particular goal when actually they are only aligning themselves with a particular agent.

The binary defence/aggression undergoes mutation in this way. "We", the collective self, use "defence", because it has good connotations; defence is morally justified, manly and honourable. "They", on the other hand, commit "aggression". The distinction between the two concepts is contestable, but open to conceptual use. Many uses, however, treat the two concepts merely as labels for actions committed by one's own side or by the Enemy. Retaliation, pre-emptive attacks or even overt aggression can be portrayed as "defence", sometimes via intermediary concepts (such as defence of one's interests or defence of the Free World) which deflect attention from whether a particular action involves a response to attack as opposed to an attack. (Indeed, since the collective self is a mythical construct which is not actually embodied anywhere, it is necessarily unclear when it is or is not under "attack"; uses of "defence" in relation to it are necessarily confused in comparison to situations involving individual people). Defence can also become confused with "deterrence", a quite different concept related only by their shared responsive and preventive orientation (cf. Defended to Death p. 28).


The conceptual emptying of value-based concepts leads to taboos emerging around their use - however accurate on a conceptual definition - in relation to the oppositely-encoded side. For instance, Newsnight (30-10-01) presenters raised objections to a relative of a victim of the September 11th attacks implicitly labelling American and British leaders as 'warmongers'. Similarly, these 'warmongers' are reluctant to call the Enemy anything dignified. Algerian troops fighting France, Barthes claims, were not even termed an army or community; they were a 'band' of outlaws, rebels or criminals (Eiffel Tower p. 103). Fighters in Afghanistan are similarly not soldiers but 'illegal combatants' or 'terrorists', while the Taleban is a case of 'folkloristic excitement' (western spokesperson, Newsnight, 19-09-01) and not a political movement, and the fighters facing western forces are according to UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, not a movement or army, but rather, are 'bands' and 'remnants' (Newsnight, 18-03-02). In general, therefore, the Enemy Binary involves the appropriation of terms which are usually descriptive to play a role of naming instead of describing.

The transmutation occurs in official uses of value-based concepts in general. Such terms sometimes operate as concepts in the full sense: they express a distinct idea which can be used to assess particular actions or agents. For instance, standards related to election procedure or to civil rights, or some other set of criteria, might be taken to establish someone's actions as "democratic" or not. In some circumstances, however, such concepts transmute into hurrah- and boo-words. A word or phraseis invoked in discourse as a means to appeal to supposedly shared views, and it is implied that it has some content, but in its practical use it is simply used by a particular speaker as an empty label attaching opprobrium or praiseworthiness to anything she or he does or supports. Hurrah- and boo-words involve an empty, non-conceptual use of language which tricks people into thinking they are supporting a particular goal when actually they are only aligning themselves with a particular agent. Instead of allowing agents to be assessed, concepts are turned into proper nouns for particular agents (eg. 'the terrorists', 'the Free World', 'civilisation'), and become synonymous with these agents while also conferring on them an entirely unearned and unargued aura of ethical validity. For instance, the collective self becomes "democratic" and the Enemy "anti-democratic", regardless of what either does. This places barriers in the way of attempting to campaign for any particular goals on a conceptual basis: campaigners for democracy in the conceptual sense find themselves up against governments which insist they are democratic regardless of elections, civil liberties or anything else. Similarly, leaders may speak of the Free World, of civilisation against barbarism, of justice, of the rule of law, or even of peace, without having to meet any specific criteria to do so. When boo- and hurrah-words are established, the result is similar to the situation in George Orwell's 1984, where leaders can decide that war equals peace and that two and two make five, simply because they have the power to do so. '[I]n 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' (Marcuse, Negations, p. 261). As a result, agents can be confused with general principles; Agnes Heller can call September 11th 'a wave of terror... threatening liberal democracies' (p. 1) and David Held can term it 'an attack on the fundamental principles of of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and justice'. Such rhetoric is clearly false in terms of conceptual uses of such terms: neither an electoral system nor a system of social organisation nor a principle can be attacked with bombs or aeroplanes. 'Freedom' and 'justice' can, perhaps, be attacked, but only by repressive laws - and any principle can be 'attacked' by discourse. Such confusion is, therefore, counterproductive, allowing the very attacks it mistakenly blames on bin Laden. The emptying of the concept, however, makes the situation seem clearer: general principles can be advanced through simplistically supporting the western side in its war.

Such hurrah and boo-words operate in tension with the military's operational vocabulary, which errs on the side of ultra-specificity. When Lance Morrow denounces the term 'asymmetrical warfare', he is attacking the technical vocabulary of his own side. Though often contradictory, the two kinds of concept can reinforce each other, since the vague abstractions confer an entirely unearned dignity on the bureaucratic specificities. With the technical terms objectivised and the abstractions emptied, the two levels - ultra-factual and ultra-abstract - can short-circuit between each other, with the middle level of analytical concepts, and therefore the need to justify the articulation of ethical and technical terms, removed (cf. Trevor Pateman, Language, Truth and Politics). As a result, one is subjected to the aberration of precise, calculated operations being directly identified with sublime, universal goals, in terms such as "Operation Infinite Justice" and "Operation Enduring Freedom".

Marcuse describes the process well. 'In the established vocabulary, "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 and goal'. For instance, ends never justify means - except for the actions of those who define themselves as having the right to organise lawful beating and killing (Essay on Liberation p. 75). '[A] specific vocabulary of hate, resentment, and defamation is reserved for opposition... and for the enemy'. Protesters against war may be a 'mob', whereas pro-war demonstrators are 'citizens' who 'gather'; in Vietnam, '[t]he Reds have the impertinence to launch "a sneak attack" (presumably they are supposed to announce it beforehand and to deploy in the open); they are "evading a death trap" (presumably they should have stayed in). The Vietcong attack American barracks "in the dead of night" and kill American boys (presumably, Americans only attack in broad daylight, don't disturb the sleep of the enemy, and don't kill Vietnamese boys)' (Negations p. 260). 'Organised in this discriminatory fashion, language designates a priori the enemy as evil in his entirety and in all his actions and intentions' (261).

Ethical concepts which have been emptied in this way, or words which do not have conceptual connotations in the first place, play an important role in official discourse. In his discussion of Algeria, Barthes refers to what he calls 'mana-words', words which have no meaning as such but which simply fill a gap in language. Such words - among which he includes 'destiny', 'honour' and 'mission' - are widespread in militarist discourse (104). In a statement about the French discourse on Algeria, which could as easily apply to other wars, Barthes claims that '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' (107). Claims about objects can be falsified, and those about actions can also be ethically criticised, but claims about "notions" can escape both dangers. The hurrah- or boo-word plays its role in a sentence structure which is rearranged to accomodate it. Verbs relating to the present tend to disappear, being replaced by speculative uses of verbs referring to the future ('will be') or mythical possibilities ('would be') (107-8), which are harder to counter. (Blair's defence of the treatment of inmates at Camp X-Ray in Cuba is not that they have committed or are committing an act, but that they would commit acts if they were not confined). This allows actions to hide behind "notions" (109): the action is located, not in relation to what it is or does, but in relation to what it 'will be' or 'would be'. The hurrah- or boo-word itself is presented in statements as if its meaning is already known, usually preceded by the word 'the' (108). This aids the appearance of self-evidence and impedes critique. Furthermore, to strengthen the myth, adjectives and adverbs are added which amount to stating the truth of the claim in question ('true', 'authentic', 'real', etc.) (108). Since the claim is presumably believed to be true anyway, such words have no logical function; their sole role is to strengthen the mythical claim to direct self-evidence. Blair is particularly prone to using this type of device (a 'real danger', 'there is no doubt', 'do not forget that...', 'without doubt', etc.). About Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, for instance, Blair prefaced his remark 'Don't be under any doubt at all' (BBC News, 28-02-02). Such statements are in effect decrees not to question or analyse official statements, although they are disguised as empirical positions. A similar refusal of thought is involved in a position taken by an audience member on Question Time, that condemning the September 11th attacks is somehow good in itself, regardless of whether participants care if it is condemned (31-01-02). What is the function of ethics if it does not aim to alter the world? In this case, it appears to be a retreat to a certainty sustained by closed discourse, which can be retained because it is established outside the political processes into which it intervenes.

The binary defence/aggression undergoes mutation in this way. "We", the collective self, use "defence", because it has good connotations; defence is morally justified, manly and honourable. "They", on the other hand, commit "aggression". The distinction between the two concepts is contestable, but open to conceptual use. Many uses, however, treat the two concepts merely as labels for actions committed by one's own side or by the Enemy. Retaliation, pre-emptive attacks or even overt aggression can be portrayed as "defence", sometimes via intermediary concepts (such as defence of one's interests or defence of the Free World) which deflect attention from whether a particular action involves a response to attack as opposed to an attack. (Indeed, since the collective self is a mythical construct which is not actually embodied anywhere, it is necessarily unclear when it is or is not under "attack"; uses of "defence" in relation to it are necessarily confused in comparison to situations involving individual people). Defence can also become confused with "deterrence", a quite different concept related only by their shared responsive and preventive orientation (cf. Defended to Death p. 28).

The term 'security' has, according to the book Defended to Death, been subject to slippage in its usage generated by trivial uses: it is taken to mean a quiet life, so that violence against those who disrupt such a life appears to be in support of 'peace', and 'security' is implicitly linked to state forces through terms such as 'security forces' (Defended to Death p. 26). Since the quiet life it involves is also peaceful, it crops up as a substitute for 'peace' in official discourse, though it can be - and often is - used as a pretext for war and warlike activity.

Similarly, the concept of a 'terrorist' is largely undefined, notwithstanding the controversy caused by Peter Mandelson's attempts to give it a self-serving definition. The new Anti-Terrorism Act in Britain defines it in a directly tautological way, defining an 'international terrorist' as 'someone who has been certified as an international terrorist' (Socialist Campaign Group News December 2001 p. 6). 'Terror' is an emotion, not a tactic, and the division between statist use of force and 'terrorism' is not clarified in official pronouncements, especially since it is now possible for a state to be labelled 'terrorist'. Though usually associated with armed opposition groups who target civilians, its present use is subject to slippage in several directions, not only in relation to 'terrorist' states but also in relation to opposition groups whose activities fall well short of armed attacks or whose activities are limited to specifiable opponents. The F.B.I.'s list of 'terrorist groups' includes or used to include guerrilla movements in Latin America, black nationalists including pacifist groups such as S.N.C.C. and the Southern Baptist Christian Fellowship, anti-capitalists such as Reclaim the Streets, and single issue campaigns such as the Animal Liberation Front. 'Terrorism' is frequently subject to the gesture of inserting 'the' (i.e. 'the terrorists') or asserting it as if its meaning is already known, as a way of avoiding definition. This gap is especially noteworthy since the present war is designated by western leaders and media as a war against (or on) terrorism (or terror). The reference to 'terrorists' collectively as 'terror', either as a noun (eg. 'global terror') or an adjective (eg. a 'terror network') is even more overtly mythical, since it directly equates a group of agents with an emotional state of victims or observers. The concept of 'violence' can perform the same role, especially if identified solely with the Enemy. President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked, 'We'll remain in Vietnam until there is a final surrender of violence itself' (cited Postman et al. p. 197).

Furthermore, while 'terrorism' is not defined, it seems to refer to a category of actions which could be termed a 'crime', similar in kind to concepts such as 'murder' and 'burglary'. Hence, Bush specifically denies that the war is limited to one agent or group of agents, insisting that it must be directed at terrorism in general - indeed, at 'terrorist acts' (Radio 5 News, 19-09-01). However, he must also be implicitly identifying 'terrorism' with definable groups, i.e. with an Enemy, since otherwise he could not possibly see war as an effective response. Despite rhetoric about a 'war on crime', it is patently impossible to wage war on any category of actions, since they can, by definition, emanate from any actor, wheeras war is always waged against a particular group of actors. Bush's implicit assumption is presumably that 'the terrorists' are an identifiable group - perhaps a secret conspiracy of enemies of America, as implied by his term 'axis of evil' - and that the elimination of this group would eliminate terrorism as a category of acts. This empirical assumption is, however, concealed beneath the confusion involved in the use of "terrorism" as a hurrah-word. That "terrorism" as a category of acts cannot be combatted by war on a particular list of groups is shown by three cases which have emerged since September 11th: the unknown anthrax attackers, who the C.I.A. and F.B.I. say are domestic attackers acting alone and are not linked to al-Qaeda; Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an aeroplane, whose links to organised fundamentalist groups are peripheral at best; and a rich white American youth who flew a light aircraft into a skyscraper owned by a bank in Los Angeles and who openly declared his support for bin Laden despite acting alone. Given such cases, it is clear that war could not possibly eliminate "terrorist" acts, however defined - especially if the standards of assessment were also applied to actions by the American state and its allies. However, the mythical confusion of the word "terrorism" with identifiable groups makes such a victory seem possible.

The term "war on terror" is especially revealing. The concept is neither descriptive nor legal in nature; in international law, a war must be against a state, and in descriptive terms, "terror" cannot be pinpointed. The term becomes explicable, however, when the reduction of "terror" to a boo-word and its identification with the figure of the Enemy is taken into account. The psychological resonance of the term is, furthermore, revealing, implying that the war is an acting-out which aims to dispel an internal emotional state (fear or terror) which has been misidentified with an external enemy. "War on terror" is therefore inimical to attempts to reduce a particular set of acts identified as "terrorist", however this is defined.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim once remarked of totemism: 'One comes to the remarkable conclusion that images of the totem-creature are more sacred than the totem-creature itself' (cited Wagner, in Postman et al, p. 33). This is clearly what occurs with boo- and hurrah-words, where the appropriation of labels as naming-words attached to agents allows or covers attacks on their conceptual content, as well as blatant self-contradiction. David Held portrays the September 11th attacks as an attack on justice, despite listing 'gross inequalities of life' and lack of a 'just peace' as being among its causes. Lance Morrow refers to September 11th as the moment which will 'separate the civilized of the world from the uncivilized', even while advocating 'hatred', 'fatwa' and 'retribution' and condemning anyone who 'does not loathe' the same people as he does. America can withdraw sanctions against India and Pakistan because they 'would not be in the national security interests of the US' (Ceefax 142, 23-09-01), i.e. because they support American actions in Afghanistan, even while claiming the moral high ground. America can support the imposition of an unelected government in Afghanistan, using as the standard not democracy but whether the government is conducive to the states in the region (Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV 30-09-01), while claiming to be defending democracy. One government spokesperson, Charles Clarke, can base his case for the war on the liberties available in the west (Newsnight, 30-10-01) even while another, David Blunkett, denounces 'airy-fairy civil liberties' (TIME Dec. 24 2001 p. 48). And Bush can call on nations to 'respect the rule of law' (Ceefax 112, 01-02-02), even while Liberty accuse the British and, by implication, the American government of 'violation of the rule of law' by introducing internment (Ceefax 110, 11-11-01). All of these cases counterpose a conceptual content of a particular term with the word itself, reduced to the empty status of a hurrah-word. (The possibility that the alternative use is simply that of a different concept is precluded by the lack of definition and the willingness of users of the term to draw legitimacy from its everyday meanings).

When concepts such as 'freedom' are used as hurrah-words, users can hold faith that these concepts will continue to be apt when applied to particular agents, which enables them to advocate policies in direct contradiction with the content of such concepts. Lance Morrow uses September 11th as an excuse to try to silence those who make America 'messily tolerant', without this affecting his positive valuation of America as a hotbed of freedom. Similarly, Senator Richard Selby, defending quasi-totalitarian laws which encourage indefinite secret detention and mass round-ups of Arabs on suspicion, called the September 11th attacks a 'wake-up call' showing that American society was 'too open'. He then asserted, however, that he had 'faith' that those arrested would be treated fairly, and termed comparisons to the U.S.S.R. a 'red herring' (Newsnight 30-10-01). Faith in the system, on the basis of its mythical position, is here a substitute for scrutiny of particular measures. George W. Bush similarly defends attacks on civil liberties in America on the grounds that '[w]e're an open society, but we're at war' (Ceefax 109, 29-11-01). The 'but' covers a distinction between 'is' and 'does' which empties the concept of openness of any actual content. Bush wishes to claim a status which he implicitly admits his actions contradict (since, otherwise, the term 'but' would be inappropriate). It is very significant that he does not say, for instance, 'we are no longer an open society for the duration of the war'. The emptying of the concept of openness allows him to evade the need to defend reductions of openness by denying them even while also admitting them.

The difference between conceptual uses and hurrah-word uses of particular terms was clearly shown in a debate between Nicholas Soames, a right-winger who supports attacks on civil liberties, and Martin Bell, a liberal who is suspicious of such attacks. Soames dismisses concerns about corroding liberal democracy with the words: 'We are a liberal democracy, and always will be'. This statement precludes criticising particular measures on the grounds of defending liberal democracy. The phrase has been so separated from actual policies that one need not, for Soames, worry about repression at all: Britain would still be a liberal democracy, even if it destroyed all the specific institutions and rights associated with the label. This precludes any need to defend democracy except against outside threats, since it implicitly identifies liberal-democracy with the repressive "we" of the statement. In contrast, Bell is concerned about making sure that Britain remains a liberal democracy by not introducing repressive measures (Panorama, BBC1, 30-09-01). Bell's use of "liberal democracy" is conceptual, whereas Soames's is solely a hurrah-word.

Hurrah- and boo-words, reinforced by the image of the Enemy as primordially evil, means that each side can claim to be expressing perfectly a whole string of absolute values, and even provide examples of such expression, while their own actions ignore or breach such values. Blair and Bush are very willing to use human-rights arguments to attack the Taleban regime. However, when challenged on similar issues in Saudi Arabia, a western client-state which represses Christians and women among others, Blair simply notes, 'There are positions taken there which are not the positions I take here in my country. I'm not going to get in the business of attacking the Saudi system'. 'But you do attack the Afghan system', says his interviewer. 'Yes', remarks Blair, 'but we're in conflict with the Taleban regime' (TIME, December 10 2001 p. 43). Thus, Blair can claim to be standing for universal human rights, while picking and choosing when such universal standards are applied. A similar logic presumably underlies bin Laden's otherwise perplexing remark, intended as a criticism of America, that '[a] man with human feelings in his heart does not distinguish between a child killed in Palestine or in Lebanon, in Iraq or in Bosnia' (What Next p. 10). Though he is claiming a universal position of standing against attacks on children, he supports attacks on American civilians which contradict the universal principle he espouses.

A slightly different version of the same phenomenon of the use of words to suppress their conceptual content arises during an interview with Charles Clarke, by Jeremy Paxman. Clarke effectively tells Paxman that he has no right to question the war in Afghanistan, because, if he was an Afghan, the Taleban would not permit him to do so - indeed, his programme would be banned (Newsnight 30-10-01). In this case, the existence of freedom is used as a premise for an argument which concludes with its nonexistence. The argument basically states that Paxman has freedom to question the war; if he lived in Afghanistan, he would not have this freedom; therefore, he does not have this freedom in Britain either. As well as being clearly illogical, this argument involves a levelling-down. It implies that no-one in Britain may exercise any freedom against the war unless the Taleban allows the same right, at the same time as claiming that the greater freedom of criticism in Britain is exactly the reason why the war against the Taleban should be supported. Clarke also seemed ignorant of the fact that Paxman was carrying out a job, not simply asserting an opinion; media scrutiny of government actions is another of the specific characteristics of "liberal democracy" which disappears when it becomes a hurrah-word.

Reliance on hurrah- and boo-words, and empty terms more generally, allows specific objectives to be glorified or concealed. TIME magazine states that America 'has so far failed to deliver on its principal aims' and so 'officials [are trying] to divert attention away from the [bin Laden] manhunt' amid rising frustration (Jan. 21 2002 p. 25). Assessed solely in terms of goals, the war seems at least partly a failure, but such a possibility is written out of accounts which discuss the war solely in terms of 'defence', 'democracy' or the 'free world'. The 'defence of the free world', for instance, is such a vague goal that it is impossible to know whether it has been met at a particular time; indeed, it tends to refer one back to the Enemy Binary, in which it is implied that attacks on the Enemy necessarily strengthen the free world. (Colin Powell merely asserts that the war in Afghanistan must have made further attacks on America less likely).

The conversion of concepts into hurrah- and boo-words is unstable, because the claim to legitimacy made on behalf of such concepts is itself linked to their conceptual content. As a symbolic actions are sometimes designed which give a surface plausibility to official accounts. The small numbers of aid drops into Afghanistan is a case in point. The food packages which were dropped were largely unsuitable for Afghans - people may not even have been able to open them - and were, anyway, a long way short of the need for supplies and far fewer than the number of bombs dropped. Therefore, the dropping of aid was presumably a propaganda policy designed to manipulate the media demand for images in such a way as to bolster the association of the west with civilisation and humane standards. It is revealing to contrast the publicity about the aid packages with the later dispute with the new Afghan regime about how much aid Afghanistan needs, and with the secrecy surrounding conditions at Camp X-Ray.

Echoing the more general logic of myth, shown most clearly in Lance Morrow's article, boo- and hurrah-words involve a claim to a transcendent status which, so to speak, "trumps" other concerns. Just as, on a factual level, debate is excluded by the insistence that war is real whereas asymmetry is a concept, so, on an ethical level, hurrah- and boo-words are used to avoid contestation. Supporters of the war present their own concerns as authentically ethical, whereas opponents' concerns as "technicalities". For instance, Blair stated a few days after September 11th that 'the fact is we are at war with terrorism' whatever the 'technical or legal issues' (Ceefax 104, 16-09-01). In this case, the rhetoric of authenticity is especially misleading, because there is no way a declaration of war could be a 'fact', even if a 'war on terrorism' were a factual possibility. Similarly, letter-writer GT refers to opponents of Camp X-Ray as 'bogged down in semantics', contrasting this to how 'families of our troops feel' (Oracle 147, 05-03-02), as if the latter somehow transcends semantics and is more real than the former. In both of these cases, one pole of a binary is treated as carrying a meaning somehow external to systems of belief and knowledge, as if it can carry truth directly. Further, in the Blair case, the transmutation of an ethical decision into a statement of fact reveals the claim to privileged status lurking behind hurrah- and boo-words. The contrast with such supposedly 'real' concerns is, furthermore, harmful to campaigns about (for instance) the defence of civil liberties, the treatment of prisoners at Camp X-Ray, the Mazar-i-Sharif massacre, and a number of other issues. Blair and Bush are, after all, dealing in intolerabilities: it is unthinkable that their governments should be unable to lock people up on suspicion, there is no doubt that the prisoners should be treated with the utmost caution, and massacres just happen in war, as a matter of fact. Furthermore, for Larry McGuire of Minnesota, 'We cannot do anything to change this. We are in a war that the U.S. can neither win nor lose. And we cannot quit' (TIME, Dec. 24 2001, p. 6). Analysis is precluded because its outcome is predetermined by assumptions about possibility and thinkability.

The 'real' and the 'ethical', redefined in terms of hurrah-words, lose their ability to operate as a basis for assessing claims and become simple affirmations of pre-formed phrases and actions. When Bush, for instance, speaks of 'facts' which 'cannot be denied' and 'must be confronted' in relation to Iraq, what he asserts turns out to be rhetoric: that there are terrorists with weapons of mass destruction spreading 'blackmail and genocide and chaos' (Newsnight 11-03-02). It is unclear whether such loaded language can even be reduced to the level of 'facts', but if it could, it is apparent that Bush provides no evidence and that he is ignoring the factual status of the U.S.'s own destructive policies (including a recent threat to use nuclear weapons). The word 'fact' has been emptied of any specific meaning and reduced to an empty signifier of the authenticity and validity of Bush's rhetorical stance. This logic, corrosive of meaning, is taken even further in an article in TIME magazine on the subject of John Walker Lindh, an American citizen accused of fighting for the Taleban. '[N]owhere in the statute books does there seem to be a law that precisely fits the crime he may have committed', asserts TIME (December 17th 2001, p. 84). If he has not broken a law, he has not by definition committed a crime. This suggests that the author's understanding of the word 'crime' has been distorted in the same way as Bush's use of the word 'fact': Walker's criminality is proven by the tautological logic of the Enemy Binary; the mere problem of the meaning of the word 'crime' then becomes insignificant.

The image presented by such rhetoric is misleading. While issues around civil liberties and human rights are often couched in legalistic language (usually because the mainstream media will not allow them to be discussed any more directly), they express concerns which are just as "real" as those raised by the September 11th attacks. A prisoner at Camp X-Ray is no less dehumanised, and one at Mazar-i-Sherif no less dead, for the fact that Bush and Blair see their treatment as a "technicality". Furthermore, the image of clarity surrounding pro-war positions is, as shown above, an illusion. Often, the real/semantic distinction is introduced to excuse the blatant abuse of words and a total disregard for meaning (let alone consistency). In the case of "technical and legal issues", it also is worth noting how quickly pro-war commentators retreat into legal technicalities when faced with serious challenge. Prisoners at Camp X-Ray are not prisoners of war according to Bush, on the technicality that the Taleban, though in sole control of most of Afghanistan and a partner in negotiations with America before the present crisis, has never been recognised internationally as a legitimate government. Therefore, they are 'unlawful combatants' not covered by the Geneva Convention (Ceefax 106, 12-01-02) - although, since the Taleban was not a government, it is unclear whose laws they could have been breaking. Ann Clwyd says the denial of POW status is simply 'playing with words' (Ceefax 117, 19-01-02). Similarly, Agnes Heller resorts to, among other devices, an appeal to technical concepts in international law (p. 4) and a distinction between a 'right to wage war' and a war which is 'right' (p. 5). Thus, when they move beyond rhetoric into attempts at specific defences, the pro-war camp are far more reliant on "technicalities" than their opponents. It is worth contrasting Heller's subtle distinctions between rightness and rights with her blunt assertions earlier that all that matters about the September 11th attacks is that they were 'inhumane' and therefore 'inexcusable' (p. 1), because it shows the mode of operation of the rejection of 'technicalities'. It applies only to the Enemy, whose actions and treatment are beyond meaning and therefore not susceptible to 'technical' terms. The actions of the collective self are implicitly still defensible in this manner - though it is a defence which is strangely surplus to requirements, since it has already been declared irrelevant. Perhaps this is a special case of the double-bind about inhumane methods (see below).

The claim to exclusive possession of truth, reality and ethics produces a situation where supporters of war can dismiss opposition on principle, on tautological grounds. A U.S. spokesperson on Newsnight (11-03-02) seemed to think that anything short of an unconditional right of the U.S. to respond instantly and however they see fit to any perceived attack is unfair and that any moderation brought about by concern for the reactions of other states or populations is a submission to dictators' demands which should be over-ruled by reference to American public opinion. Thus, he claims that America has been 'extraordinarily considerate' to the Arab world, perhaps even too considerate. (Lance Morrow makes similar claims about America's supposed tolerance). In this context, any possibility of negotiating conceptions of fairness is ruled out by the identification of the concept of fairness with one side. In general, the logic of boo- and hurrah-words precludes any use of persuasion or negotiation on ethical issues and serves as a tautological guarantee of the ethical validity and practical effectiveness of the actions of the collective self.


As I have already suggested in several specific cases, the discourse promoted by the two sides in situations designated as "war" often varies little between them. The structure of discourse - for instance, the reliance on myth, the reconceptualisation of historically-specific phenomena as expressing ahistorical absolutes, and the construction of images of the Enemy and the collective self - is basically the same for any group which uses more-or-less conventional militarist discourse. Paradoxically, the discourse of two bitter enemies more often unites than divides them, with the main difference being an inversion of roles: for supporters of the western side, America and Britain are the collective self and al-Qaeda and the Taleban the Enemy; for supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taleban, these roles are reversed. The effect suggests the image of a mirror: both sides see in the other an image of itself, but reversed. As the authors of Defended to Death say in the case of nuclear weapons: 'views are framed so heavily in the form of mirrored threats that they seem irreconcilable' (p. 23).

The blocks built into mythical discourse prevent each side realising the equivalence between its own discourse and that of its enemy. For instance, the fact that some Palestinians celebrated the September 11th attacks was a source of condemnation by the western media. This is the same media which celebrates successful attacks by British forces, the most vociferous part of which (namely, The Sun newspaper) ran the headline "Gotcha!" over the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands-Malvinas war. It is only by concealing the basic equivalence of the discourse of militarists on all sides that lines can be drawn which posit the division between different groups of militarists as primary. Otherwise, the division would tend to run primarily between militarists and anti-militarists. After all, as Noam Chomsky (Interview with Radio B52) rightly points out, militarists on both sides have as much to gain as each other from a spiral of violence. At times, indeed, bin Laden and Bush seem to be singing from the same song-sheet. On the same day that bin Laden insisted on everyone's duty to take sides, Bush urged the same, adding that there is no 'neutral ground' (News 24, 07-10-01). Both sides also share a climate of fear in which support for the Enemy is taboo, and an (unfounded) assumption of radical difference from the Enemy which prevents questions about similarities and equivalences being asked by adherents of militarist discourse.

To sustain the division, politicians and sections of the media frequently design an entire dual language which describes the similar phenomena, groups or actions in different terms depending on which side commits them. This tends to bar discussion of the equivalence of actions by positing their difference at the level of the organisation of language. During the Gulf War, The Guardian Weekly drew up a whole list of phrases of this kind; for instance, they have "propaganda" and we have "press briefings"; they "kill", we "eliminate" or "neutralise"; they have "troops" and "hordes", we have "boys" and "lads"; they are "cowardly", we are "cautious"; and they launch "sneak missile attacks", whereas we launch "first strikes" (cited Allen, News Culture p. 178-9). One could make a similar list for the present conflict, including cases such as the following:

Al-Qaeda activists are: Pro-western Afghan leaders are:
informed on 'betrayed' (BBC News 26-10-01)
executed, given the death penalty 'murdered' (BBC News 26-10-01)
Pakistani police who shoot protesters are: The Taleban regime is:
engaged in a 'swift' and 'firm' response (TIME) repressive
America: The Taleban and al-Qaeda:
warns threaten
Britain has: 'The terrorists' have:
'moral fibre' (Blair, Ceefax 105, 28-10-01) 'fanaticism' (same speech)
The west should/does engage in: Terrorists engage in:
'criminalising' terrorists (David Held) 'arbitrary violent action' (Held)
'coercive force', 'zero tolerance', 'military 'terror', 'violence'
sanctions', action to 'bring to heel' (Held)
Britain: The Taleban:
reacts to the asylum system being arrest a Daily Express journalist for what is
'abused by terrorists' (Blair, Panorama 30-09-01) 'only' an immigration offence (Jack Straw)
America: Pakistani fundamentalists:
transports, flies or takes prisoners to Cuba have abducted a hostage

The ability of the west to mobilise a discourse which presents its own actions as valid by constructing two sets of phrases in this way gives the bulk of an answer to the supposedly unanswerable question of how the September 11th attacks could happen in the first place. Many of the arguments used to support western forces' actions in Afghanistan could equally 'justify' the New York atrocity and much more besides, if applied consistently or with the terms inverted. Just as bin Laden's actions fill a discursive space already constructed in works of fiction, so the bombing of Afghanistan puts "the West" in precisely the position it holds in bin Laden's discourse. It is hardly surprising that Afghans apparently interpret calls for a 'crusade against terrorism' as a declaration of religious war on Islam (Ceefax 142, 23-09-01). The imagery of how such a war would emerge is built around assumptions which actions by western states are tending to confirm.

British politicians have repeatedly uttered sentences involving the statement that the September 11th attack and the bombing of Afghanistan are 'not morally equivalent' (eg. Jack Straw, Oracle 309, 17-09-01). Such terms are asserted without explanation or backing, and the media has so far been slavish in accepting such formulations as a legitimate answer to their queries on this topic. Although one occasionally hears arguments distinguishing between deliberately setting out to kill civilians and knowingly doing so, this is too technical to be treated plausibly as a motivation, and anyway, it probably misunderstands the September 11th attackers' motives. (It is by no means obvious that they intended to kill civilians as a goal in itself, rather than seeing such deaths as a justified consequence of an attack directed towards a military goal; both the Pentagon and the Twin Towers were legitimate targets in Pentagon language, since the former is a military installation and the latter is "economic infrastructure aiding the capacity to wage war"). Presumably, therefore, the sense of difference arises mainly from the construction of an image of radical difference between the two sides as a result of the Enemy Binary and the differential use of language, as opposed to any significant difference between the acts these sides engage in.

The double standard passes over most crucially into attitudes to "violence" (a term which changes in meaning between different uses, at least in politicians' and the media's discourse). Panorama (14-10-01) responds in a horrified way to the possibility that some Muslims might advocate 'violence', counterposing it to 'peaceful', 'democratic' and 'legitimate' protest. However, this is clearly a case of double standards: no such opprobrium is heaped on politicians who wage war. Similarly, David Held insists that all protests should be 'peaceful', but insists that he is 'not a pacifist' and that he supports the use of force in some circumstances. The issue may be concealed by jargon about laws and governments, but there is clearly a contradictory attitude to violence/force operating in both these sets of attitudes: it is condemned outright, on principle, in some contexts, while being subject to consideration as possibly legitimate in other cases. That the "violence" opposed is less than the violence supported sharpens the contradiction still further.

Another way of evading the equivalence of both sets of discourse is to posit a standard as absolute and then exempt oneself from it on contingent grounds. In such cases, the self-contradiction is blatant: either a particular type of action can be justified by particular circumstances or it cannot. If if can, one should not posit it as an absolute when arguing against others' acts; one should engage with their specific justifications. If it cannot, one can never be justified in engaging in the act oneself, regardless of circumstances. This type of contradiction is most notable in the case of civilian casualties. A former Conservative Party advisor says the September 11th attack was terrible because of the civilian deaths involved, and then claims that civilian deaths in Afghanistan (which now exceed the number killed on September 11th) are 'something we should just accept' (Newsnight 29-10-01). Similarly, Blair, speaking on al-Jazeera TV, said that 'blowing up innocent civilians' is an act which must be condemned regardless of its cause. On the same day, the US-UK alliance blew up four United Nations mine clearance workers in Afghanistan (Labour Left Briefing, November 2001 p. 30). In the first case explicitly and in the latter implicitly, something asserted as an absolute which must be condemned on principle is also accepted as legitimate for context-specific reasons in particular cases. In this way, western leaders can appear to be against something they actually have in common with al-Qaeda, and can thereby create a spurious appearance of difference.

The equivalence between the two sets of militarist discourse operative in wars creates a situation where the ideals embodied by each side cannot be realised because of the shared commitment to means which are incompatible with them. As a character in Jean-Paul 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' (p. 165). Wilhelm Reich puts a similar argument in more political terms, in a discussion of fighting fascism. 'Those who attempt to beat the mechanical automatons with their own methods will only jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, i.e., in their efforts to become more efficient scientific killers, they 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' (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, p. 333). Rival militarist discourses reproduce the attributes they ascribe to the Enemy in this way, and the achievement of something better than an endless spiral of wars and repression requires a break with militarist discourse in its entirety. 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 others' societies... [in] degenerative drift', so that the hardening of one side leads to a hardening of the other (p. 50).


In George Orwell's 1984, the totalitarian regime exerted its control partly through surveillance and violence and partly through the manipulation of language. On the one hand, language was redefined into "Newspeak" by official censors, to make thoughts incompatible with the official ideology literally unthinkable. On the other, the capacity of language to enable critique of the regime was sabotaged by the development of "doublethink". This consisted of a reliance on strong binary oppositions, such as war/peace and freedom/slavery, combined with assertions of the identity of the two poles which are simultaneously posited as incompatible, via phrases such as "war is peace" and "freedom is slavery". Such uses of language are, sadly, not confined to dystopian fiction. They also arise in actual political discourse, and war is one of the areas where they arise most frequently. In such situations, "doublespeak", as I have termed the hybrid of Newspeak and Doublethink which operates in such cases, is made possible by the identification of negatively-loaded words with the Enemy. For instance, if the Enemy can be identified with the "war" (conceived as an essence), the collective self can engage in war while claiming to express the essence of "peace".

Almost no-one wishes to be seen as a warmonger. There is thus much to be gained for those who wish to fight wars from redefining their particular wars as exercises in peace. Present attempts to portray war as a means to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan stand in a long tradition. Thus, the American Strategic Air Command has mottoes of "Peace through strength" and "Peace is our profession" (Nash, in Protest and Survive). Wars are fought for "pacification", "peace-keeping" and "peace-making". President Johnson 'wants to allow our soldiers to fight in peace' (Washington Star, cited in Language in America p. 197), and pledges to 'continue fighting until the violence stops' (p. 33). Today's humanitarian discourse echoes in rather more elaborate terms a U.S. army major's claim in Vietnam that 'We had to destroy the town in order to save it' (p. 197). Even more elaborately, a US Marines Handbill stated: 'The U.S. Marines are fighting alongside the Government of Vietnam... in order to give the Vietnamese people a chance to live a free, happy life, without fear or hunger and suffering. But many Vietnamese have paid with their lives and their homes because they helped the Vietcong in an attempt to enslave the Vietnamese people' (p. 197). In this instance, the refusal of a free, happy life is taken as identical with its pursuit. Presumably a similar logic lies behind the bombing of pro-Taleban villages in Afghanistan. To this general category should be added the various versions of stating that 'we are peace-loving, tolerant, democratic, open-minded, etc., people, but...', where an asserted and usually mythical claim to some status is used to justify actions which contradict it. For instance, Bush terms Americans a 'peaceful people' (BBC News, 10-10-01) while waging war, and Lance Morrow claims to stand for civilisation and decency while advocating 'ruthless indignation', 'focused brutality', 'hatred' and extermination.

Identifying war with peace is one of the varieties of doublespeak frequently operative during wars. One could also add some of the cases discussed, in a different context, above, such as the inconsistent use of the concept of "defence" and the development of ostensibly absolute standards from which one then exempts one's own side on the grounds of particularities. To take a particularly blatant example, the United Nations has referred to an American right to 'attack' Afghanistan 'in self-defence' (Asia Today, BBC News 24, 11-10-01). The E.U. similarly refers to retaliatory bombing a month after September 11th as 'self-defence' (Ceefax 110, 09-10-01), while Bush even wants to extend 'self-defence' into attacks on other enemies who had nothing to do with the immediate attack they are supposedly a response to (Oracle 308, 09-10-01). Through doublespeak, it becomes easy to justify the unjustifiable, even when the unjustifiable is such by one's own standards.

An even more blatant case of doublespeak arises in the context of a discussion of plans for war against Iraq. A U.S. government spokesperson tries to argue, not that an attack against Iraq is justified, but that the term 'attack' is 'misplaced'. The supposed reason for this is that Saddam Hussein is a 'threat' and has attacked Kuwait and been involved in September 11th and assassination plots in America. This commentator prefers to refer to actions against Iraq as acts by the U.S. to 'avenge' or 'defend itself' (Newsnight 11-03-02). An attack carried out against a 'threat' or in 'revenge' is nevertheless an attack, at least in usual usage; this spokesperson's use of the term would, if used consistently, render legitimate a range of actions both in international relations and between individuals which the U.S. government opposes.

As regards "freedom equals slavery", David Blunkett's remarks on civil liberties are of some significance. For Blunkett, what he terms 'robust' laws (another instance of the selective language which constructs imagined difference with the Enemy) would 'protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them' (Ceefax 109, 15-10-01). The word 'our' may be decisive in establishing the meaning of this sentence, since there is a standard illusion maintained by those who identify with a collective self that repressive measures will only affect the Enemy. In any case, Blunkett is clearly stating that destroying rights is a means to protect them. Such doublespeak is based on the tendency, typical of the Enemy Binary, to reduce all threats to the Enemy while creating a state of unawareness of threats emanating from those claiming to represent the collective self. Blunkett calls for a 'new balance' on civil liberties because the main threat to freedom comes from terrorists (BBC News 23-09-01), an argument which clearly downplays the power of the British state within Britain, in relation to ill-defined external agents. Apparently, such discourse has convinced up to 70% of people in Britain (SchNews, 28 Sept. 2001), so doublespeak must be somewhat influential. The danger posed by the British state to people living within its territory is completely absent from such discussions, not because it has been empirically considered and discounted, but because a selective awareness has been developed which makes it invisible. There is also a myth of balance operating in Blunkett's discourse: civil liberties are treated as something to be weighted off, as if the issue is one of quantitative measuring. Clearly, the impact of repression and the threats psoed by "terrorists" and the state cannot be measured quantitatively, and the issue is actually one of the strength of different social forces and not one of "balance", a concept which has its roots in mathematical analogies and mythical constructions. An even stronger variant of doublespeak is to be found in remarks by Teresa Neumann of Oregon, in a letter to TIME. For her, 'freedom-loving people' should be prepared to sacrifice 'superfluous liberties' to gain 'a new appreciation of what it costs to be free' (TIME, October 22 2001 p. 6). In this letter, one can sacrifice freedom to affirm it.

What applies to freedom applies equally to fairness. Jim Kontilas of Texas writes: 'Are military tribunals fair? That's a good question. But why not also ask if crashing airlines into U.S. buildings is fair? When a country [sic] 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.' (TIME, Dec. 24 2001 p. 10). Several forms of discourse outlined above recur here: the guilt of the accused is presumed (since otherwise the issue of 'whether crashing airliners into U.S. buildings is fair' is irrelevant), and 'the consequences' are reified. Crucially, fairness is simultaneously advocated and attacked. On the one hand, the entire letter is directed at justifying unfairness: life is unfair, war is unfair, American unfairness is justified because terrorists are unfair, and fairness is anyway less important than imposing 'the consequences' on 'the terrorists'. But at the same time, Kontilas affirms 'justice' (which is close to being a synonym for fairness) as an ethical value, and sees the entire process - the rejection of fairness included - as tendential towards such a goal. For Kontilas, apparently, justice equals unfairness.

A similar contradiction emerges in government responses to the question of whether British participation in the war in Afghanistan has made Britain a more likely target of future "terrorist" attacks. Whereas the government fervently denies such a link when defending its decision to enter the war, it equally fervently affirms it when trying to justify repressive anti-terrorism laws (? TIME, Dec. 24 2001 p. 48). These laws are also themselves contradictory. If applied to the limit, everyone would be a terrorist, either by supporting the bombing of Afghanistan and therefore breaking the clause which forbids advocating the overthrow of a de facto foreign government, or by opposing the bombing and therefore, in the government's analysis at least, breaking the clause forbidding acts which create the conditions for terrorism. Similarly, a pro-war panellist on Question Time defends Camp X-Ray on the grounds that shackles are 'nothing' to people with strong beliefs, while also justifying the camp on the grounds that they will give useful information (31-01-02). Furthermore, Bush calls on other nations to 'respect the rule of law' (Ceefax 112, 01-02-02), despite the dubious legality of America's own actions. Similar questions can be raised about security guards 'confiscating' and destroying items from hand luggage, since the state and corporations usually take a strong stance against theft and vandalism.

Another form of doublespeak emerges around the issue of charging British people who fight for the Taleban with treason. Such threats are clearly incompatible with the assumptions behind western attempts to form alliances with Afghan factions and even to set up new forces to oppose the Taleban. A majority in an opinion poll wanted Muslims who fight for the Taleban deported from Britain (Ceefax 119, 24-11-01), a view which is racist as well as substitutionist, since it effectively condones the otherwise unthinkable policy of deporting British nationals.

Finally, even the status of knowledge is not free from doublespeak. Tony Blair states that '[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' (BBC News, 30-09-01). In this case, the multiordinality of language (i.e. the possibility of making a statement about a statement) is exploited to give a misleading impression of certainty. The claim that someone is known to be a terrorist is incompatible with the claim that they are only a suspected terrorist. While it is possible to state, as Blair does, that one knows that someone is suspected of something, this does not alter their status. (For instance, one can state "I know that Hitler suspected the Jews of plotting the downfall of Germany", without conferring any legitimacy whatsoever on Hitler's suspicion: it remains suspicion rather than knowledge, and is no more false for one's own knowledge that Hitler suspected it). Blair is implying that knowledge of suspicion of something is the same as knowledge of it, since he assumes a single "we" who both suspect and know. This is a clear-cut case of doublespeak, which justifies repression on suspicion by concealing it behind a claim to knowledge.


In most situations, it is very difficult to get any social group, in a war or at any other time, to admit to committing atrocities. Even the Nazis did not openly admit that they were committing genocide, despite their advocacy of it in a number of speeches and texts. It is also frequently difficult to establish clearly when these have committed, although indications are provided by survivor and eyewitness reports, gaps in the official narrative and partial admissions of guilt. In the present situation, a number of suggestions have appeared to suggest that atrocities have been committed by western forces. Firstly, calls by Amnesty International for an investigation into the deaths of numerous prisoners held at a fort in Qala-i-Janghi, near Mazar-i-Sherif, by a combination of Warlord Dostum's troops and UK and US agents, have been dismissed by the British and American governments (Ceefax 104, 02-12-02). Suspicions have been aroused by the fact that some of the dead bodies found in the remains of the fort had their hands tied, suggesting the uprising may have been triggered by prisoners being massacred (especially since tying up prisoners |rior to execution is a known modus operandi of the Dostum faction). Rumsfeld had previously stated that he wanted Taleban members killed rather than imprisoned (Workers' Power, Dec. 2001 p. 6). News footage, not remarked on in the context of the accusations of a massacre but broadcast incidentally a few days later to reveal the presence of a white American (John Walker Lindh) among the captives, clearly shows C.I.A. agents threatening prisoners that they had to choose whether they wanted to live or to 'die right here' (ITV News, 07-12-01). Evidence of mistreatment of captives in Afghanistan continues to mount. In February 2002, the U.S. government denied accusations that American troops beat and mistreated members of a pro-westen Afghan militia mistakenly captured in a raid by special forces (Ceefax 107, 12-02-02).

Secondly, the media has largely ignored bombing by US and UK forces since the fall of Kabul. However, attacks have continued, and patterns suggest that villages are being wiped out because it is suspected that they support the Taleban. '[T]here is more and more evidence of the US's terrorist policy against the population. Under the pretext of hunting down bin Laden and the remaining al-Qaeda fighters in eastern Afghanistan, whole villages are bombed to the ground... [Three major raids over Christmas] took place in the Paktia province, a predominantly Pashtun area where the Taleban are known to have enjoyed strong support. This is no "terrorist hunt". It is an attempt to cow a potentially hostile population into submission' (Class Struggle Jan/Feb. 2002 p. 1). The policy of bombing civilians because of their suspected allegiances is consistent with U.S. practice in Vietnam, with U.S. and allied activity in Colombia, and with Bush's rhetoric about 'taking sides' and 'harbouring terrorists', lending plausibility to such accounts. (Other attacks, incidentally, seem to involve America being dragged into feuds and faction fighting by Afghan forces. The attack on a convoy which turned out to be of U.S.-friendly Afghan leaders was, according to some reports, called in by an Afghan ally). In Shah-i-Kot, the U.S. admits to attacking strongholds containing the families of al-Qaeda soldiers (TIME March 25 2002 p. 41), and it is not known how many of the hundreds the U.S. claims to have killed in the operation were actual combatants. Another suspicious incident apparently involved British troops in Kabul shooting at a taxi carrying a pregnant woman to hospital, an attack which confirms that the logic behind curfews is murderous: those forced by emergencies to break curfews in Kashmir and the Occupied Territories are regularly killed by soldiers and police.

Thirdly, there is evidence that inhumane methods of some variety are being used to extract confessions. In November, Abdallah Higazy was arrested under U.S. laws (one of thousands of Arabs and Asians arrested in America so far). He was held incommunicado, the evidence against him was kept secret and he faced indefinite detention. He was held because he was staying at the Millennium Hotel in New York on 11 September, and a pilot's radio was stored in one of the hotel vaults. A month later, the real owner of the radio came forward and Higazy was freed. Disturbingly, however, during interrogation Higazy confessed, on three occasions, that the radio was his (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Feb/March 2002 p. 16). In another case, Adeel Akhtar, a British student, is considering suing the F.B.I. for handcuffing him and removing him from a plane, apparently for racist reasons (Ceefax 122, 04-03-02; in other such incidents, U.S. Green Party activists have been banned from using aeroplanes because they are on F.B.I. lists of anti-war activists, and Rastafarians have been targeted because officials mistook images of Haile Selassie on their T-shirts for bin Laden - as if would-be bombers would openly declare their intent on their T-shirts).

Fourthly, many of the laws brought in since September 11th have involved breaching human rights standards agreed by the governments which have introduced them. America's version allows suspects to be detained indefinitely, without legal support and without anyone being told. The British version involves blanket categories such as 'links to terrorism' and 'creating conditions for terrorism', as well as limited internment. The Czech version goes even further, forbidding solidarity with anyone accused of terrorism. Those arrested under it include an investigative journalist, arrested for criticising the anti-terrorism law itself. The Independent reports plans to extend security restrictions on research publication and discussion, which could ban researchers in areas such as medicine from discussing their findings with colleagues overseas even by private e-mail, and which would allow the government to veto publication. Victims of 'asset freezing' in the U.K. have been left penniless after their income support was cut off, and the U.S. government has given the C.I.A. extended powers. The sinister Homeland for National Security, headed by the fascist sympathiser Tom Ridge, has been given an extensive mandate in America; the British government wants to use the Territorial Army for internal security operations; and Australia has passed laws allowing the secret services to make arrests and abolishing the right to silence in such cases. Several websites have been closed. Early this year, an American anarchist was held at gunpoint by over twenty armed F.B.I. agents, and his computer and personal library were stolen by them. In general, a pattern is emerging of the corrosion of rights and freedoms and the imposition of ever-expanding systems of surveillance, violence and repression, even within the so-called "Free World".

Fifthly, Camp X-Ray, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, is being turned into a global gulag by the U.S. Their policy of transporting prisoners out of their own country to be tried under U.S. jurisdiction is highly irregular, especially since the President has specifically permitted the suspension of usual American legal controls to allow them to be tried by military tribunals. America has denied human rights groups and journalists access to the camp. The Red Cross has been allowed in but has not so far commented on conditions. Almost uniquely, the reach of this gulag is expanding across the globe: six suspects were jumped on and deported from Bosnia and flown to Camp X-Ray after the Bosnian Supreme Court ordered their release (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Feb/March 2002 p. 3). Treatment at the camp has not been fully revealed, but reports of people being subject to racial abuse and solitary confinement have emerged from prisons within the U.S. regarding September 11th suspects.

Some conditions at Camp X-Ray have been admitted. For instance, it has been publicly declared that detainees were shackled, chained to their seats, hooded, sedated and prevented from going to the toilet during the day-long journey from Afghanistan to Cuba (BBC News, 10-01-02), and that they are kept in small cages exposed to the elements (Oracle 13-01-02 p. 308; Donald Rumsfeld has since objected to the word "cages", calling this term 'pejorative', and TIME has therefore adopted his preferred label 'enclosures' - Jan. 28 2002 p. 31). Prisoners' treatment has been criticised by several human rights groups (including the UN and EU human rights commissioners, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), although it is hard to know exactly how they are being treated, given the secrecy inside the camp. America has tried to play down mistreatment by arguing: 'prisoners... are to receive medical care and are be [sic] allowed to practice their religion', according to Ceefax (p. 110, 13-01-02). This is blatantly untrue since prisoners have been shaved (TIME Jan. 21 2002 p. 23), in direct breach of their variety of Islam. Other reports suggest that prisoners are kept under constant spotlights of at least daytime intensity. This clearly implies a strategy of sleep deprivation. Furthermore, the conditions of detention suggest an attempt to undermine or alter prisoners' sense of self, in a strategy consistent with other regimes of terror in gulags and the like. Prisoners appear to have extremely limited space, no choice of activities, no contact with the outside world and no or few possessions, suggesting a regime of depersonalisation in excess of that usually operative in prisons and mental asylums.

Sixthly, government statements have sometimes tentatively advocated atrocities. Donald Rumsfeld openly advocates the use of chemical weapons against people hiding in tunnels, and he praised the Northern Alliance for attacking prisoners hiding in tunnels with boiling water and oil during the Qala-i-Jhangi battles (ITV News, 02-12-01). Blair briefly appeared to advocate the assassination of Osama bin Laden, though he later denied this, fudging the question by saying he did not think bin Laden would ever face trial (Oracle p. 303, 25-10-01). Furthermore, the American government has effectively admitted to abusing the law to persecute Arabs and others, by using political standards to imprison people for minor illegal acts. The claim that any slight slip by terrorists would put them in jail (Newsnight 30-10-01) can hardly be interpreted any other way, though this claim is, like Blair's, weakened when the speaker is questioned over the constitutional status of mass arrests. Actual developments confirm the interpretation of an incitement to racial victimisation. Thousands of Arabs in America (and over a hundred in Britain) have been arrested so far, many on suspicion or on minor charges. Many are held under immigration laws, suggesting a racist attempt to conflate the categories of "immigrant" and "terrorist" - a possibility further confirmed when Blunkett spoke in terms of a 'right to defend our boundaries' and 'the coherence of our nationality' about asylum seekers trying to enter Britain through the Channel Tunnel (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! February/March 2002 p. 16). In America, immigrant communities are under constant surveillance and the border with Mexico is patrolled fiercely. The situation is so bad that some immigrants have returned to Maxico to escape it (News and Letters Jan-Feb. 2002 p. 10).

Furthermore, the general tone of western politicians' statements and their attitude to others' requests and demands suggests that they see Afghanistan as a westen territory or property. Bush's assertion, for instance, that Taleban offers to hand over bin Laden 'do not meet America's requirements' (Ceefax 109, 20-09-01), like Cheney's demand for a 'go anywhere any time' inspection regime (Newsnight 11-03-02), implies that the U.S. government sees the rest of the world as extensions of America so that their leaders and populations have to meet America's demands. The voicelessness imposed on the Taleban and others by such discourse and by, for instance, American politicians' refusal to discuss of reveal evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the September 11th attacks (Ceefax p. 107, 21-09-01) made war almost inevitable and suggest that the post-war settlement will involve an unconditional imposition of western power on local populations rather than any kind of liberation. Despite such implications, Oracle were still able to claim that it was the Taleban who were setting a course for war (Oracle p. 303, 21-09-01). Furthermore, the suggestion that the regime in Afghanistan is to be a regime of panoptical and colonial control is confirmed by reports of a longstanding night-time curfew in Kabul (News 24, 17-02-02) and of American-hired police carrying out stop-and-search operations for weapons and, in a sinister turn, removing tints from car windows (News 24, 14-02-02).

There is plenty of evidence, therefore, that some varieties of terror are being used by western governments during the present conflict. (This is another instance of similarity with the Taleban and al-Qaeda). The use of terror is often misunderstood as simple irrationality or anger on the part of its perpetrators. Actually, it is usually part of a strategy of discursive control exercised by dominant groups. Given the failure or difficulty of attempts to persuade opponents, regimes attempt instead to restrict people's discursive possibilities by controlling their environment. Alteration of people's environment can affect their subjectivity. Territorialisation in the repressive sense involves a simple process: 'isolate a quality, extract it from a non-discursive mass, reformulate the quality as a discursive statement, use that statement to guide the reorganisation of the mass (Stephen Brown, "Poster, Placard, Property" p. 17). Prisons, for instance, subject 'the individual to an economy of content and expression. The prisoner... will... have to relate to a territory made up of relationships with chains, restricted movement, sweating head, enclosed space, abusive guards. Their own body is now visible to themselves only in terms of that territory... The individual's qualities and personal powers become narrowly redefined by the territory' (p. 17). Similar attempts to restrict possibilities of identification and expression are a central motive of terror directed against populations in "dirty wars". 'A key element of modern political violence is the creation of states of terror to penetrate the entire fabric of economic, sociocultural and political relations as a means of social control... [Those killed, tortured or exiled are] props in a political theatre meant to render whole communities a stunned audience' (Derek Summerfield, "The Social Experience of War", in Bracken and Petty, Rethinking the Trauma of War, p. 10). Often, such terror is directed specifically at social forms (from local cultural forms and political groups to health clinics and schools), which are forced to 'take sides' by being made the subject of death threats and violence.

In addition to specific actions which confirm this pattern, some American foreign policy documents provide evidence of a strategy of this kind - which is, as Summerfield puts it, deliberate, not random and irrational (p. 11). A paper released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, entitled "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence", advocates that the U.S. should use means including its nuclear arsenal to portray itself as 'irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked'. That 'should be part of the national persona we project to all adversaries'. 'It hurts to portray ourselves as too rational and cool-headed', and '[t]he fact that some elements' of the U.S. government 'may appear to be potentially "out of control" can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers' (cited in Noam Chomsky, "Rogue States", in Chomsky, Clark and Sa‹d, Acts of Aggression pp. 29-30).

Also, there is some evidence that western forces are implementing a policy similar to that discussed by Summerfield, targeting existing social institutions as a means to intensify control. A large number of schools, mosques and hospitals have been bombed with precision weapons at various stages, as well as Red Cross bases and al-Jazeera TV station. U.S. officials and the western media insist that this is a result of mistakes. It is, however, debatable whether it is possible to make such a large number of mistakes with precision weapons. Further, America welcomed the Pakistani president's plans for controls and a state licensing system, which will if effective curtail the independence of schools and mosques (Ceefax 111, 12-01-02; News 24, 13-01-02). Evidence is also emerging that American forces on the ground are abusing and trampling on existing social institutions to ensure their complicity in its war. American officials admit to the seizing of a school in Khost for use as a base against local guerrillas (TIME Jan. 21 2002 p. 29), and also that they used doctors to try to trick injured people into surrendering. They also tried to starve injured al-Qaeda fighters out of a hospital they were occupying as a result of this deceit, and denied medical treatment to injured people who refused to surrender (TIME, Jan. 14 2002 p. 38). America also admits to deliberately targeting private residences of Taleban leaders, which are clearly not military targets. In one incident, American bombers killed a 10-year-old son of Mullah Omar (Ceefax 107, 21-10-01). The Red Cross is clearly not convinced that the attacks on its depots were mere accidents, stating that the buildings were clearly marked and denouncing the attacks as 'deplorable' (Ceefax 107, 27-10-01). Significantly, the Red Cross is one of very few non-governmental organisations in the field of international development which has refused to be co-opted into government-led agendas. For instance, it refused to withdraw from Afghanistan for political reasons when pressured to do so before the present crisis (Bernadette Gibson, "Aiding the Afghans").

Territorialisation by terror is itself a discursive strategy in relation to the victims of terror. However, those who use terror also have to legitimate it to people outside the immediately terrorised population. In general, those who use terror use a contradictory discourse to disguise it, similar to the discourse of the 'double-bind' operative in some family relations. Two imperatives are simultaneously affirmed which run directly against each other and which produce contradictory (but equally forceful) imperatives. Firstly, an actor or group denies having committed any of the acts of which they are accused. The French government denied torturing suspected F.L.N. guerrillas in Algeria; Communist Party members claimed that accusations against the U.S.S.R. were fabrications by the western media or secret services. Secondly, however, the same actor or group claims that such methods are necessary and justified. Communist Party members would cite revolutionary exigencies; the French army termed it the only effective response to terrorism (see Philip Thody and Howard Read, Sartre for Beginners p. 116, 126). This strange combination of arguments, each of which renders the other both unnecessary and untrue, suggests either a propaganda effort to conceal and deceive by multiple means, or a psychological confusion associated with acts which are supposed, on their own terms, not to exist. (Within a territorialising discourse, the victims are assumed already to be what they are territorialised as - for instance, prisoners are already terrorists without there being any need to force them to confess - so that the violence which founds it cannot openly be declared without destroying the basic message of the discourse). The operation of this kind of double-bind provides strong circumstantial evidence that a particular group is using or defending terror.

Discourse of this kind is clearly operative in the present situation. Blair uses a fairly blatant double-bind regarding Camp X-Ray. He claims, firstly, that prisoners are being treated humanely (a conclusion he has reached solely on the basis of George W. Bush's reassurance); but he also states, 'let me assure you', that the inmates are terrorists and therefore the measures used are justified (Radio 5 News, 17-01-02). It is unclear whether Blair is stating that the prisoners are being treated humanely or that the issue of their treatment does not matter; it is also clear that he accepts their prior territorialisation as guilty.

A similar evasion occurs in relation to the Geneva Convention. The American government have repeatedly denied that the prisoners at Camp X-Ray are prisoners of war and also, therefore, that they have rights under the Geneva Convention. This is clearly an attempt to justify treatment which does not accord with the convention. However, this government also wishes to claim that it is treating detainees mostly in line with the Convention (Ceefax 108, 21-01-02). What this means is vague, since they supposedly have no rights under it. Then, in an apparent change of mind, they agreed to give Taleban, but not al-Qaeda, inmates rights under the Convention, while continuing to insist that they are not prisoners of war and that their treatment will not change (Ceefax 109, 07-02-02). It is unclear what rights, if any, this gives them. The exclusion of al-Qaeda prisoners from this decision suggests it involves a recognition of the Taleban as a state power, but the refusal of P.O.W. status to prisoners explicitly contradicts this. The whole operation has an appearance of attempts to give formal and informal guarantees to appease pressure, without changing practice or conceding anything on treatment. Indeed, the whole issue of the Geneva Convention may be at least partly a distraction from U.S. breaches of other human rights laws and treaties (eg. by imposing 24-hour spotlights, shackling prisoners and using sedatives for non-medical purposes) which apply in principle to all prisoners. Also, the emphasis on laws may be a distraction from an emphasis on the human effects of American policies.

The rhetoric used about Camp X-Ray suggests the same ambivalence. Rumsfeld insists prisoners are not held in cages, and TIME even refers to them being kept in 'roomy' cages in 'sunny' Cuba (Jan. 21 2002 p. 23). At the same time, however, attempts are made to excuse the treatment of the prisoners which imply that it is harsh if not inhumane. Rumsfeld says the prisoners' treatment is justified because the prisoners are 'hardcore terrorists' (Ceefax 114, 16-01-02); a supporter of the war says their treatment is not inhumane because the prisoners are 'tough men' and shackles and cages are 'nothing' to people with strong beliefs (Question Time, 31-01-02). This, of course, assumes the guilt of those held there, as does Rumsfeld's statement. Furthermore, the latter argument was followed by one which assumed that the prisoners will give information to their captors, clearly contradicting his claim about the insulating power of strong beliefs and masculinity.

Similarly, in the case of Qala-i-Jhangi, western leaders deny that a massacre has taken place. However, Peter Hain also tried to defend the incident as if it were a massare by saying that 'nasty things happen in war' (Ceefax p. 104, 29-11-01).

In several of the cases where statements advocating repression or terror have been made openly - from the U.S. government's admission that it intends to persecute Arabs to Blair's advocation of extrajudicial execution - the claims have subsequently been retracted, suggesting either propagandist manipulation or a guilty conscience. The double-bind also expresses itself in a more subtle way, in relation to the confusion about whether Afghans are or are not 'the Enemy'. Sometimes, official discourse mobilises ideas which heavily suggest that they are, from the civilisation-barbarism binary to the use of images of cleanliness and dirt, taking in rhetoric about 'failed states', 'crusades', 'folkloristic excitement', 'snakes' and 'foxholes', and a variety of other terms. Furthermore, the treament of actual Afghans, and particularly the contradictions around the status of civilian deaths (as indefensible wrong or as 'collateral damage') in official discourse, suggests the operation of some kind of dehumanisation. Furthermore, the treatment of Afghan asylum seekers (who are usually opponents of the Taleban), and the use of racial dragnets in America, suggests that all Afghans are the enemy. For instance, the Stansted hijackers were given long jail terms (Ceefax 114, 18-01-02) which are hardly compatible with their status as victims of a regime the government elsewhere referred to as Hitleresque. Clearly their sentences suggest that Afghans, rather than specifically the Taleban, are seen as terrorists by western elites. However, western leaders are careful to deny holding or acting on such assumptions. This is, we are told, 'not a war against Islam', and the Afghan people are 'not the enemy'. Furthermore, western leaders are supposedly concerned about humanitarian and human rights concerns, and claim to be careful to minimise civilian casualties. Again, the combination of arguments suggests a simultaneous attempt to defend and deny one's actions.

Lurking behind terror as a political strategy is a confusion of force with communication. As a result, instead of making statements, people use violence. If someone 'means' what they say, they back it up with bombs. For Jim Kontilas, 'The terrorists need to understand the consequences of attacking the U.S.' (TIME Dec. 24 2001 p. 10). 'The consequences' are a reified category, but the implication is clearly that they are something which can be communicated. The problem becomes one, not of opponents' actions, but of their failure to 'understand' - in other words, it becomes a communicative problem which Kontilas proposes to use violence to solve. Similarly, police praised a 3-year jail sentence given to a drunk man who carried out a bomb hoax, not on the grounds that it is justified, but on the grounds that it sends a 'very strong signal' (Ceefax p. 108, 02-11-01). Clearly the police cannot tell a 'signal' from an act of violence (in this case, of punishment): the term 'signal' suggests a communicative gesture, akin to a written note or a spoken codeword, whereas what they are referring to is a series of acts against a person's body. When violence is seen as communicative, its practical effects are misunderstood and its ethical status is altered in such a way as to make unlimited violence seem justified provided it signifies unlimited meaning. The stage is set for the use of terror as a political strategy.


So far I have stressed the role of mythical discourse in constructing legitimations of war. This type of discourse is widespread in the media and politicians' discourse, and among ordinary people who support wars. A different kind of discourse is present, however, in the self-justifications of military planners, generals and sections of the armed forces. Instead of relying on myths which invest situations with vague, general resonances, such groups primarily use a precise, technical and (apparently) descriptive discourse. This discourse has its own mythical connotations. In particular, it is quite possible for problematic views to be encoded as 'factual' through the use of signs associated with seriousness and expertise. However, on the whole, this kind of discourse avoids vague, high-level abstractions, relying instead on a reductive outlook which restricts language to existing objects and practices. Though this seems to contradict mythical forms of discourse, the two sometimes reinforce each other, with the pseudo-precise type of language providing particular instances which can then be defended through a process of mythical encoding directed at the agents and their discourse in general. It is also quite possible for hurrah- and boo-words to continue to operate alongside very precise concepts or even within them, as in the case of "Operation Enduring Freedom". Former military targeter Nash draws attention to technical language when he says that 'the language of the Defence world deserves attention... Beyond its usual function of facilitating communication, language in Defence, and... the intelligence community... helped to obscure the reality of what the work was all about - to distract attention from the homicidal reality and give a brighter hue to the ominous' (p. 70).

Marcuse refers to several kinds of precise and pseudo-precise discourse as "operationalism". Operationalism is a type of speech in which sentences are abridged and condensed until 'no tension, no "space", is left between the parts of the sentence' (One Dimensional Man p. 86). This happens through an abridgement of language in such a way as to rule out the contestation of the meanings of words. For instance, objects are identified with their mode of functioning, so that no other uses of them are conceivable within a particular discourse; and concepts are identified with an equivalent set of operations (86-7) - for instance, "democracy" with a particular electoral system or "art" with a set of formal criteria of assessment. In such discourse, particular uses of words do not involve words being adopted in a specific context; rather, expectations are embedded in the regular uses of words in such a way as to keep them identified with a limited, standardised set of routine behaviours (87). The central part of such discourse is the noun, treated as a name for something already in existence. '[T]he functionalisation of language expresses an abridgement of meaning which has a political connotation. The names of things are not only "indicative of their manner of functioning", but their actual manner of functioning also defines and "closes" the meaning of the thing, excluding other manners of functioning'. As a result, the noun rules the sentence, and the sentence becomes a declaration to be accepted, which 'repels demonstration, qualification, [and] negation of its codified and declared meaning' (87).

Such a use of words can strip them of anything but declaratory meaning to such an extent that contradictory opposites can be combined in single phrases, such as 'friendly fire', a 'clean' bomb or war, and 'harmless fall-out' (89), providing an illusion of the resolution of oppositions. Other apparently descriptive terms are euphemistic, carrying a political repression of the emotive content of equally accurate words and therefore removing the emotional resonance of war for some participants and observers. This is the case, for instance, when Donald Rumsfeld insists that Camp X-Ray prisoners should be described as staying in 'enclosures' rather than 'cages', because 'cages' is 'pejorative' (TIME, Jan. 28 2002 p. 31). James C. Thompson claims that jargon of this kind has 'muted the reality of war for the civilian policy-makers' (cited Nash p. 72), Allen says it tends to sanitise coverage of war, and Nash says that it gives '[i]mpressions of the benign' (p. 71). Some versions also confer either a deceptive familiarity or a spurious impression of scientific precision. Examples of such kinds of discourse, (some my own, some from Allen p. 176, Nash, Thompson p. 52, and Defended to Death p. 29), from past conflicts as well as the current war, include:

humanitarian intervention war, occupation
collateral damage civilians killed (unintentionally)
smart bombs computer-aided bombs
acceptable losses number of deaths tolerable to military leaders
surgical strikes attempts to blow up a particular building
modernisation building new weapons
unacceptable damage number of deaths not tolerable to military leaders
limited war nuclear attacks and massacres short of armageddon
theatre war nuclear attacks and massacres confined to a particular geographical area
disagreeable consequences deaths; destruction; failure; defeat (etc.)
demographic targeting deliberately blowing up cities
targeting economic infrastructure deliberately blowing up factories, offices, roads
or anything else "economic"
targeting ------'s ability to wage war deliberately blowing up any building, structure or people who do anything useful for ------
power vaccuum conflict between several warring states or warlords
power equilibrium conflict where several states are too scared of each other to wage war
(military) hardware weapons
baby H-bomb relatively small (but very destructive) H-bomb
the ICBM family a group of similar nuclear missiles which can be used from a distance
pacification programme mass imprisonment (in the Vietnam War)
taken out, wasted, blown away (a person) killed
protective reaction revenge attack
aggressive defence attack
reconnaisance by fire attack
armed reconnaisance attack
body count number of people killed
targets of opportunity mistaken or unauthorised attacks (often a classification of civilians killed accidentally or bullets wasted, in Vietnam)
systematic pressure threat
orchestration planning war
Daisy Cutter extremely large and destructive bomb
"the campus" C.I.A. headquarters
nuclear device nuclear bomb
herbicide, defoliation use of poisonous chemicals

Use of numbers should also be treated with caution. TIME's figures on the so-called 'round-up' of 'suspected terrorists' includes a large proportion of people held on suspicion, either in U.S. dragnet operations or in various countries' immigration systems - for instance, 460 American I.N.S. detainees (TIME, Jan. 21 2002 p. 27). In Vietnam, people (often civilians) killed by the U.S. were all included in the tally of Vietcong killed. Sometimes, numbers are invented to give an illusion of precision. One pro-nuclear weapons commentator claimed that unilateral disarmament would increase the risk of nuclear war 'by a factor of 10' (Defended to Death, p. 30). There is no way this could have been calculated numerically. Furthermore, even the names assigned to organisations (Defence instead of War Department, Readiness Command instead of Strike Command) are part of the process of operationalist distortion.

Operationalism is crucial in establishing a closed discourse invulnerable to criticism. External critics can be answered by phrases internal to the discourse, and this may be convincing to people who are not already opponents of a particular war. For instance, criticism of civilian deaths may be answered in terms such as: "These are acceptable losses resulting from collateral damage". Such a reply simply reclassifies the critical response within official discourse. In the process, however, the imperatives of the military organisation and its objectives are invisibly projected into the discussion.

Nash describes how such language functioned in practice during his time as a nuclear missile targeter. Many of the words, he says, arose because officials were comfortable using them, often because of resonances with other activities or reassuring overtones (71). This occurred in the context of a discursive and existential situation which made it possible to calmly select targets without any sense of moral revulsion. 'I and my colleagues... never experienced guilt or self-criticism. Our office behaviour was no different to that of men and women who might work for a bank or insurance company' (63). This was due to several aspects of social practice. Firstly, the bureaucratic world is intenally goal-driven, and getting one's own choices onto the target list was therefore something to celebrate (63). Secondly, ranks, compartmentalisation, a "need to know" attitude to data and so on separated cause from effect. 'Obscuring the "big picture" helped promote peace of mind', and each individual, working on an area of 'limited yet clearly defined scope', felt detached from eventual outcomes (64). Thirdly, team-work encouraged a sense of identification with the organisation and a related sense of professional security (64-5), which increased people's faith in the organisation. Fourthly, the discourse of the organisation was closed. Individuals were shielded from any possible falsification of their claims by the long-range nature of predictions, secrecy, and a heuristic emphasis on "worst-case" scenarios (65-6). The last of these turned into a general mode of thought which reinforced the idea of an Enemy always ready to attack (66). Fifthly, constant concentration on very precise information contained in numbers, lists, tables and catalogues held people's attention in such a way as to prevent them thinking of other possible aspects of the situation, whether in terms of the relationship between weapons and human life, the social characteristics of 'enemy' societies, or even the intentions of 'the enemy'. During a wargame, for instance, one colonel expressed surprise at the death toll of a nuclear weapon (66). Sixthly, power bred arrogance (67), and processes of security clearance gave officials the sense of having passed a test and being part of a superior elite (67-8). Also, the role of clearances and hierarchy allowed blame for actions to be passed on to superiors, and created a climate where promotion (or a special clearance) was an overriding goal, again deflecting attentions from the effects of one's work (69). The division of labour involved in bureaucratic planning may also produce a division between those who carry out acts, who see their effects but blame the planners, and those who organise them, who do not feel directly connected to the acts they commission.

Nash also refers to mythical discourse, especially the Enemy Binary and the dehumanisation of enemies, but he suggests this was used in the case of pangs of conscience (70), usually vanishing behind the banality of the organisation. The actions and attitudes of those involved convey sociability, humour and a strong conviction that their acts are necessary and therefore right; there is neither a pervasive sense of guilt nor anything overtly sinister (73). Rather, there is a kind of blockage which involves an abandonment of thinking (74). This lack of thought acts as a barrier on some kinds of action, and also holds back attempts to alter discourse (73-4), for instance through detente. This conservatism also leads to the continued use of terms which are defunct in terms of their original meaning. For instance, the terms 'victory' and 'defeat', derived from conventional warfare, are used of nuclear war (Deterred to Death p. 25), and of the so-called "war against terrorism".

Though it involves a claim to scientific status, operationalist language contains all kinds of subtle biases. For instance, military analysts tend to assume the worst about others, and therefore, to assess their capacities rather than their intentions (Defended to Death p. 25). This leads to fear and distrust and maximises weapon production. The situation is now even worse in this regard than it was before, because planners previously assumed that the capacity to wage war was relative to the size of one's arsenal. This assumption, which contributed to the lack of preparation for attacks such as those of September 11th, has been undermined without the basic assumption of deterrence changing. The effects of this are an attempt to extend power and threat in relation to greatly reduced capacities, a recipe for a global police state. 'Modern technology has democratized access to violence, so that terrorists now aim to spread destruction on a scale only governments used to think about. Former U.S. senator Sam Nunn said the obvious antidote is "to strengthen the nation-state..." ' (TIME, Feb. 18 2002 p. 55). For such commentators, the destructive power of the state is not a problem, since it disappears into a perception of threat directed mainly at Enemies. If Enemies need fewer resources than before to pose a threat, for Nunn this means more control. It is no accident, therefore, that the U.S. state wants to be able to see, attack and arrest everywhere, even to the point of having police remove tints from car windows in Kabul (News 24, ?14-02-01).

Operationalism does not simply lead to control. It leads to escalating control, and escalating war. Operationalism limits language to existing practices and functions, which are implicitly placed beyond criticism. War, for instance, is identified with security, which cannot be conceived apart from it without a radical change in discourse. The effect in practice is that, when war fails to achieve its objectives, neither the ends nor the means are questioned; officials prefer to escalate, sending more troops or more bombs, using more brutality, or expanding the war to new territories. Escalation was a major feature of the Vietnam War, and it could yet develop in the present conflict, especially if any major setbacks or further attacks on U.S. civilians occur.

The effects of operationalism are particularly bad in relation to political and ethical concepts which can be used to assess and critique the existing system. Operationalism reduces the tension between thought and reality, undermining the power of thought to analyse, criticise, reject and negate (Marcuse, One Dimensional Man p. 104). It denies to opponents a vocabulary in which to formulate dissent, since it tends to reduce thought to the present and connect words to particular uses so hypnotically that other uses become impossible (pp. 89-91, 108). It also tends to conceal the power-relations lurking behind the present state of affairs (119). As a form of language, it has more to do with threat than explanation. As Barthes puts it about the Algerian war, '[t]he official language... is... purely axiomatic... [I]t has no value as communication, but only as intimidation... [It] functions essentially as a code, i.e., the words have no relation to their content, or else a contrary one. It [is]... cosmetic, because it aims at covering the facts with a sound of language, or if we prefer, with the sufficient sign of language' (The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies p. 103; Orwell makes similar remarks about Newspeak).

E.P. Thompson makes similar claims about nuclear war. 'The deformation of culture commences with language itself. It makes possible a disjunction between the rationality and moral sensibility of individual men and women and the effective political and military process. A certain kind of 'realist' and 'technical' vocabulary effects a closure which seals out the imagination, and prevents the reason from following the most manifest sequence of cause and consequence. It habituates the mind to nuclear holocaust by reducing everything to a flat level of normality. By habituating us to certain expectations, it not only encourages resignation - it also beckons the event' (p. 51).

Operationalist discourse appears to its users as precise and effective, but this is a product of its role as myth or code, and is not borne out by its actual uses. Therefore, it is not able to deliver the quick, effective, "clean" wars it promises. In Vietnam, for instance, U.S. leaders operated with a narrow operational conception of security. They used it to mean 'securing' an area in terms of reducing the risk that a particular event would happen or in terms of 'the physical prevention of enemy movement in defined areas' (Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An, p. 153, 277). This led to calculable conceptions of risk and prevention similar to today's "risk analyses", but the political effects were disastrous. In practice, "security" meant concentrating troops in particular areas, usually around key installations. This involved drafting large numbers of troops, and leaving rural areas in the hands of the Vietminh. The latter were more successful at least in part because their conception of "security" was broader, encompassing the idea of a sympathetic environment, i.e. the need to win popular support (p. 146). Race states that 'the aspects of military strategy most often criticized by foreign observers... were consequences of the government's confusion of tactical and strategic conceptions of security. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that government strategists had no inkling that "security" could have any other meaning than the one imputed to it' (p. 154). If they could not even think about different kinds of war, it would be even harder to think about security in any sense but warfare. Such conceptions also led to actions such as concentrating Vietnamese villagers in easily-controlled camps as a way to decrease the number of areas which needed 'securing'.

Operationalism also leads to inconsistency. Both the goals of policy and the general mode of action involved in existing roles and functions are placed beyond contestation in operationalist discourse. There is no way, therefore, for such discourse to compare or contrast either of these aspects with the specific actions it commits. Therefore, for instance, a war waged for "humanitarian" goals or to stop "terrorism" may nevertheless end up using inhumane and terroristic methods, because of the split between the contestable and uncontestable aspects of operations.

The effects of such inconsistency emerge clearly in a letter to TIME by Dick Standaert (Dec. 3 2001). For Standaert, '[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'. This amounts to saying that, since the war depends on "our" support, "we" should support it. Contrary to appearances, this does not constitute an argument about why "we" should support it. It simply draws an operational conclusion from an operational necessity. It does not explain why the operational success of particular agents is something "we" should value. This gap is central to operationalism: operational necessities replace ethical or even practical arguments, and the validity of the general goals of the operations is, for those who accept operationalist discourse, placed beyond criticism.


As suggested above, the short-circuit between a perception of threat and a violent response is built into a variety of myths. In this way, it is articulated in language in ways which make it difficult for oppositional ideas to break through into the consciousness of supporters of war effectively enough to be taken seriously. However, a mythical structure by itself would probably only produce a superficial attachment to particular actions, and would be extremely vulnerable to experiences, evidence and arguments which expose or undermine the assumptions of the myths in question. Support for war is often far stronger than is suggested by myth, involving a deep-rooted emotional commitment on the part of at least some supporters of war which adds an extra-linguistic edge to debates and which creates psychological barriers to any calm analysis of myths and which prevents any immediate emotional impact of reports of the suffering caused by war. The myths are only effective, and only able to generate sustained commitment from some supporters of war, because they are articulated to psychological states and alignments already present in these particular people. Myths may be founded on and covered over by authoritarian psychological alignments.

The roots of such emotional responses may well be in what Wilhelm Reich calls "character-armour". This type of psychological structure involves a set of emotional and semantic reactions which insulate a particular person's psychological structure from potentially upsetting, disturbing or disruptive encounters, in order to preserve a permanent conformity to the existing system. It is, he suggests, rooted in a learnt process of repressing one's desires to enable a false sense of security from threat. The mix of helplessness, longing for a fhrer, fear of authority, fear of life and mysticism which arise as a result of character-armour tend to nullify attempts to establish free and/or democratic forms of society (cited Maurice Brinton, The Irrational in Politics p. 35). For instance, the status quo is identified with safety, and therefore, the uncertainty connected to the September 11th attacks is blamed on an outside threat. People with this kind of psychological structure then look for "strong leadership" and rally behind anyone who seems to provide it. They repress knowledge of the state of the world until it forces itself to their attention, and then they try to hide it again by using violence. By blaming an evil Enemy, they evade causal issues and keep their dogmatic belief in existing authorities beyond the possibility of falsification.

Character-armour is, Reich suggests, constructed in early life, when some people are taught or threatened into suppressing their desires, and the energies which are repressed or denied re-emerge in a passionate commitment to self-control, duty, and the permitted gratifications provided by authoritarian rituals (Mass Psychology of Fascism pp. 54-5). This results in 'rigid character-traits' (54). Emotions which are repressed and denied outlets in multiple relations with the world recur within the closed framework of whatever limited relations remain (p. 56), but on an exclusionary basis and with a concentrated intensity based on the conversion of specific uncertainties into a generalised sense of difference as threat. Initially, the process of repression occurs within the family, but it is reproduced in other contexts, including nationalism and racism, because of a metaphorical similarity between these and the family structure (57). For instance, the "strong leader" performs the dual role of a focus of identification who can provide substitute gratifications and a father-figure perceived as necessary for protection (62-3).

This kind of psychology must be reproduced by a sizeable number of individuals to take shape in mass phenomena such as political movements. However, it is also the case that authoritarian leaders frequently have such a character-structure. A recent account of George W. Bush's election campaign portrays him as someone with a strict personal regimen who watches TV 'mainly for the weather forecast' and who thinks the world will simply come to him (cited in The Marxist, Jan/Feb. 2002 p. 460). This may explain why his arrogance and apparent stupidity are not a problem for many of his supporters. Like leaders as diverse as Hitler, Stalin, Reagan and the Pope, he is a focus of identification for people who seek an illusion of certainty through the ritualised repetition of familiar claims. Such identifications may well be necessary for "the nation" and similar images of a collective self to be sustained as "imagined communities" despite the patent illogicality of positing a disembodied, imagined entity as having interests, needs, rights, duties, and characteristics, as making decisions and as acting.

When, therefore, Bush states that '[w]hen I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations' (Ceefax 105, 14-10-01), the effect on authoritarians is to confirm his image of strength. Similarly, when he arrogantly asserts that Taleban proposals 'do not meet America's requirements' (Ceefax 109, 20-09-01), as if Afghanistan were an extension of 'America', and when he dismissed demands for evidence of bin Laden's guilt (Ceefax 107, 21-09-01). Critics may see the menacing intransigence of such a statement, and its blatant tautology. These, however, are kept out of the authoritarian psyche by repression, and instead operate to confirm to authoritarians Bush's 'strength' and his resultant value as a protector. For sections of the media, despite all the above instances of western intransigence and more besides, it was the Taleban who were setting a course for war (Oracle 303, 21-09-01); once authorities are put beyond criticism, opponents become Enemies and are always to blame, and the only voice one can hear is that of the authorities. Similarly when the British and American governments state that they will 'use any means necessary' to cut off sources of terrorist funding (Ceefax 03-11-01), this becomes, in itself, a confirmation of their role. Such character-structures are therefore a great threat to others, because individuals who have them do not only support intransigent and violent state actions - they openly revel in them. Once authoritarians take control, there is nothing to stop any group being victimised or any right being rescinded. Furthermore, they see their agenda in broad terms, as a totality, so that they will use victory in one area as a basis for pushing into others.

In this kind of character-structure, repression usually results from a fear of one or more agents of authority which has somehow transmuted into an identification with them (as protectors). In order for this transmutation to be sustainable, the threat posed by the authority-figures has to be nullified in relation to oneself, and one's own sense of being threatened, as well as the existence of authority-figures as a threat, has to be rationalised in terms of an external threat which is menacing to the self and against which the authority-figure protects. The Enemy Binary serves this kind of role perfectly, and it therefore has a psychological appeal to people with authoritarian inclinations whcih is wholly independent of any existing evidence of an actual threat by an outside agent. The sense of its immediacy and its self-evident reality is a result of the association of external threats with internal repressed desires pressing against psychological blockages. Furthermore, since authority-figures' legitimacy depends on their function as protectors against such external threats, any actual threat or attack which is not part of the authority-apparatus must (for the authoritarian-inclined) be met by a "decisive", violent response. This is necessary both to continue the repression of the sense of threat and the resultant false sense of security, and to sustain the claim by (or of) the authority-figure to be necessary for protection. It is probably from such roots that the mythical formulation that 'we can't just do nothing' emerges.

Crucially, this violent response need not have any practical usefulness whatsoever to be seen as necessary by such people. It is understood in a different register, and as long as it confirms the assumptions operative in this register, action will simply be assumed to have been useful. (For instance, a crackdown may reduce fear of "crime" by reinforcing the image of the state as protector, even when its actual result has been an increase in the incidence of "crime"). The discovery or invention of an enemy who is responsible for the sense of insecurity is therefore completely separate from any empirical attempt to establish causality, and is prior to and decisive over the need for proof of guilt. (Authoritarians primarily feel the need for security in relation to external threats; the threat posed by authorities is repressed, and concerns about evidence and suchlike are subsumed under the image of authorities as protectors). As Yannis Stavrakakis argues about witch-hunts, scapegoating and animal kiling in early modern Europe: "When... fear leads to persecution, the most unpredictable developments will follow. The choice of the group to be stigmatised is not determined by any reasonable connection. Instead, it is determined, first, by its relatively marginal status: enemies are usually relatively powerless people... and secondly by its visibility'. The function of stigmatisation was about gratification, not causality; it was, in Edelman's words, 'a way to vent discontents onto a target that can do little to retaliate'. For instance, dogs were slaughtered to combat the Plague, despite having no link to it (and despite the fact that such slaughters increased instances of the Plague because dogs kill rats). They were selected 'partly because dogs were extremely visible and because they were symbolically [i.e., mythically] associated with a string of negative (human) qualities. Thus, "such creatures [could be singled out as]... a visible source of disorder" (Jenner1977:55)' (Yannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political, London:Routledge 1999 p. 159).

Character-armour provides a sense of security based on a dogmatic attachment to authority, but it does not actually generate security. The violent responses it generates often reinforce the problems they are intended to solve, and, indeed, there is an unconscious need within character-armour for external threats to exist. Baudrillard (The Consumer Society) thinks the media play up threats and disasters for precisely this reason: without them, participants in the monotony of consumer culture could not portray themselves as engaged in worthwhile activities. (Claims during the current crisis that shopping is a patriotic act tend to confirm Baudrillard's view). Why does David Blunkett state that the role of government is to make people feel safer (Ceefax 113, 26-09-01), rather that to make people safer (or any other actual function)? Clearly his mindset is authoritarian: the state fills a psychological niche of creating an illusion of protection. The logical conclusion of such an approach is to judge policies on their popularity among reactionaries, rather than their actual effects - a conclusion entirely compatible with New Labour's "crime" policies. Furthermore, anti-war arguments cannot convince those with character-armour unless opponents are able to alter their libidinal investments, because the need to "do something" and the identification with leaders make doing less, or nothing, or something less violent, seem unthinkable or weak. What matters to such people is the desire to act "decisively".

The reason for a response has less to do with the deaths on September 11th than with the way in which the attacks undermined the west's monopoly on spectacles of violence (cf. Caroline Hughes, "Changing Spectacle of Conflict"). Some supporters of the war openly admit that the only thing which makes September 11th stand out is that it undermined "world order", i.e. that it made the powerful feel threatened. Those who identify with authority feel threatened by any attack on it. They also feel threatened by the human effects of (for instance) military attacks (and also "crime", social conflict, etc.), but, if these effects were caused by authorities, they would repress the threat they pose or project it onto an Enemy. Mick Jagger, at the concert organised for September 11th victims, reportedly said that the purpose of war is to send the message: 'Don't f**k with New York' (Have I Got News For You, BBC1 ??).

Authoritarians repress the threat posed by authorities, which they therefore fail to take into account when discussing policies. The supposed external threat becomes the only significant issue from their perspective. As a result, anyone who disagrees is either soft on the Enemy or an Enemy her/himself. Take, for instance, an argument used by a member of the audience at a debating show. He says he does not want Afghans killed, but he cannot see any other way to get bin Laden out of Afghanistan (Esther, BBC2 25-10-01). This argument involves a double evasion. Of two things this individual 'does not want', one (bin Laden remaining in Afghanistan) is arbitrarily privileged over the other (Afghans being killed), with no explanation of why the former is more important than the latter. Also, the effectiveness of war is assumed, again with no explanation. These two assumptions - both apparently self-evident to this particular person - may well express an authoritarian character-structure in action.

Blair also uses arguments of this kind. Against critics of the war, his reply is simply that he cannot see 'how we could possibly stand back and do nothing' (Ceefax 108, 25-10-01). The drive to act regardless of effects is so strong that Blair poses the issue in terms of necessity. Furthermore, the question of what has been done during the war is expelled in Blair's reply; all that is left is an empty distinction between doing something and doing nothing. Blair makes this more explicit when he states that the choice is simply between going after the September 11th attackers or not going after them (Question Time, BBC1 24-10-01). This simple definitional sidestep can evade both ethical and practical issues about the war, and it poses the question in such a way that all evil is projected onto the Enemy. The emotional desire to act - which is clearly a product of authoritarian character-structures, since action in and of itself has no necessary relation to atrocities - becomes the sole determinant of action, so that action becomes disconnected from evidence, causality, or even goals, and becomes merely a means of restoring the illusion of security and balance provided by a particular mode of thought. The similarity with Stavrakakis's dogs is striking.

Since the logic involved in character-armour operates in an almost automatic way, it appears to those affected as if it were directly evident from external events and an immediate respose to them; this is why they so often mobilise myth to argue for their positions. 'Is moral outrage enough?' asks Newsnight (30-10-01). The answer of supporters of the war is a definite 'yes', because "moral" outrage becomes for them a total phenomenon encompassing reality as well as emotions. In one speech, Blair tries to defend the war solely by appealing to gut reactions. He says, 'never forget why we [sic] are doing this', i.e. 'how we [sic] felt watching the jets fly into the towers' (Ceefax 104, 30-10-01). The lack of argument shows the illogical nature of this appeal, which does not involve any account of why 'how we felt' on September 11th has any relation whatsoever to whether war is justified. The empathy involved is deeply racist, because it ignores how 'we' felt, or how 'we' might or could or should have felt, about victims of American bombings or other western policies. Furthermore, it is contrary to the wishes of some September 11th survivors. A victim's relative, the Reverend David Smith, said on Newsnight that the attacks are being 'used as a banner' by governments and that victims need to be 'left alone' to grieve (30-10-01). Even in Parliament, Simon Hughes of the Liberal Democrats accuses Blunkett of being 'irrational and unfair' and trying to push through the Anti-Terrorism Bill 'by shouting at us', and the Conservatives complained of being 'bullied' (Ceefax 109, 09-12-01). Many people had reactions highly divergent from Blair's, ranging from fear of the coming war to suspicion about the official account of the attacks, and even in some cases elation. This shows how the leap from events to responses is not as obvious as Blair implies. For as long as the jump from event to reaction is concealed beneath character-structures which guarantee an immediate emotional response which culminates in an action, such arguments make sense, and any argument against the war rebounds off several layers of armour. Undermining support for the war may well require undermining the armour, and the quasi-automatic reactions, on which it is based.

Contrary to the illusions provided by liberal legal and political theories (which, despite their complicity in actual crackdowns, appear to result from a different type of character-structure), crackdowns and revenge attacks have little to do with provable actions and causes. Bush calls Americans a 'peace-loving people', but Anthony Lapp‚ of Guerrilla News provides a rather different account. 'Beneath the surface of the patriotic salutes and the endless renditions of "God Bless America", there is a simmering rage - a bloodlust for revenge carefully orchestrated [by leaders and the media]'. For instance, when actor Richard Gere called for 'love and compassion' at the post-September 11th charity concert, he was booed by the audience (Year Zero 7 p. 20). In this description of the mood of many Americans, one can detect many of the elements of Reich's model, such as a reliance on ritual as a source of emotional security and a generalised desire for violence. This is quite compatible with a self-perception as "peace-loving", provided this perception takes the form of a repression of authority-as-threat and a sense, therefore, of a safe space protected by authoritarians from a hostile outside. Indeed, actual wars may even operate as a release of built-up tensions repressed during intervening periods, including tensions generated by a wider sense of outside threats and a culture of deterrence (Thompson pp. 54, 56).

It is in this context that the alignments involved in rhetoric about justice, law and the like can be understood. Indeed, the nature of the post-September 11th war and crackdowns reveals some disturbing gaps between the theoretical basis and the actual psychological basis of the juridical logic. In theory, this logic targets those who individually commit a particular harmful act, provided they are 'responsible'. In theory, the benevolence and harmlessness of law is guaranteed by its imperfection: even in the cases of a horrific act, this logic would not in theory punish anyone if proof is inadequate, perpetrators are 'insane', it is impossible to have a fair trial, etc. In principle, therefore, the juridical logic prioritises checking and balancing itself over the imperative to win: making sure the innocent are not punished is more important than making sure the guilty are.

Such a model is problematic, since the calm reasoning which generates it is unable to account for the desire to punish on which it is clearly founded. In practice, furthermore, law and so-called 'law enforcement' do not fit this model. They are heavily libidinally invested. Many supporters of 'law and order' demand 'results' (in terms of a symbolic resolution and violent acting-out) regardless of the methods used, and find it unthinkable that no-one be punished for a serious 'crime'. (Such a 'failure' would suggest a randomness to threat which contradicts the ideology of the state as protection). The forces at work in the libidinal and social structures of 'law enforcers' and the social pressures on them are, therefore, in contradiction with their official basis. As a result, law and the like are rarely more than a cover and a very limited restraint on a basic ideologico-emotional impulse which demands vengeance and witch-hunts (without regard for harm to the innocent). This is especially clear in the response to September 11th and in Bush's later remarks about suicide bombings in Israel. In both cases, the perpetrators of the acts died along with their victims. All the official justifications for violent punitive responses break down. There is no-one to be deterred (how does one deter a suicide bomber?), no-one to repay a debt, no-one to be rehabilitated or reformed, and no-one to be taken off the streets before they do it again. According to official justifications, the result should be that no punitive response occurs, or is demanded. In practice, what happens instead is a widening of the category of guilt, a lessening of standards of proof and a metonymic slippage in possible "guilty" parties, until a group suitable for punishment is located or invented. In this context, the role of vague terminology (conditions for terrorism, links, harbouring, abetting, sheltering, etc.) becomes clear. It operates to ensure that there is always a "legitimate" target for violence, so rightists can act out a gratifying exorcism of the spectre of September 11th, and thereby wish away social problems and uncertainty. Authoritarians demand blood whenever anything goes against 'their' side, and official rhetoric is distorted until they get it. If those who carried out the September 11th attacks are dead, others are identified as the 'perpetrators' to make sure someone is punished. Evidence against bin Laden is shaky, but even his trial would not satisfy authoritarians, and the American government repeatedly hinted that his handover by the Taleban would not be enough (Ceefax 107, 18-09-01). Indeed, western politicians' conduct of attempts at a political solution - from the refusal to negotiate to the moving goalposts, the refusal to accept proposals for trial in a third country or even direct handover if evidence was provided, and demands they knew would not be met - suggests an attempt to ensure that the outcome would be inadequate, so war could be waged.

The acting-out to restore "balance" and "security" is often, in practice, expressed under the veil of various juridical and ethical concepts which have been turned into hurrah-words and therefore emptied, and which can for this reason carry psychological alignments directly. The terms 'self-defence', 'justice' and 'revenge' have all appeared during the present crisis. To take a couple of examples, Blair referred to responses to September 11th as an 'act of justice' (Ceefax 104, 16-09-01), and a pro-US Muslim cleric says America has a 'right to defend itself' because those involved in September 11th 'must be punished' (Ceefax 109, 17-09-01). The concepts of 'justice' and 'self-defence' are here stretched outside their usual meanings, because proactive actions to punish or retaliate are not usually termed "self-defence" (indeed, most people convicted of gang-related 'crime' are innocent under the extended version of this principle), and "justice" is usually connected to some definable principle or model of assessment.

The psychological basis for the present war, and its relation to myths about clarity and the immediate reality of rightist concepts, is clearly shown in Lance Morrow's article, which is entitled "The Case for Rage and Retribution". 'We shouldn't feel better... [L]et's have no fatuous rhetoric about 'healing'. Healing is inappropriate now, even dangerous... Let's have rage. What's needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury - a ruthless indignation that doesn't leak away in a week or two... Let America explore the rich reciprocal possibilities of the fatwa. [America needs a] policy of focused brutality... America needs to relearn a lost discipline, self-conscious relentlessness - and to relearn... hatred... a wholesome and intelligent enmity - the sort that impels even such a messily tolerant organism as America to act'. The positive assessment of negative emotions is tied closely to standard authoritarian sidesteps: identification with an imagined community, conceived as an 'organism'; a valuation of clarity and strength, both of which are portrayed as being generated by war and violent emotions; and all of this portrayed as a necessary and healthy response to an external threat, so it is not a choice but 'what is needed', and anything else is 'dangerous', and so that the acts of authority-figures (once their violence is repressed and projected onto the Enemy) does not stop America being 'civilised'. One almost gets the impression that Morrow relishes the moral renewal, conceived in almost paradigmatic authoritarian terms, offered by terrorism and war; it strikes a blow for authoritarians, with their cults of clarity, protection and violence, against the 'self-indulgent' and 'messily tolerant', the 'humane' and adherents of a 'corruptly thoughtful relativism'. Even the desire to think can thereby be repressed in a certainty of being protected which is provided by a certainty that threat is both real and external (despite its actual origins in U.S. foreign policy); war provides according to Morrow a gnostic moment of immediate knowledge of reality and unreality. Thus, the short-circuit between emotions and truth-claims is accomplished through an authoritarian character-structure.

Authoritarian responses to crisis are encouraged by elements in political and media rhetoric which project authoritarian mindsets into apparently impartial descriptions of war and repression. Instead of brutal, repressive and fascistic tendencies, we have, according to the media, 'harsh', 'stern', 'tough', 'no-nonsense', 'strict' policing which is 'taking no chances'. When Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf plans to execute clerics for opposing him, he has 'come down hard' (Ceefax 110, 17-10-01). When the Pakistani military murder several protesters, Musharraf has acted 'swiftly and firmly' instead of 'mollycoddling' (TIME, October 22 2001 p. 66). Such terms have little literal meaning, and therefore presumably operate by metaphor. All these phrases have overtones of authoritarian parental ideologies. Several (tough, firm, hard) imply the direct solidity of actions, implying they are more real than other actions, and implying they have a protective role (as well, perhaps, as suggesting erection, the absence of castration or incapacity). Others suggest a certainty which such actions hardly engender: they involve 'no chances' or 'nonsense' and so are automatically true at the level of knowledge, despite the 'chances' which are clearly involved in any violent conflict, and the nonsensical content of much of authoritarian ideology. All of this only makes sense if state action signifies for those who use such terms something more than a political act: it carries the action of a metaphysical figure which, provided it acts violently, is beyond question. Any challenge of its own acts is psychologically as well as physically repressed, though the former gesture occurs through character-armour rather than arms.

Partly through the rituals it invokes and involves, war also performs a role of increasing people's sense of emotional security by affirming unity among conformists. Thatcher's initial response to victory in the Falklands-Malvinas War was that 'it's been everyone together and that's what matters' (War and Peace News, p. 135); Morrow similarly terms war 'unifying'. Ritual also has the function of imaginary invocation, which may well be why, while people supposedly realise that war cannot bring back the dead, they continue to act as if it can. Encoded in authoritarian ritual, war can symbolically 'bring back the dead' by restoring a sense of security conceived as expressing a balance which never existed in the first place. This false sense of security is directly invoked by, for instance, a British ambassador advocating war against Iraq, who believes that war could negate the 'worry' caused by terrorism (Newsnight 11-03-02).

Targeters and generals do not need a direct connection to war in order to perform their roles, which is probably why they rely so heavily on technical and pseudo-precise language. Soldiers, in contrast, need a direct commitment in order to fight. This often takes the form of character-armour: they see themselves as defenders of everything valuable against a vaguely defined threat of otherness. They may therefore see themselves as superior to the civilians whose security, in this formula, depends on them. '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" ' (USAF pilot, cited Joan Smith, Misogynies p. 141-2). The sense of the immediate reality of emotions connected to war, central to Lance Morrow and several other authors, finds its culmination in action by such people. The sense of a hostile outside is written large in such accounts, alongside a contempt for those within the illusory safe space who do not understand or identify with the pilots. It is through immediate agents of violence such as pilots, soldiers and police that the authoritarian desire for violence is actualised.

The structure of authoritarianism is not, of course, limited to these groups, and the sense that others rely on them is crucial to this kind of self-justification. As a result, the libidinal investment of military and repressive apparatuses by people outside the apparatus but within the society it claims to represent is crucial for it to sustain itself psychologically. Soldiers draw their strength (against criticism and against the horrors of war) from assumptions which are only effective if they at least nominally appear to be valid. As Alfred Korzybski claims, many characteistics of mass semantics, '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' (Science and Sanity, 5th Edition, Englewood:Institute of General Semantics 1994 [orig. 1933], p. 521). The same kind of effect, usually termed "loss of morale" in official jargon, occurred in Vietnam. Faced with mass protests in America and elsewhere, hostility from the population they were supposedly sent to save, and a war which looked increasingly unwinnable, troops became increasingly uncooperative, engaging in activities ranging from 'phenomenal' use of drugs and mass desertion to attacking commanding officers with grenades (T.E. Vadney, The World Since 1945, Second Edition, 1992 p. 335). This shows that, while the closed discourse of militarist authoritarianism often seems invulnerable 'on paper', in practice its reliance on actual support provides weak spots which can put it on the defensive.

In conditions of crisis, however, authoritarians often gain the upper hand because liberals and moderates, who do not revel in crackdowns as a good in themselves, are drawn into the authoritarian camp by a sense of insecurity. Agnes Heller writes after September 11th: 'Why do we [sic] - democrats, liberals - need to apologise for being absolutely convinced... Why do we shy away from simply saying "No!" ' (p. 13). Heller's liberalism no longer involves openness, tolerance and dialogue, because in liberal theories these require a sense of security as a prerequisite. Heller therefore finds herself speaking in the same terms of absolute clarity as the likes of George W. Bush and Lance Morrow. David Held develops similar conceptions, expanding particular liberal concepts in such a way that they are indistinguishable from an authoritarian agenda. His article revolves around a general theme of a need to create a global trap, a totalised cage under a single, totalising, panoptical gaze. For Held, all human activity should be reframed in terms of law; there should be 'zero tolerance' of "terrorism"; and repression should be extended from actual "terrorists" to those who are 'harbouring' or who 'protect and nurture' them. In other periods, liberal discourse would act as a barrier to the authoritarian drive for punitive slippage and zero tolerance. After September 11th, however, people with liberal and moderate conceptions of the world have, with a few notable exceptions (particularly in human-rights groups), sided with authoritarians. Such developments show that most forms of liberalism are undermined by a dogmatic kernel of authoritarianism which periodically undermines the rest of liberal theory and encourages liberals to let the authoritarians off the leash which liberal principles of tolerance and procedural fairness usually keep them on. The result is a slippage from "global policeman" to "global police state".

The Genesis of McCarthyism

What does Michael Elliott mean when he calls for a 'war... on many fronts: military, financial, cultural and intellectual' (TIME 21 January 2002 p. 29)? Clearly a literal war cannot be fought in any of these fields except the military. The military logic, however, can be expanded, and the Enemy Binary can be mobilised to extend control, repression and violence into many areas of social activity. Cultural and intellectual war presumably means the division of cultural and intellectual discussions along military lines, into "us" and "them". Clearly, therefore, supporters of war are not content with war alone; their discourse tends to expand into a wider militarisation of society.

The logic involved in authoritarian character-structures provides a psychological basis for war and for terroristic actions. Initially, such actions are directed against a particular Enemy-figure, but the logic involved in them tends to become expansive. Because the basic desire invovled in moral panics is for a restoration of a false sense of security, and because this requires violence against scapegoats, a danger of slippage is built into this logic. Where attempts to crack down are unsuccessful, where (as is often the case) they fail to restore security because the Enemy responds in kind, or where the Enemy cannot be defeated or is difficult to locate, the authoritarian's bloodlust can easily be transferred onto other targets. Furthermore, repressive character-structures and the Enemy Binary rely on an iron separation between two sides, "us" and "them". Social actuality, in contrast, is marked by a complex range of individuals and groups whose position cannot be reduced to such essences. As a result, authoritarians tend to establish the binary in such a way as to include indeterminables - people and cases which are neither "us" nor "them" - in the Enemy (usually by portraying any sense of drift or any complication of relations between the collective self and the Enemy as providing spaces or opportunities which the Enemy can exploit). Historically, expansive logics of this kind are expressed clearly in McCarthyism, a large-scale moral panic about "communists" and "Russian spies" in 1950s America which expanded to include socialists, liberals, peace campaigners, black activists, trade unionists, and anyone else who fell under official suspicion. (McCarthyism eventually imploded when its main figurehead, Eugene McCarthy, began pinning suspicion on leading figures in the police, army, secret service and Presidency).

Before dealing with overt cases of a McCarthyite logic, it is important to stress how many of the actions which were motivated by the September 11th attacks were pointless from a practical point of view. For instance, banning flights over London from September 11th until September 16th has no lasting security value, since there is no reason why potential attackers would limit themselves to this period. Similarly, American policies such as 'lockdowns' (in which tunnels are closed, traffic is brought to a standstill, etc.) and closing borders with Canada and Mexico have no substantial practical basis. That 'lockdowns' were reimposed after a second aeroplane accidentally crashed in New York is even more significant, since in this case there was not even any question of a marginal chance of suspects being arrested. To take another case, after the attempted "shoe bombing", airports started checking all passengers' shoes (News 24 24-12-01), as if one attack of this kind proved some general and specific relationship between shoes and bombing. Shoe checks could only have a logical justification if further attacks were likely to take the form of shoe (as opposed to, say, shirt or hat or pants) bombings; otherwise, they are ritualistic and pointless (and threatening if expanded - if, for instance, later bombs were concealed in bodily cavities or underwear). Other crackdowns at Pittsburgh airport, which included banning knives in the staff canteen, were described by staff as 'window dressing' (BBC News 24-09-01).

Some of these measures (such as lockdowns) cause harm or at the very least inconvenience. Any criticism on such grounds is usually dismissed by comparison with the scale of suffering caused by September 11th. This is only, however, a valid argument if it is at all relevant. Measures which do not have any substantial practical significance in preventing attacks cannot logically be defended by reference to them. That such arguments occur shows that many people's emotional reactions to September 11th have little to do with preventing further attacks and a lot to do with attempts to reassure oneself by libidinally investing displays of force by the state. The claim that "everything has changed" is a myth, but it is made to seem real through actings-out. (Lockdowns, for instance, "prove" that something important has happened, since otherwise they would be unjustified; this psychological effect is not necessarily undermined by the lack of a practical relation between the important 'something' and the resultant action). Also, crackdowns are used to restore the illusion of certainty and to conceal the impossibility of preventing attacks by surveillance and security measures. As a result, logic is removed from the relationship between the September 11th attacks and possible responses, which leads to the attacks becoming a general excuse for anything - something one could term the "September 11th Trumps Everything" argument.

The situation is dangerous, because it leads to other concerns being bypassed. The possible impact of bans on sharp objects on aeroplanes on people who require needles for medical purposes has not even been raised in the media. Such measures (which could easily be counterproductive, since passengers no longer have objects to use against would-be hijackers, reducing the chances of a repeat of the Pittsburgh passengers' resistance) are only allowed the status of inconvenience, and passengers tolerate them on the (irrelevant) basis that their suffering is less than that of the victims on September 11th (BBC News, 15-09-01).

In a logical conception, either one believes in something or one does not. For instance, an event such as the September 11th attacks cannot change the ethical status of liberal principles or the epistemological criteria necessary to prove 'guilt'. In the mixed-up world of crackdowns, however, anything can be justified because meaning itself is tied so closely to the Enemy Binary. Something can be right one moment and wrong the next; it can even be permanently wrong yet justifiable in particular cases. As a result, supposed liberal democracies cease to be what they seem; suddenly, absolutes fly out of the window, without anyone overtly rejecting them, and a sinister discourse lurking beneath the surface of liberalism comes to the fore. For Blair, backdating laws, so that someone can be prosecuted for something which is not illegal when it is done, is justified - but only because the present context is an exception (Ceefax 107, 21-10-01). For Senator Richard Selby, US mass arrests should not be justified on principle; rather, they should be 'put in the context' of September 11th (Newsnight, 30-10-01). For the Lord Chief Justice, the new Terrorism Act is a cause for suspicion - but is justified as long as it is only kept in place during the present situation (Ceefax 121, 31-12-01). For the E.U. Council, September 11th should alter the 'balance' between 'privacy' and 'the needs [sic] of Member State authorities responsible for ensuring security in a democratic society' (Statewatch 12:1 January-February 2002 p. 18) - a balance which, as usual, does not have to prove its 'democratic' credentials. For a Dutch prosecutor (and apparently the judge also), 'after September 11th, some things have changed.... We learned... that our [sic] western society is vulnerable to marytrs and suicide groups, that means we have to act in a cautious, precise and restrained manner' - which apparently includes jailing people without evidence of guilt (Statewatch 12:1, January-February 2002 p. 19). This kind of argument is the basis for the demolition of all ethics, and possibly of all meaning, since people suddenly stop defending their positions and fall back on 'exceptional' excuses as a let-out from their own principles.

Another instance arises in the case of an incident where the British Navy effectively hijacked a commercial ship in international waters, on the basis of rumours that it contained unspecified "terrorist" materials. In this case, Blair implied that, even if the seizure was wrong, it was right, on the basis that 'inconvenience' is less important than 'national security' (BBC News, 21-12-01). Unapologetic for what turned out to be an unjustified action, Blair's arrogance - especially his refusal either to apologise for the mistake or to take measures to prevent further such mistakes - shows the contempt for the innocent underlying the "September 11th Trumps Everything" mindset. It is unclear why the ship's crew - threatened by armed assailants and detained for a considerable time - are only permitted to feel 'inconvenience', rather than 'insecurity' and 'fear'; it should also be noted that 'national security' is a phantom category, since 'nations' are imaginary entities which cannot feel insecure. What is most disturbing in this case is Blair's refusal to accept the possibility of being wrong: the emotional pseudo-concreteness of the perceived threat is taken to be more real than the question of the empirical accuracy of the basis for assessing the threat.

Laws introduced since September 11th are similarly based more on punishing people for having the "wrong" emotional alignments, i.e. for not believing in the pseudo-concrete reality of the "us"-"them" division, than on the official excuse (i.e. harm). Take, for instance, the introduction of 7-year sentences for people who carry out anthrax hoaxes. Such hoaxes are basically an elaborate form of harassment, and do not cause any direct harm. The official excuse for such laws is that hoaxes cause 'fear' and 'inconvenience' and could risk lives in a real emergency (Oracle 301, 21-10-01). The last part of this excuse is utterly implausible, since the logic behind hoaxes is very similar to the logic behind fire drills. As regards 'fear' and 'inconvenience', it is worth comparing Blunkett's remarks in this case to Blair's dismissive attitude to 'inconvenience' in the case of the seized ship. Clearly such excessive sentences are therefore nothing to do with actual effects, suggesting that they may be an emotional lashing-out against people whose actions offend the sensibilities of people who have become arrogant in their assumption that they directly know reality.

The "September 11th Trumps Everything" device means that arguments which fall beyond official reactions can be silenced (not, crucially, answered) by reference to the emotional significance of September 11th, without any need for logical argument. Take, for instance, the case of film critic Harry Knowles. Knowles stood almost alone in opposing the withdrawal of a number of films in the aftermath of September 11th, because the withdrawal of films would not help people to deal with the attacks and that such films at least provide reassuring images of good triumphing over evil. This rather modest argument led to a flurry of reactions, and the supposedly neutral teletext service 4Text provided an emotional reply which denounces Knowles as 'self-centred', 'detached from reality' and concerned about 'a bunch of violent movies we can do without' (4 Text p. 412, 16-09-01). This near-hysterical response is clearly based on a simplistic appeal to the importance of September 11th without any attempt to answer Knowles's substantive arguments. It is built around the by now familiar device of confusing emotional responses to the September 11th attacks with 'reality'. The status of claims as potentially true to 'reality' is reduced to prior agreement on an agenda of crackdowns and pointless responses, as if the emotional basis of these renders them immediately real.

The use of the label 'self-centred' is perplexing (as well as ad hominem and unproven), since Knowles's argument is based around discussions on the role of films for audiences in general, and since, by focussing on films rather than politics, he is doing what in other circumstances would merely be considered his job. Presumably, therefore, the accusation of selfishness relies on an unstated, mythical reference to a unitary collective self or repressive "we". Knowles is therefore under attack not because there is anything 'self-centred' in his substantive analysis, but because his action of stepping outside the pseudo-consensus puts him at odds with a string of discourses to which ideas of sociality and regard for others are increasingly articulated. Such a sinister form of labelling could potentially be expanded to any form of dissent. (The repressive 'we' is even more obvious in the statement 'we can do without').

Similarly, the claim that 'we can do without' these films is irrelevant (since Knowles does not claim that 'we' cannot do without them, but that we should not), and is clearly an attempt to belittle the entire debate by casting the shadow of the Twin Towers over it (an impression confirmed by the rhetorical phrase 'a bunch of violent movies', in stark contrast to the usual tone of 4 Text's film criticism). The authors of the text cannot in fact do without films except at the cost of their jobs, further suggesting that the operative 'we' is purely mythical. The statement implies that anything which does not accept September 11th as its starting point is unworthy of discussion - a reductive attitude to argument which is further implied by the designation of the site of the towers as Ground Zero. This is extremely worrying, since it prefigures a more general process of repressive agenda-setting in which empirical and logical discussion are replaced by simplistic reiterations of pre-formed assertions posited as rational, ethical and real.

Incidentally, there may be a sinister (though unconscious) logic behind the postponement of films. Action films provide much of the narrative structure for war, but they also form an alternative channel for warlike impulses. The suspension of such films in the immediate aftermath of September 11th establishes a monopoly on such impulses for politicians, encouraging those whose mindset is close to that of action films to apply their favourite narratives to actual political events (since their usual outlet is removed). The removal of the cathartic outlet projects violent tendencies, otherwise safely contained in the cinema, into the actual world. On the contrary, the release of the films several months later, when emotional reactions to the September 11th attacks are probably fading, means they can be mobilised in such a way as to maximise their propaganda value.

What is more significant in the Knowles case, however, is the mobilisation of the "September 11th Trumps Everything" device to block discussion of arguments and establish a priori the reality and correctness of particular claims. In this context, someone who demonstrates that they do not share the emotional state of the collective self becomes a potential target for punishment and repression, and defenders of the new orthodoxy - whether agents of the state or self-appointed moral guardians - begin to put people's social existence on trial by testing their fit with the "correct" emotional state. This is how McCarthyist tendencies emerge.

There have already been a number of reports of McCarthyist incidents, mainly in America but also in Britain. These range from people being sacked for speaking out against the war (BBC radio news, 09-10-01), to Internet service providers being blackmailed into closing dissident websites (Oracle 309, 11-10-01), to a leading trade unionist, Mark Serwotka, being gagged by rivals in his own union from opposing the war even in private conversations (Action for Solidarity 9 November 2001). Another incident involves a senior police officer put under investigation for joking about having a gun at an airport (Ceefax 123, 28-09-01) - presumably because of his "incorrect" sense of humour. The government is also carrying out a McCarthyesque purge of Muslim clerics in prisons, and threatening a more general crackdown on clerics (Ceefax 107, 29-12-01; 115, 27-12-01). Unless blocked, such tendencies could become much worse. Lance Morrow wants people who reason about or explain the September 11th attacks treated as 'too philosophical for decent company', perhaps because his conception of decency now encompasses 'hatred', 'exterminat[ion]' and 'brutality'.

Such tendencies also extend to government attitudes to the media. Despite the government being an obvious beneficiary of much media bias, there were in October 'growing signs of government frustration with the reporting of the conflict' (Ceefax 109, 28-10-01). Blair has accused the media of 'wobbling' because it does not uncritically parrot his endorsement of the war (Newsnight 30-10-01), and one Labour MP accused the BBC of being 'Taleban TV' because it reports civilian casualties in Afghanistan (Ceefax 107, 10-11-01). This clearly shows a general intolerance for any injection of 'neutrality' or 'balance', however half-hearted, which detracts from the propagation of official narratives. In 1982, similar tendencies occurred, with the BBC Chairman called to reassure the Prime Minister that the BBC is not neutral and with one programme denounced by a minister as dishonouring the right to freedom of speech. The programme in question was shown in a quantitative content analysis to contain 'more statements in support of government policy than against' it (War and Peace News p. 128). In this case, blatant doublespeak is apparent: free speech is blamed for its own curtailment, because it is expected to remain spontaneously within limits assigned to it, i.e., to be unfree.

One particularly dangerous tendency in current rhetoric is the attempt to block challenges to actions by referring to their supposed 'objective' significance within the Enemy Binary (an approach which echoes the Stalinist principle of 'objective guilt'). US Attorney-General John Ashroft, for instance, accuses critics of military tribunals of unwittingly helping those responsible for September 11th (ceefax 142, 07-12-01), as if this peremptorily proves them wrong and ends debate. Similarly, instead of answering the accusation, Bush accuses people who doubt the authenticity of the supposed bin Laden video of providing excuses for him (Ceefax 105, 14-12-01), a patently circular argument since they are only providing excuses if the tapes are authentic. The Czech state has gone even further, making it illegal to criticise anti-terrorist laws under a clause which treats it as an expression of symathy with sympathisers of terrorism. This has been used to jail investigative journalists for criticising the use of the laws (SchNews, Winter Solstice 2001). In all these cases, language is distorted because the powerful choose to comment on, rather than reply to, criticism.

The general result of such discourse is, ironically, terroristic. After anti-capitalist demonstrations in Ottawa, Canadian activists are speaking of a 'climate of fear'. Lysander Zimmerman of anti-capitalist group The Black Touta remarks: 'The voice of dissent is being silenced all over the world' (Freedom 1 December 2001 p. 2). In New York, Anthony Lapp‚ makes similar remarks: with 95% backing Bush, the steamroller of war seems so unstoppable that he could not even find the energy to attend peace events (Year Zero 7, p. 20). Fortunately, the climate of fear has not expanded everywhere, and it may now be receding somewhat. Nevertheless, the discourse around which it is built remains operative, and the threat it poses should not be underestimated.

The Decline in Popular Scrutiny

The transmutation of the state into a bearer of mythical values, combined with the urge for action regardless of content and the atmosphere of moral panic, create a situation where the level of scrutiny of government actions is reduced. As a result, governments use tenuous connections or the general lowering of vigilance to engage in unpopular policies, carry out attacks and expand their own powers. (This is why states sometimes carry out "terrorist attacks" themselves, as in the cases of the Bologna bombing and the series of bombings in Russia). The policies in question do not necessarily need to be closely linked into the discourse of war itself, since the lowered vigilance is enough to allow them. Indeed, E.P. Thompson suggests that governments specifically plan propaganda and repressive measures which they then wait for a crisis to implement (Protest and Survive p. 48). The shock caused by the crisis renders many people sufficiently emotional that they can be led by the noses by politicians who can offer an illusion of security and symbolic reassurance. The misidentification of the state as a barrier against terrorism makes it particularly able to exploit the crisis, but it is not alone in doing so. The notorious use of the crisis to "bury" bad news is simply the tip of an iceberg which extends from armed police at the Labour Party Conference and increased funding for the Metropolitan police to increased aggression by the Israeli army and job cuts by airline companies.

In the present crisis, governments are working to turn "terrorism" into an enduring excuse for war and repression. The atmosphere of exceptionalism (linked to the desire to restore a false sense of security) has been effective in removing blockages to repression; for instance, one poll shows that 97% of British people back internment (Oracle 146, 14-11-01). The difficulty with exceptionalism is that it wears out rapidly, which is why rulers try to extend the sense of crisis for as long as possible. The ideal scenario for the state in particular would be a kind of permanent state of emergency (a contradictory status which has actually existed in some states, and which is also implicit in "emergency" measures which are never repealed). Thus, the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney argues that the so-called war on terrorism 'may never end. At least, not in our lifetime'. He thus gives victory a quasi-utopian character, similar to the eventual achievement of socialism in Stalinist ideologies. Rejecting the use of treaties and the imposition of controls on the army, Cheney states that what he terms 'tightened' security measures 'will become permanent features' of life, and that the new (repressive) legal structure is 'the new normalcy' (Ceefax 105, 21-10-01; News and Letters, November 2001 p. 10). Cheney is engaged in a particularly sneaky manoeuvre, constructing a repressive system under the cover of exceptionalism and then attempting to normalise the resultant system by extending the image of threat. Of course, such an extension also renders impossible the actual achievement of the desired restoration of security, even as an illusory or emotional state. Elsewhere, the situation is even worse, with gay men in Egypt and public sector strikers in South Africa among the groups threatened with new "anti-terrorist" laws. Thompson's suspicions are also confirmed by Statewatch's remarks on a Dutch "Action Plan": 'it has to be evaluated more as a judicial and police force "wish-list", which, under the guise of safety, boosts their budgets' and extends official powers of surveillance and repression (12:1, January-February 2002 p. 20). U.S.-based academic Joseph Stiglitz also notes that Bush is using the war to build a so-called 'consensus' on what the postwar world should look like (TIME February 18th 2002 p. 59).

Attempts to extend the war to other targets also suggests political manipulation of the crisis. Official discourse attempts to extend the September 11th blanket over any potential enemy, providing a pretext allowing wars to be fought which would otherwise lead to popular discontent. The claims made against Iraq, which revolve around a flimsy account of a minimal possibility that Iraq might produce weapons which might then fall into the hands of "terrorists", are a case in point. In America, the reduced scrutiny produced by September 11th is particularly significant, since it seems to have cancelled out the post-Vietnam blockages against using American ground forces.

In New York, Rudolph Giuliani milked publicity to increase his popularity massively, only to scale back search-and-rescue operations the moment the media spotlight was elsewhere (an act which led to clashes between firefighters and police at "Ground Zero"). There have also been attempts to pass off pro-capitalist policies as anti-terrorist. For instance, the New York Times equated traders with freedom fighters because bin Laden opposes them (SchNews 19 October 2001), and there have been attempts to rush cuts in Capital Gains Tax through the U.S. Congress by labelling them as anti-terrorist initiatives (SchNews 28 October 2001). Capitalists themselves have also used the crisis to their advantage. Airline bosses have used it as an excuse to carry out staff layoffs which they had been trying to push past trade union resistance for some time. Paradoxically, this new excuse even allowed them to lay off up to 200 security staff at Manchester Airport (Ceefax 113, 08-12-01), further confirming the lack of any logical link between the threat of attack and the supposed "responses". Similarly, in the U.S. during the anthrax scares, Congress was cleared and its workers tested and given antibiotics, but postal workers were not. This led to several deaths. Postal bosses attempted to evade resultant criticism by telling workers to blame 'the terrorists' instead of them (Action for Solidarity 26 October 2001 p. 2). The same manipulation occurred after the Falklands/Malvinas War, which the media attempted to use to get the same sense of unity in industry as had been generated by the war (War and Peace News pp. 135-6). Also, American right-wing groups are using September 11th as a chance to get anti-immigrant laws passed (News and Letters, January-February 2002 p. 10). Clearly, September 11th is being turned into an enduring excuse for a whole range of state and corporate actions.

Censorship and Media Discourse

The media plays an important role in encouraging war, both in terms of its mobilisation of specific myths and discourses during periods of war, and in its broader articulation of the mythical structure which makes such myths comprehensible. In addition, governments sometimes try to directly impose their views on the media via censorship and political pressure. The U.S. state banned an inteview with Mullah Omar of the Taleban being broadcast in the U.S., despite it being broadcast by their own Voice of America channel worldwide (Ceefax 105, 26-09-01), while the film Black Hawk Down was vetted by the Pentagon. More often, censorship operates invisibly. In Afghanistan as in previous wars, journalists have generally been kept away from the main conflict areas and so are reliant on information from the armed forces. Furthermore, government agencies frequently plant lies and exaggerations in the media, initiate panics, or selectively release 'official information' in such a way as to stir up popular support for militarism and to constrain and load debates (Thompson pp. 19-20). For instance, fear can be manufactured through the use of 'worst-case' scenarios (such as the hypothesis that weapons concealed by the Iraqi regime could be acquired by al-Qaeda), which, since they are self-consciously speculative, are difficult to falsify (Defended to Death p. 25).

Censorship does not always result from political pressure. Even sections of the media which claim neutrality often implicitly or explicitly follow what they believe tobe widespread beliefs. After a controversial incident in 1982 involving a Panorama documentary falsely accused of anti-government bias (see above), a BBC 'senior broadcaster' stressed that the BBC is the 'British Broadcasting Corporation' and that a detached style was 'an unnecessary irritation', while the Director-General advised that impartiality be tempered by 'the likely general susceptibility' (War and Peace News p. 14). In other words, if the BBC perceives the population as heavily biased, it feels obliged to reproduce, rather than counterbalance, this bias. Media self-censorship, with or without political pressure, often operates beneath labels such as 'taste' and 'public mood'. On another occasion, the BBC was accused of bias for simply reporting on plans to fire a nuclear warning shot if the U.S.S.R. invaded Europe (Defended to Death p. 31). A similar process can be seen in an incident shortly after September 11th when BBC broadcast a Question Time programme in which there was a relatively balanced discussion of the crisis and of U.S. foreign policy. The BBC apparently received a flood of complaints and eventually apologised for the broadcast. Such phenomena result from the insistence on the part of supporters of war that their standpoint is equivalent to reality, so that even coverage strongly slanted in their favour can appear to them as biased against them. When sections of the media see their role in terms of the 'national interest' and suchlike, they are vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and others who identify this with war (War and Peace News p. 126). Even when it merely reproduces existing biases, the media is central to reproducing these biases, and very often it actively constructs the 'interest' it claims to represent.

Treatment of critics ranges from non-coverage or minimal coverage to the construction of environments unconducive to dissident views. Often, media coverage of criticism of war is structured around coverage of attacks on critics (War and Peace News, pp. 128-9). The media routinely down-plays the scale of opposition, throws doubt on opposition claims, and manipulates labels to discredit opponents. The billing of the present war as the 'war on terror' or 'war on terrorism' imports assumptions supportive of official accounts into apparently neutral descriptive terminology. Coverage of opposition frequently implies that opponents support terrorism. Issues such as human rights are raised selectively and tend to be targeted against opponents. Accusations against the Taleban are treated as fact, whereas those against western troops and the Northern Alliance are couched as 'claims'.

Other problems arise from the structural position of the media. Television in particular tends to moderate the impact of events by placing them in miniaturised, assigned, safe slots. The media in general tends to re-package war as entertainment, and also to manipulate images of otherness and of Enemies to construct meaningful narratives and to give a sense of purpose to an otherwise alienating and frustrating social system. The reduction of war to tiny snippets and the removal of explicit footage on taste grounds tends to turn war into a cool, almost peaceful image.

News media are often heavily reliant on a few sources, often within official organisations; political coverage is rendered harmless by the lobby system, and media reliance on police collaboration in crime news may impact on coverage of demonstrations. Politicians and other official spokespeople (from NATO, the armed forces, foreign governments, the police, etc.) tend to be given privileged access to the media, with their familiarity and authority used to convey a sense of trustworthiness. Information drawn from the intelligence services is often treated uncritically, with difficult questions about how information is obtained being ruled out in advance.

In extreme cases, the logic of repression and terror expands to the media. The Qatari TV station al-Jazeera provided much of the early coverage from inside Afghanistan, but its headquarters in Kabul were bombed by the U.S. shortly before the capture of Kabul. This suggests that attempts to restrict alternative voices even expand into actual attacks on outlets which use their 'impartiality' in ways of which the U.S. state disapproves.


The struggle against the militarist logic which generates wars such as the present one in Afghanistan is implicitly a struggle against an entire mythical and psychological system which has been constructed prior to the outbreak of war and which is triggered periodically to generate support for actual wars. The struggle against militarism should therefore extend beyond political campaigning and encompass activities of education and persuasion directed at overcoming the structures of thought from which war develops. We should not limit ourselves to resisting wars when they happen; we should also act, in 'peacetime' as well as 'wartime', to undermine the cognitive and emotional basis of war by undermining the modes of thought and action which make war possible. This should include developing our own and others' conceptual abilities in such a way as to increase resistances to myth, and attempting to alter people's emotional alignments to make identifications with warmongering states less viable. People should be encouraged to see the workings of myth rather than to receive its concealed messages, and its illogical and unreal structure should be exposed. For this purpose, anti-war activists should aim, along with other activists, to construct permanent alternative structures of education and information which develop whatever concerns already exist about official discourse into a generalised awareness of its insidious functioning. As E.P. Thompson puts it, we should oppose those whose language and logic 'are preparing our minds as a launching pad for exterminating thoughts'. And, he adds, it is 'no defence' that the other side are 'thinking us to death' as well (Thompson p. 52).


  • At April 5, 2008 at 7:48 PM, Blogger Dlanorrenrag said…


    In respect of Holistic Will are derived bodies, with which are associated perspectives of Will, each perspective of which assimilates identification with its own holography, which identification necessitates defining parameters of limitation, which parameters are finite yet unbounded.

    Each exercise of Will must respect the psychological weight and momentum of the full holography with which it is expressed. No mortal perspective of Will, as such, has power to step outside its own holography to assume a supposedly objective mantle or justification of God.

    Because mortals, as mortals, have no moral choice but to make choices, it is not practical for a mortal to critique any particular moral dilemma merely by recognizing that every mortal is similarly and subjectively challenged. Ultimately, the sharp point of the spear of Will must be engaged based not on indifferent objectivity but on ever-involved seeking of Will’s self-fulfillment.

    Whatever the elusive harmony, beauty, or emotional resonance that may pull along one’s rationalizations or willful choices, such rationalizations cannot be justified objectively; nor may such rationalizations be justified subjectively, apart from respect for one’s holography.

    Necessarily, one’s holography encompasses one’s sense of world, country, culture, tribe, family, and self. One may not free one’s expression of Will from such psychological sense of larger weight and momentum. See, where Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrier and Prince.

    WHAT PROGENY OF MARCUSE HAVE INADEQUATELY APPREHENDED: No mortal can objectively justify tolerance for others to such an extent that their intolerance would negate his own; nor may any mortal justify failing to act or to make choices merely because objective justification is beyond mortal capacity. No mortal may escape the fray of holography merely by feigning superiority --- either by heroic verbosity or by painting himself pink.



    Why are progeny of Herbert Marcuse wrong in implying (or asserting?) that The Left --- in order to even out dialectic and historically asymmetric disadvantages of The Left in power, wealth, and privilege --- have some sort of “moral right” to lie, cheat, and steal from a system which “owes” them?

    Did Marcuse adequately define either “The Left” or “the disadvantaged,” or did he merely entertain assumptions that The Left: (a) is disadvantaged; and (b) should not be disadvantaged?

    The Left --- at least in respect of those who reliably tend to vote for the (American) Democrat Party --- tends to encompass and champion a cast of disreputables, including: aliens, con artists, pimps, prostitutes, malingerers, professional victims, dropouts, illiterates, addicts, alcoholics, gamblers, and felons.

    Such a cast hardly needed Marcuse’s blessing to be willing to engage in “asymmetric” strategies.

    Neither “fairness” nor any law of nature or metaphysics specially requires persons not of The Left to entitle, enable, or empower lifestyles of disreputables. Neither “fairness” nor any law of nature or metaphysics requires persons not of The Left to tolerate their own demise.

    In America, those of The Left who have legitimate grievances are usually availed of churches, forums, and methods for airing and acting upon their grievances ---without needing to resort to asymmetric lying, cheating, or stealing.

    Asymmetric lying, cheating, and stealing --- by discrediting The Left --- tend: (a) to offset, or set further back, constructive engagement of The Left’s grievances; and (b) to detract from The Left’s counter-complaints when members of The Right engage in such disreputable tactics.

    Compare the demographically upward social mobility of immigrants in America, who have freshly arrived from places such as Korea or Viet Nam, with the economic progress of African American residents of inner cities. The difference: fresh oriental immigrants are not “owed.”

    Solutions must be developed in mutual empathetic respect --- not in offsetting games of disreputable tactics or in pretenses of access to superior or objective truth.

    Ridicule both The Left and The Right, to: pack away disreputable, asymmetric, childish tactics.

  • At August 15, 2008 at 2:11 AM, Blogger The Hich said…

    Very good (and daunting) piece Andy. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Zizek's new piece in the LRB offers an interesting (if rather misguided) peek at karadzic's efforts as poet. Worth a read? kind of. (subscription only I'm afraid)


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