A major part of the mass-appeal of this war relied upon its being depicted as "clean." Cleanliness is next to godliness, and judging from the vast array of visual evidence displayed through various media channels, this was a neat and tidy (though incredibly racialized and sexualized) war. Thanks to phenomenal technological "progress," it appeared to be the neatest and tidiest war in history; an appearance that was the direct result of a point of view enabled by anthropomorphized technologies, technologies that became starring characters in the wartime "Theater of Operations." War was framed in a whole new light, it was clean, it was fun, and it was Science at its best--objective, detached, and removed. Of course, what it was best at removing were the bodies of darker-skinned, deceptively veiled, "Third-World" Others, an epidemic population that was in danger of out-multiplying their morally Allied betters and needed to be quarantined.
The first section of this chapter takes a look at how the groundwork for mass mediated reproduction and public consumption of electronically "simulated" war as a kind of "high-tech videowargame" had already been laid, and how that groundwork was exploited to the fullest by corporate, governmental, and private interests with a stake in keeping the U.S. war economy fertile. Section two looks at how American mythologies about technology helped to create a space for all manner of technofetishized pre-, during-, and post-war reproductions of battle, reproductions bought and sold through both public and private channels, serving to reinforce the popular perception that investment and faith in high-tech solutions was war's saving grace, and the unpopular perception that it was leading us further away from morally righteous and justifiable indignation about the "unreal" consequences of what was being done in "our" name. The final section is a continued exploration of the post-war packaging of the Gulf experience and, more specifically, how that packaging worked, in rather unbelievable ways, to revitalize patriotic and nationalistic sentiments lost during the last bona-fide war: Vietnam.
PRIMED FOR CONSUMPTION
By the end of the war, if not long before, many of us had become weapons buffs--"Tomahawk," "SCUD," "Patriot," "Stealth." The Pentagon had staked its reputation on state of the art showpieces and were pretty excited about the payoff (Time February 4, 1991:46-47). And the Arts & Entertainment Network, along with the Discovery channel, Time-Warner New Media, and many others, weren't about to let you forget it. From before the official end of war in March of 1991 up until the time this text was written in early 1994, on almost any night of the week one could turn on the television set and choose from a number of specially produced shows spotlighting spectacular new technologies of war, and the strategic uses to which they were put. For example, in a single week during 1993 the following shows aired on the Discovery Channel: "Firepower," "Secret Weapons," "Wings," and "Sea-Tech," while on A&E one could choose between "Journals of War," "Masters of War," and "Brute Force: The History of Weapons at War."
The cable channels were not the only ones to get in on the post-production of killing. ABC, in a rather blatant move to capitalize on the popularity of the Persian Gulf conflict (a popularity their coverage of the war played no small part in generating), decided to produce a made for TV "documentary" called Heroes of Desert Storm. It was not hard for ABC to generate support for the undertaking. In fact the project received full Department of Defense cooperation, allowing ABC to use over 600 hours of combat video the Pentagon shot during the desert campaign (Shuger 1991:21). Heroes of Desert Storm, presented in October 1991 nine months after the war, mixed actual combat footage with recreations to, as one critic scathingly put it: "present the most blatantly political and one-sided war story since John Wayne starred in The Green Berets" (Bianculli 1992:240).
More interesting than the partisan politics represented in the ABC special was the uncritical blending of fact with fiction, in many critic's minds (see "Television Screens"), so appropriate for recreations of war through the televisual medium: "In an introduction to The Heroes of Desert Storm ... the network issued this disclaimer: 'Tonight's film is based on true stories and interweaves news footage and dramatizations with actors and actual participants. To achieve realism, no distinction is made among these elements'" (MacArthur 1992:92, emphasis mine).
What MacArthur is drawing attention to is the ironic blurring or blending of the simulated and the real that, presumably, characterized and typified the overall experience of Operation Desert Storm. ABC's disclaimer was simply the icing on the cake, a kind of public analogue to what media scholars had been thinking, writing and saying all along--in representing modern warfare it had become impossible to distinguish "fact" from "fiction" and this impossibility was cause for alarm. But it was precisely this belief that we had somehow lost touch with the "real" that prevented these writers from looking more critically at the reality war had become. It was a reality that masqueraded as unreal, taking place in a discursive stream that was polluted by the dissolution of the "actual" and the "artificial," a stream devoid of the physical and emotional affect traditionally attached to the turbulent experience and rocky retelling of combat.
By the time the war happened in early 1991 there had been a good ten years for the current generation of warriors and war-watchers to adjust to videogame and videogame-like images of destruction. Not surprisingly, the very first commercially available videoarcade games, popping up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were shoot and destroy challenges like Space Invaders, Missile Command, and Asteroids. And it didn't take long for militaristic videogame culture, once confined to the rooms of specialized gaming arcades, to intrude the space of the home. Companies like Atari, Sega, and especially Nintendo, quickly became the primary providers of home entertainment systems to an eagerly awaiting American public; in fact a public so eagerly awaiting that it helped turn organizations like Nintendo and Sega into two of Japan's highest grossing companies by the end of the 1980s. By 1994, Sega owned an estimated 45 percent of the US video game market (Nintendo owns 44 percent) and more than 66 percent of the European market (Battelle and Johnstone 1994:74). Accordingly:
...If you bought US$10,000 worth of Sega stock back in 1985, you'd be worth US$110,000 today. Since 1989, Sega has more than quadrupled in size from more than US$800 million in annual sales to an estimated US$3.6 billion this year. Once the laughable purse dog of the video game world with barely ten percent of the US market, Sega now clearly owns the fickle title of market leader... (Battelle and Johnstone 1994:76).
In conjunction with the tremendous growth of the videoarcade market, as indicated by these figures, was the equally phenomenal growth of the Hollywood special effects industry. George Lucas's incredibly successful Star Wars, screened for the first time in the late 1970s, was the initial catalyst. So popular was the Star Wars narrative that it allowed for several (pre-planned) sequels, each of which spawned a whole commercial Empire, the likes of which, when measured in raw dollars and public appeal, had never before been seen in the entertainment industry. From clothing to action figures, trading cards to magazines, comics, books and videos, no venue was left untouched. In fact Star Wars' appeal was so big, and the potential money to be made from capitalizing on that appeal so great, that some theaters ran the original movie for a year-and-a-half straight! (Report from the Star Wars Generation 1993:5). Star Wars permeated popular culture in a way no prior Hollywood production had, inviting spoofs on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, providing cultural capital for military industrial complex fantasies like SDI (Star Wars Defense Initiative), and prompting myth-making guru Joseph Campbell to compare the Star Wars adventure to Homer's Odyssey, the legend of King Arthur, and the life of Jesus Christ (Report from the Star Wars Generation 1993:11). Star Wars provided a scaffolding that subsequent efforts have continued to capitalize and build upon.
Most recently, the biggest changes in the entertainment industry have resulted from the digital revolution's "coming of age," which has ushered in a whole new era of special effects in moviemaking. The outcome of this transformation is generating a number of increasingly intense debates about the politics and desirability of computer generated effects, debates that are remarkably analogous to the arguments about high-tech war that were being waged in the Gulf. For instance, is it morally or ethically just to deprive viewers, as it is now possible to do with digital manipulation systems of various sorts, of the ontological security embedded in "knowing" that what they are observing, somewhere, somehow, actually happened? In a strangely Philistine way, the dishonesty perceived to be inherent in the digital machination of viewers has created a certain backlash within the movie industry. Indeed, some recent films are now being promoted at least partly on the basis that no high-tech special effects were used during the shooting of their most tense and exciting filmic moments!
Clearly this digitally enabled move into the analog(ue) realm of the simulated, a kind of electronically encoded foray into ontological uncertainty about the status of the "real," has created considerable anxiety. Oddly enough, many of those most threatened are people whose careers involve the manufactured reproduction of images to begin with. But in the context of the Persian Gulf, the public at large did not seem too distraught over the prominent role technology and technocratic management played in the popular imag(in)ing of Operation Desert Shield -> Sword -> Storm. In fact, they seemed to lap it up. Public support for the military reached a 15-year high during the final week of war, over 90% of the American public polled had a favorable opinion of both President Bush and General Schwarzkopf (Newsweek March 11, 1991:50); and we know where most of these people were getting the bulk of their information from.
The ontological instability generated throughout the Gulf War that media critics and academics were giving voice to was drowned out by a population of consumers eager and willing to shell out big bucks for nostalgic momentos, real or fabricated, that revisited the thrill, drama and excitement of battle in the Gulf. One of the more lucrative venues capitalized on by many of the major networks was the home-video market: "Well before the cease-fire, Turner Home Entertainment released a compilation of CNN coverage called 'Desert Storm: The War Begins.' In keeping with CNN's Gulf-based upsurge, that tape has sold more than 350,000 copies... and now Turner is marketing a six-cassette gift pack that goes for 'only' $99.98" (Shuger 1991:20).
Many of the other key televisual players followed CNN's lead: CBS knocked out a video retrospective called Desert Triumph, while ABC released their own version entitled Gulf War. However: "... none of these pasted-together overviews have approached the popularity of MPI's home-video release of Schwarzkopf: How the War Was Won, a snazzy title for what's essentially a copy of the one-hour briefing the general held at the end of the ground war" (Bianculli 1992:241). By September of 1991 that video had gone triple-platinum, selling over 185,000 copies (Shuger 1991:20). One can only speculate about how many more of those tapes have sold since this article was written some 3 years ago.
This kind of war marketing frenzy was hardly restricted to the televisual medium, though it was perhaps most visible there. A nasty battle between the major players in the print media, for control over the war imagery scattered on the homefront, also developed:
... competition was particularly intense between Time and Newsweek, and their bruising pullout map war became the talk of the trade... After the war, Newsweek took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to declare victory over Time in the map war. Newsweek claimed its pullout map issue had doubled the usual newsstand sale to nearly 400,000 copies, leaving Time in the dust... Newsweek bragged that its "ahead-of-the-curve journalism" had resulted in a 90 percent jump in newsstand sales for its "war issues" compared with the same period in the previous year (MacArthur 1992:88-91).
Of course, the maps that generated such an increase in sales were full color glossy ads displaying the new technologies of war. Whether or not the imagery of war was televisually or print mediated, the dominant motif was that of a successfully planned, waged and won operation. And the media, "having suddenly recognized the boundless commercial potential of war, began, in columnist Sydney Schanberg's words, to look 'more and more like an arm of the government's executive branch'" (Boose 1993:82); an institutional transformation and identification that seemed to be paying off in more ways than one. While a 90% jump in news stand sales for a national magazine with the stature of Newsweek is nothing to take lightly, it could hardly compare to the influence that the compulsive repetition of mass mediated technological imagery had on the popular appeal of the war or the financial gain it would generate for the movers and shakers of the high-tech weapons manufacturing industries.
Technology fascinates. Technological imagery resonates with prominent American mythologies of progress, practicality, efficiency and expediency (Gamson et al. 1989:5), and these mythologies were written all over the commentary coming out of the Gulf. As a nation America was reported to have made revolutionary strides, particularly in terms of its weapons engineering know-how. When, to the consternation of many, America became (forgive me) "caught between Iraq and a hard place" and there simply were "no options left" (see Bush's address to the nation on the eve of destruction), this high-tech stockpiling, once heavily criticized for being a waste of taxpayer money, began to get framed in a very different light: "For 40 years, [the Pentagon] has pursued a sometimes controversial doctrine that says the best way to counter a potential adversary's superior numbers is with superior technology. Now military experts [along with the American public and representatives of the mass media] were watching the payoff with excitement" (Time February 4, 1991:46). In fact, so exciting was the technological screening of war that Newsweek decided to pay tribute to our weapons in the Gulf by running a four page spread entitled: "The Mind of a Missile: The Cruise Missile, triumphant in the Gulf, is a techno-marvel that almost didn't get out of the lab." (February 18, 1991:40-44). And this was but one of many such articles.
A big part of the perceived practicality of this buildup to the Storm was predicated upon projecting the mass mediated efficiency of these new weapons systems. Not only would they get the job done but they would do it neatly, quickly and provide: "A cost-free victory. A push-button, remote-control war won without casualties" (Newsweek February 18, 1991:38). Was it any wonder that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark would run into such strident opposition from the controllers of the major networks in the U.S. when he solicited them to air a video he shot showing a different reality of war--the one that so many cultural critics and media workers were lusting to see in order to assert how horrible it was to see? With the approval ratings and popular support this war was getting, in large part due to the massively marketed promotional videos (both network and missile) displaying incredible "pinpoint precision" and technomanagerial efficiency, there was hardly any room remaining for oppositional points of view.
To a considerable degree, these very marked oppositional absences can be explained by thinking about how ideologically restrictive an activity like war-making is. For example, Carol Cohn argues that the marking of certain kinds of alternative discourses as gendered and "feminine" creates an inability to even entertain certain "ideas, interests, information, feelings, and meanings," for when attempted, they are immediately devalued; not only are such alternative framings difficult to think, but they are difficult to speak, hear, and see as well (1993:231). Thus one of the ever-present absences in masculinist discourses on war are those things traditionally associated with the feminine--the emotional, the particular, the human bodies and their vulnerability and subjectivity--leaving a whole range of inputs out, and foreclosing a whole series of options (Cohn 1993:232-235).
Another significant outcome of the techno-fetishized Gulf War marketing was the renewed interest at the Federal level in funding for military R&D. Operation Desert Storm was an amazing showcase and testing ground for state of the art weapons systems like the U.S.-made, and appropriately named, "Patriot" missile whose (mistakenly, though probably purposefully) boasted accuracy in shooting down Iraqi SCUD's provided the catalyst for President Bush to ask Congress for $4.6 billion for the Star Wars program in 1992 (Newsweek February 11, 1991:54). Desert Storm was turned into a defense contractor's dream come true; and with facsimiles of smart munitions being blasted through the satellite-linked airwaves encircling the globe, the war business never looked better. Capitalizing on the swelling Storm of support became a top priority for a number of companies whose livelihood depended upon marketing and distribution of high-tech products. Hughes Aircraft is an excellent case in point. Hughes was so proud of their contribution to the war effort, and so concerned about others being made fully aware of that contribution, they decided to produce a fifteen minute video spotlighting the remarkable technological advantage enjoined by the Allies in the Gulf, and the crucial role that Hughes' technologies played in manufacturing that advantage.
Even children were brought into the picture. Peter Jennings' ABC special, "War in the Gulf--Answering Children's Questions, was but a first step in laying the groundwork for the subsequent marketing of war to youngsters (see also "Controlling the Press"). Initially there was a kind of therapeutic concern raised about the psychological impact videographic representations of war would have on the minds of the nation's youth. Take the following passage from U.S. News & World Report as an illustrative example: "The war in the Persian Gulf is beyond most children's grasp, but not their concern. Here is a collection of resources and strategies recommended by educators and psychiatrists to calm the fears of children and help them understand what is happening" (January 28, 1991:65). But this worry about the war's traumatic effect soon became mute/moot. What cause was there for concern when so much of what the children were seeing imaged on the television screen under the auspices of news reporting looked so similar to what they had grown up seeing imaged on the television and/or computer screen under the auspices of home entertainment?
In keeping with the positioning of war more within a field of entertainment and pleasure than horror and trauma, and in a calculated move to capitalize on the potential of selling a "videogame-like" war in the Gulf to a Nintendo/Sega generation more than willing and able to experience it in those terms, a rash of Gulf War gaming products quickly hit the market. These ranged from the more traditional board-style like "Line in the Sand" where the prospective player is challenged: "In just 1,100 hours in the early months of 1991, the American-led Allied forces achieved the swiftest and most decisive military victory in modern history! Can you do as well?" (Shuger 1991:20); to the television, where you could choose between Garry Kitchen's "Super Battletank: War in the Gulf," only $59.95 from Sega/Genesis, or if you preferred, "Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf" (released prior to the actual strike!), only $59.95 from Super Nintendo. In Kitchen's version:
You're an allied forces tank commander in charge of the awesome M1A1 battletank, armored warfare champion of Operation Desert Storm. At your disposal is all of the state of the art weaponry that gives the M1A1 its fearsome reputation, smoke grenades, night vision, 7.62mm armor-piercing shells controlled by a laser range-finder. You'll feel right at the core of the Persian Gulf War.
* Actual Operation Desert Storm military maneuvers recreate the experience of the 100 hour war!
* 10 action-packed missions
* Take on Soviet made Mi.24 HIND helicopters, T-72 tanks and SCUD launchers!
* Assaults on major enemy targets, including oil refineries, chemical weapons facilities, tank and troop bunkers, and ammo dumps!
* Digitized graphics for extraordinary realism!
* Digitized sound effects
In the Nintendo rendition, ultimately not that much different, you were taken from the ground and placed in the air:
Maximum firepower required. With a fiery blast from your hydra rockets you must annihilate a ruthless tyrant's military arsenal. Strafe his airfields and rip into his tank armies as you challenge the madman's forces in a series of devastating strikes. 27 dangerous missions stand between you and the ultimate showdown.
* Unbeatable cinematic sequences and battle sounds
* Obliterate the missile silos in time to avert world-wide destruction!
* Spearhead a rescue attempt into Embassy City and breakout imprisoned diplomats and hostages
* Tear through air cover and send the madman's ships to the bottom!
Then, of course, there were the computer versions. These took two primary forms. The first form consisted of games produced for mass marketing through traditional channels like Bungie Software's "Operation: Desert Storm" where you are encouraged to:
Join forces in the Gulf with this realistic battle simulation! As commander of an M1A1 Abrams tank, you'll be sent on a series of missions against a hostile, well-equipped enemy. Use your 120mm Cannon and armor piercing TOW missiles to destroy Iraqi assets, including weapons depots, SCUD launchers, nuclear facilities, chemical weapons factories and more! Mission briefings and combat maps add to the realism as you encounter the enemy on the battlefield. Your tour of duty will take you to the actual points of combat where the Allied forces battled Iraqi troops. Also included are battle maps of the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations and a glossary of military terms and hardware designations. Your last mission will take you to Iraq's capital, for the final assault against the headquarters of the Butcher of Baghdad! But be careful--your opponent has assembled a formidable force against you, including:
* Soviet-built T-55, T-62, and T-72 battle tanks
* Hidden land mines
* MiG-29 and Mirage F-1 Aircraft
* Chemical and Biological Weapons
* Soviet Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters
* 105mm artillery pieces
* Digitized sound effect
* Highly accurate and detailed graphics
* Twenty levels of fast-paced action
* Secret graphic revealed when you win the war
* Technical specifications of military hardware
* Battlefield maps and strategic analysis
* Geographical and historical information
* Glossary of military terms
* Catalog of hardware designations
* Much, much, more!
The second form was comprised of independent "hacker" versions (like "Saddam's Revenge" and "Patriot Command") where computer programmers would write their own simulated stories based on the Gulf War experience which were uploaded into software archives on the Internet for interested parties to download for their gaming pleasure. (If you enjoyed the game, you were frequently asked to pay a small shareware fee in order to help support future ventures.) Taken as a whole, these games don't read, look, or play much differently than the war that was played out on the prime-time televisual field, same linguistic confusion and conflation over the "simulated" and the "real," same technofetishism, and same demonization of the Other.
REESTABLISHING THE GOOD NAME OF WAR
Because the war lasted a "mere" 43 days, many of the strategies that might have developed to subvert the authority of the State never came to pass. Instead (save for a few minor tremors, like the infrequent television or newspress reports about Desert Storm Sickness, missile malfunctions, or Stormin' Norman's latest political faux-pas--mostly occurring long after the fact) what we were left with was the mass perception that the slaughter in the Gulf had been just, righteous, and extremely efficient. In a twisted way, it seemed as though George Bush did have a domestic agenda, and it was met when the U.S. turned the full power of its conventional arsenal on the countless numbers of Iraqi soldiers trapped underground in order "to bury the antiwar discourse signified by Vietnam" (Boose 1993:69). War was good again. Liking war was good again. And most importantly, from the perspective of the military technoindustrial complex struggling so hard to figure out its role in the post Cold-War era, the U.S. had atoned for the sins of Vietnam, once again (re)making warmaking a massively profitable venture, politically, economically and ideologically. As one reporter from Newsweek described it:
For the generals, and for the men and women in service everywhere, the lightning victory over the world's "fourth largest army" was a long-awaited rebuttal to those who had predicted tragedy and disillusionment in the Persian Gulf. The "miraculous" casualty figures seemed to vindicate the Pentagon's multi-billion dollar investment in high-tech weaponry during the past 10 years. The sweeping precision of the allied assaults into Kuwait and Iraq, slicing through and rolling up much-vaunted enemy units like Iraq's "feared Republican Guard," demonstrated the combat readiness of the all volunteer military and the competence of U.S. commanders: "The stigma of Vietnam has been erased," said an Army officer at the Pentagon. "That's one of the reasons a complete and total victory was necessary" (March 11, 1991:50).
It became next to impossible to stay off or move out of the way of the pro-troop/pro-war bandwagon. The inherent contradiction associated with stating that you did not necessarily support war but you supported the materiel that waged it was completely lost (see "Controlling the Press"). All that really mattered was that the human bodies in the Gulf felt needed, loved and vindicated. Around the symbol of the yellow ribbon the nation's women and men were strategically mobilized, moving with amazing speed "in less than six weeks from a widespread disinclination to fight a war for which not even the White House could articulate a compelling cause to a cheering reaffirmation of U.S. militarism, its essential causelessness swallowed up in a media-orchestrated roar of national self-confirmation" (Boose 1993:76).
There was considerable effort made to provide the troops with tangible evidence of this popular show of support and affection, from Hollywood helpers in the form of live (and canned) celebrity performances to easy access to the technologies necessary to display and sustain it. More than 85% of U.S. soldiers in the Gulf could listen to radio (compared with just 50% during Vietnam), well over 3,000 television sets were made available, most exciting of all, five major companies including ARCO and AT&T, each donated $500,000 to help build mobile entertainment centers that contained large-screen TVs, VCR's, stereo systems, cellular phones and popcorn machines. In fact, so total was the governmental effort to provide the soldiers in the Gulf with the requisite diversionary amenities that troops were able to tune in 24 hours a day to the U.S. military's very own cable network that was "broadcasting the most comprehensive schedule of programming ever provided for fighting forces" (Time March 4, 1991:72).
But the patriotic greasing hardly stopped there. The war generated plenty of its own celebrity. CNN reporter Peter Arnett signed a lucrative book deal, Arthur Kent parlayed his Gulf War fame into a guest-hosting stint on Today, Bob Simon, upon his release from captivity, went back to Iraq in July 1991 to produce a CBS News special--Bob Simon: Back to Baghdad, while Forrest Sawyer and Bob McKeown enjoyed slightly more air time at ABC and CBS respectively as a result of their war-time scoops. Charles Jaco and Wolf Blitzer both appeared in the New York Times Book Review for reviewing In the Eye of the Storm: The Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Bianculli 1992:242). Indeed, Schwarzkopf became so famous that before the war was even over he had signed a $5 million book contract and announced his retirement from the army, while former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin L. Powell more recently signed a contract to write his memoirs for $6 million. Schwarzkopf's homecoming was featured on the cover of People Magazine, and his speaking fees hit $60,000 per appearance (MacArthur 1992:108). In what was one of the more curious turn of events and one which highlighted the erotically charged and sexualized undercurrent present in the aggressively masculinized administration and control of war, "Newsday feature writer Michele Ingrassia asked how Schwarzkopf 'has gone from mere general to genuine sex symbol faster than a speeding smart bomb,' and speculated that the bearlike hero of the desert might qualify as People magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive' for 1991..." (MacArthur 1992:108).
At least 30 Gulf War books have been written since the calming of the Storm, including How CNN Fought the War, and Triumph in the Desert: The Challenge, the Fighting, the Legacy, which includes a two part summary (what might at best be considered a token analysis) of the motive for Saddam's "action" and the "reaction" it engendered, accompanied by a gushing introduction honoring the troops and public who supported the war effort written by none other than (future Presidential hopeful?) Colin Powell. Dell's military books editor E. J. McCarthy described the publishing prospects this way: "Before the war was even over we were getting faxes of proposals from agents all over the country. We ended up receiving around 100 proposals, compared to about 6-10 for most topics" (Shuger 1991:18). Then there is Desert Storm--the Movie, an independent production from "Patriotic Films," an outfit headed by a former Steven Spielberg assistant. The film is an action-adventure movie about a Stealth fighter pilot and like Heroes of Desert Storm it received more than its fair share of support with endorsements, financial contributions and technical assistance from corporations like Lockheed, General Motors, Raytheon, Miller Beer, Ray-Ban and L.A. Gear (Shuger 1991:21).
The war's newfound popular appeal didn't end with books, news specials, lecture circuits and films. Time Warner Inc. had produced a CD-ROM version of the campaign called Desert Storm: The War in the Persian Gulf for playback on personal home computers by the time the announcement that war had officially ended was made. Quanta Press Inc. soon followed suit with USA Wars: Desert Storm, as did The Electronic Edge, Inc. with Kuwaiti Inferno. What was remarkable about these efforts, aside from the uniformly uncritical stance adopted in their respective depictions (see Quanta's discussion of the role of the press for example), was the amount of material capable of being stored for retrieval in this medium--upwards of 650 megabytes of words, sounds, and images--and the velocity at which those materials got reproduced and disseminated (see the inside leaf of the Time Warner CD for more on this topic as well as the company's summary overview of America's reason and rationale for going to battle). The acceleration of war had apparently been matched by the acceleration of publishing: "With the speed of light, reports, images and audio interviews of Operation Desert Storm were whisked around the globe to the offices of Time, through Warner New Media and now into your home computer" (Warner New Media 1991:CD-ROM insert). This rush to market the product proved fiscally shrewd. The Time Warner effort quickly became, and remains, one of the hottest selling CD-ROMs ever, where for only $99.95 you can: "Experience Operation Desert Storm in full sight and sound! ... Find out the real facts about Saddam Hussein. [and] See how the Allied forces heroically crushed this sadistic madman" (MacWarehouse 1993:40).
This war was about violent control and containment of the body politic, ours as well as Iraq's. Bush and his buddies had the "in and out urge," but they were not about to let themselves be Saddamized; they wanted to get this fucking thing over quickly, the good old fashioned way ... with the U.S. on top. Judging from all of the pro-troop/pro-war rallying on the battlefront and the Homefront, it appeared that our fighting men in the Gulf, and the mass public at home, wanted the U.S. on top as well; or perhaps it would be more appropriate to state that they wanted to retain control by "coming in from behind" enemy lines. Carol Cohn illustrates how homoerotic imagery was running rampant throughout this war; with military men claiming that the "U.S.A." stenciled on their uniforms stood for "Up Saddam's Ass," and bumper stickers that read "Saddam, Bend Over," (1993: 236) our aggressively sexualized relationship to the body of the Other was never quite clear.
The Gulf War victory was celebrated "by a display of technologized phallic aggression" never before seen, as "massive tank formations, guns, armored personnel carriers, and missile launchers rolled across Memorial Bridge into the nation's capital" (Boose 1993:79). What all of this post-war production amounted to was nicely summed up by 60 Minutes news correspondent Andy Rooney, broadcasting to some 19 million viewers at the peak of the wartime high, when the countryside was surgically sealed with yellow ribbons, the ticker-tape parades were in full swing and the heroes were being hailed, not only ideologically but, in an all out $12 million New York/Washington bash billed as the biggest victory parade since WWII (Newsweek June 17, 1991:19): "The war is over everywhere and we feel together." He went on: "There are some good things about war sometimes. Everyone accomplishes more... Our hearts beat faster. Our senses are sharper... This war in the Gulf has been, by all odds, the best war in modern history, not only for America, but for the whole world, including Iraq, probably" (MacArthur 1992:105).
The argument most frequently pursued by critics of war is that this kind of jingoism, nostalgic remembrance, hero worship and massively marketed production and consumption were all part and parcel of the perceptual "unreality" generated by the technological mediation of the conflict. The struggle to render visible the disembodied phantoms haunting this war revolved around attempts to subvert the dominant mainstream narrative by marshaling evidence to support the contention that it was not a clean war, it was not a particularly precise war and the mass mediated imagery simply did not, could not, or refused to, capture that. Thus, we never had a "real" picture of the battle. However, from the point of view of the vast majority of the audiences polled on the receiving end, the technocrats responsible for plotting, planning and managing the war, as well as the majority of the companies producing the human and inhuman materiel, the representations of the battle in the Persian Gulf and, more importantly, the consequences of those representations were as real as they come, they just weren't very grotesque.
According to the critical press in the media and the academy, the biggest reason the "reality" of war was never brought home was largely the result of the technologies used to wage it--technologies that prevented us from seeing the blood, guts, anguish and misery; but those very same technologies could have been used just as effectively to represent the blood, guts, anguish and misery of war in ways far more graphic and seemingly "real" than any yet seen. Just imagine infrared video footage of bodies being blasted to bits under clear starry nights, handycam shots of Iraqis being buried alive by tanks rolling over trenches (Rogers 1992:622), "turkey shoots" of "looters" leaving Kuwait on the Basra Highway, all with the potential to be instantaneously broadcast to the far corners of the earth. You (didn't) get the picture.
Pretend for a moment that you did get the picture, the absent picture that was present in so much of the war-time discussion, the picture of the carnage, waste, ruin and devastation that goes hand-in-hand with massive military mobilization. Pretend that every existing visualization technology at our disposal was marshaled in effort to present the most detailed, minute, and intricate images of the impact of war on human bodies. If you were one of the many frustrated media critics discussed elsewhere in this project (see esp. "The Killing Zone") you probably would have felt vindicated, largely because the aesthetics traditionally associated with the destructive potential of war would have been graphically illustrated for you in ways so "real" it might make you sick. The ruin and waste would have been brilliantly illuminated. It is even possible that war being framed in such light might have led to the kind of organized political protest that seemed to be so lacking; or maybe not.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this display of anguish, torment and misery, would have become nothing but a morbid and (even more) sadistic fascination with Others' suffering--if framed in a way that made inflicting it seem morally justifiable and hence "appropriate." (The popularity of Hollywood action movies starring masculine archetypes like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Steven Seagal, provide compelling evidence that it isn't violence per se that matters, but the context in which it is accomplished and perceived.) However, even though such images of battle would have exposed one kind of (human) body so markedly absent, yet ever-present, from the war's total discursive field, it still would have been no more, or no less, "real" than the war that we did get to see--it would have been equally technologically "screened," and we would have been just as physically and sensorially "distanced," from the "actual" events being revealed. Content matters, but only in the sense of feeding into, or helping to construct, an historically and culturally unique epistemological sensibility that one can then use to deconstruct and reconstruct meaning in the world. The character and form of content never acts as a gateway to the "real," but, rather, to different forms of mediated "realities" that are reflexively made to mean, and this process of meaning-making is a constant site of struggle. It is the meanings we are constructing, and the processes of constructing them around the productive sites/sights of war, that need to be more fully interrogated.