Make Believe Counter-Insurgency

by STEWART J. LAWRENCE

War, the old saying goes, is "hell." But what about video war? Polls show that many Americans are fast souring on US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, paradoxically, sales of video war-games like Call of Duty, which allow consumers to become "cyber-soldiers," pulling the trigger on Taliban-style "terrorists" in wars just like the ones they say they oppose in real life, are booming.

Are Americans of two minds about the messy, morally ambiguous conflicts that the Pentagon insists we must fight?

Or perhaps, much like faithful churchgoers who rail against sin, and adultery, while secretly surfing for porn or engaging in illicit sex, they know deep down that these wars are bad but still fantasize mightily about fighting them from their living room.

If you think it’s only Survivalists and Skinheads buying these games, take a look at the sales numbers. Call of Duty: Black Ops, the third installment in the new and wildly popular Call of Duty series, was released just a few short months ago. Its sales volume has already surpassed that of its enormously successful predecessor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

In fact, in its first five days on the market alone, the sales revenue generated by Black Ops exceeded $650 million, beating the previous five-day global record for movies, books, and other popular video games like Grand Theft Auto. Clearly, Americans – men and women, adults and youth – are "hooked."

And Blacks Ops not only allows you to kill, but as its name suggests, to engage in covert activities in dubious conformity with established rules of war. Abuse of prisoners in secret jails isn’t on the menu, but killing informants and targeting political cadre are. After all, they are part and parcel of any modern counterinsurgency campaign.

Yet they are the very activities that have gotten US troops – and our nation as a whole – into so much trouble, politically, and prompted calls for our withdrawal.

Amazingly, Activision, the manufacturer of Black Ops and its predecessors, is aggressively promoting the game with expensive 60-second ads that run on national television during prime time. Popular celebrities like Los Angeles Laker basketball star Kobe Bryant are shown breaking down doors and taking out "the enemy" in surprisingly vivid, and brutal, house-to-house combat.

The title of these ads? "There’s a soldier in ALL of us." Talk about "bringing the war home."

The physical harm of playing video war games is fairly low, of course. Raised blood pressure, bleary eyes, and a strained wrist, from zealous overuse, at worst. But their impact on our national psyche? That’s where consumer wars are actually fought and won, and their real costs must be reckoned.

Are games like Black Ops contributing to an underlying acceptance of global counterinsurgency ? conveniently repackaged as anti-Al Qaeda "counter-terrorism" ? and somehow binding Americans psychologically to perpetual war, while desensitizing many of us to its grisly affects?

Liberal psychologists have long argued that the violence shown on television tends to beget violence in everyday life. And those teenage killers at Columbine High School? We all know that they hatched their murderous plot based on scenarios they’d studied over and over again in the violent video games they played.

Of course, Americans aren’t out on the streets burning down mosques or rounding up suspected Islamic fundamentalists and their families ? not yet at least. But in the event of a future terrorist attack on American soil, could otherwise mild-mannered Americans find themselves getting in touch with their "inner Rambo"?

Pentagon war planners must be overjoyed. They still can’t get a draft started, and Congress won’t formally declare war. But maybe they’ve found a subtler and even more effective way to rally Americans ? by bloodying their hands remotely – in the unavoidable nastiness that military planners now like to call "4th generation" warfare.

It’s also eerie that these new home-based, war fantasy games seem to parallel the increasingly remote, hi-tech, and desensitized nature of America’s actual participation in overseas wars.

Take the escalating campaign of "drone" attacks directed by the CIA and the Pentagon against presumed Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. This has become the cutting edge of the US war effort in the entire Afghan "theater," allowing US forces to limit their ground casualties while circumventing the presumed incompetence and mixed loyalties of our "allies."

But the directors of these campaigns aren’t based in Kabul or Islamadad, but in some plush office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or at a Special Ops Command headquarters in south Florida. And while their spy equipment is more sophisticated than a video game’s, much like today’s civilian "cyber-soldier," they can kick back, identify targets, and fire away – and their long-distance "kills" are mere images on a screen.

The CIA and the Pentagon even get to compete against each other, much as participants in games like Black Ops do.

But of course, these attacks do kill – and not just soldiers. US commanders like David Kilcullen, a recognized counterinsurgency expert, have testified that most of the casualties from US drone attacks, which have escalated sharply in recent months, are civilians. Some may be combatant family members or unarmed support personnel but most are civilians completely uninvolved in the hostilities – known as "collateral damage" in Pentagon war-speak.

So, the rise of video war games may be part of a macabre "convergence" of sorts. War is beginning to look more like play, and play is increasingly turning to war. And the dividing line between "civilian" and "military" ? both on the ground and "stateside," which now seems to include the cyber-world, is becoming blurrier than ever. That means it’s also getting harder to define and measure our complicity – and to assign the moral blame.

Isn’t that just how the new Pentagon war hawks and their apologists want it?

 

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman