Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flight of the Old Dog and "Bomb Iran"

In Glenn Greenwald's column today, he questions how many of the same people who have been, for months, advocating significant bombing in Iran can now be so exercised on the behalf of the Iranians whose lives would be seriously jeopardized by such a campaign:
Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way -- just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least. Hopefully, one of the principal benefits of the turmoil in Iran is that it humanizes whoever the latest Enemy is. Advocating a so-called "attack on Iran" or "bombing Iran" in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many -- obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives. The same is true every time we start mulling the prospect of attacking and bombing another country as though it's some abstract decision in a video game…

The notion that we would have harmed Iran's nuclear capabilities with our bombing attacks without killing substantial numbers of Iranian civilians is a fantasy comparable to the claim that we could remove Saddam Hussein in a quick and easy war, with few civilian casualties, and in the face of a grateful population. Except where there is a single target, that isn't what happens when you bomb countries. Large numbers of civilians die, and the advocates of these campaigns -- today masquerading as crusaders for the welfare of the Iranian People -- were well aware of that result and (at best) were indifferent to it.
(Links to evidence/details of his claims about the potential destruction caused by even the most modest of "Bomb Iran" plans are peppered throughout his original post)

The hypocrisy and indifference of these hawks is breathtaking, but I don't have much to add on that score; Greenwald says it well. I do want to pick up on the fact that Greenwald choses a video game as the most likely model that neoconservatives may have in mind when conceiving their ideal strategies/fantasies. It's a throw-away line, to be sure, but it's not an uncommon one—video games are the most common example used of political unreality (especially when it involves violence) infecting calculations of political reality.

I don't know much about the consumption habits of any of the hawks Greenwald cites, but I'd have to imagine that Giuliani hasn't logged too many hours on any gaming system, and that it isn't video games that might serve him as a resource for political wish-fulfillment.

Because novels are not typically thought of as "technology," they are usually not the first things to come to mind when thinking of models of what highly technological warfare is and looks like. Although techno-thrillers (Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Dale Brown) can be extremely detail-oriented about the mechanics and logistics of combat, it's more likely that we consider film and video games to be the dream factory of war.

Yet the fantasy that Greenwald mentions—the single target, drop-the-bomb-and-fly-home scenario—isn't just the climax of Star Wars: A New Hope; it's also the plotline of Dale Brown's 1987 best-selling techno-thriller Flight of the Old Dog. Plot details are behind that Wikipedia link. I remember enjoying reading that book—and a number of other Dale [not Dan] Brown books—when I was in high school. They're potent and extremely tech-y.

I'm not saying Giuliani or John Bolton or Norman Podhoretz is any more likely to have read Dale Brown's book than they are to have played Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. But I do think books (and techno-thrillers in particular) play more of a role in shaping our ideas of the dynamics, possibilities and strategies of modern combat than they are often given credit for. The remarks made by these morons are probably in most cases pure political opportunism, but they're also playing to the ideas of what combat is and how it can be conducted that exist and predominate in public consciousness. And I think it'd be a good idea to remember that writers like Tom Clancy have done a lot to set the limits on those kind of questions.

2 comments:

Adam Roberts Project said...

Fascinating post.

I've not read any Dale 'no relation to Gordon, clearly' Brown: but running down the wikipedia plot summaries of his Patrick McLanahan Series is a very intriguing experience. The ease with which hard rightwing hawks destroy (imaginatively) not only enemy countries but their own too is fascinating: as in (to pluck an example from the air) the TV 24, with its high body count up to an including Presidents, and the nukes it casually explodes on US soil.

I suppose there's a pseudoideological explanation for this (that these right wingers genuinely believe that US enemies are right on the verge of destroying the US, which in turn justifies US brutalities abroad); but presumably there's a simpler, truer explanation. Those same brutalities, articulated in this case vis the brutalist idiom of really big, really smashing machines, is exciting; and, more, that the thrill of smashing up foreign countries really can't compare with the thrill of smashing up your own. That's almost a definition of the genre, actually.

Andrew Seal said...

Those same brutalities, articulated in this case vis the brutalist idiom of really big, really smashing machines, is exciting; and, more, that the thrill of smashing up foreign countries really can't compare with the thrill of smashing up your own. That's almost a definition of the genre, actually.

Absolutely, although I would say that it is much more a feature of film/tv versions of the genre--while Clancy's Jack Ryan series ultimately has a pretty high domestic body count (including a President), the destruction of the US is almost the desideratum of filmic or televisual technothrillers. (Most of Dale Brown's books, on the other hand, feature almost all of their action/combat in foreign theaters.)

I think one reason this might be is that the effect of seeing the White House get destroyed is a whole lot more visceral than reading about it, whereas reading about Baghdad being bombed is not very much less 'real' than seeing it. The absence of familiar iconography levels the mediums somewhat, I think.

The McLanahan series is interesting, particularly when Brown turns him into a shameless rip-off of Iron Man in The Tin Man.