Global War on Terrors as Total War

The War on terror is an international military campaign launched in 2001 with the US and UK invasion of Afghanistan in response to the attacks on New York and Washington of 11 September 2001. President George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks by declaring war on al Qaeda in return, promising to “…direct every resource at our command – every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war – to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.” Despite of an address to the US Congress full with Total War rhetoric, I do not think the War on Terror can be seen as a return to Total War. However, the idea that rising global terrorism may turn into ‘World War IV’ is not new, having been first proposed by Alexandre de Marenches, a former head of France’s external intelligence agency, in 1992.

How can one define ‘Total War’? From Clausewitz to Ludendorff, different concepts of total war were created. To what extent the war is total. How total is Total War? I consider Total War as a war that involves the complete mobilization of resources and people, affecting the lives of all citizens in the warring countries, even those remote from the battlefields. Total War is the war in which the contenders are willing to make any sacrifice in lives and other resources to obtain a complete victory.

Due to the lack of a universally accepted definition of total war, Dwayne Lovegrove (2008) has chosen to use a model that utilizes three categories of distinguishing total war characteristics; the scope of violence, the mobilization of society and the objectives of the war. Lovegrove has chosen to limit his task by using al Qaeda to represent the Jihadist movement, and the United States as the focus for the War on Terror.

Diplomatic efforts to expand and formalize international support for a ‘Global War on Terrorism’ quickly followed after the declaration of War on Terror.  The North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and several United Nations Security Council Resolutions, the United States created numerous international subset partnerships. The US leads numerous combined military operations. In scope of violence, as of 2008 Lovegrove argues that the scope of violence has yet to reach the level of traditional total war. However, he claims that War on Terror is still considerable and widespread enough to produce psychological and societal effects of a ‘nearly worldwide’ scope. The war does affect significant changes in society. ‘The Bush Doctrine’ abandoned the concepts of Cold War deterrence in favor of a forward-deployed, pre-emptive strategy against rogue states and terrorist groups. Characterized by a ‘good-versus-evil’ moral justification, the right to use pre-emptive attack to prevent attacks on the US, and support for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state as the ultimate solution to Middle Eastern discord. The new policy seeks ways to “…create an expert community of counterterrorism professionals” through the National Security Language Initiative and other such education- and culture-based activities. Lovegrove suggests that the policy also seeks to foster a ‘Culture of Preparedness’ for all elements of American society, extending from the federal government down to the private sector and individual citizens. It goes the same for the other side, ironically, in order to counter al Qaeda’s exploitation of western democratic freedoms; the United States has had to restrict them at home. He also notes that in the future even without Weapons of Mass Destruction, another significant attack in the United States would likely ignite a major popular backlash against Muslims, perhaps globally. There is high possibility that the US government would push in greater mobilization and even extremes of response. Lastly, Lovegroves questions…

“In the end, does it really matter whether we consider this war to be ‘total’ in nature? Total war is often characterized by a gradual radicalization and abandonment of restraints. Thus, while only some total war indicators may be present currently, the possibility exists that the conflict may grow to possess all of its terrible characteristics. In contrast, resolution of this conflict will likely require a ‘total’ response that may result in lasting political, economic, and social changes to both the Muslim nations and the larger ‘Western’ world. The outcome remains to be seen.”  (Lovegrove, 2008)

Media & War Propaganda

“Wartime propaganda attempts to make people adjust to abnormal conditions, and adapt their priorities and moral standards to accommodate the needs of war. To achieve this, propagandists have often represented warfare by using conventional visual codes already established in mass culture. Thus, recruitment posters have often been designed to look like advertisements or movie posters” (Clark 1997, p.103)

Dates back in WWI where news from abroad normally took several days to reach, propaganda were just as powerful a tool as any hardware weaponry could be. To dehumanize and demoralize the enemies.  To mobilize the support of civilians. To boost the morale of their troops.  The arrival of the modern mass media together with the requirements of total war made propaganda an indispensable element of wartime mobilization. One of the most vital of all World War I propaganda battles was the struggle between Germany and Britain for the sympathy of the American people. Bringing the Americans into the war on the Allied side was undoubtedly the most important propaganda achievement of the British. However, series of investigations in the 1920s revealed the fact that the British had fabricated numerous stories about German atrocities thus the practice of propaganda became associated with deceit and trickery, disclosed its negative connotations. Marshall Soules (2007) suggests that propaganda during war is usually carried out in conjunction with a comprehensive attempt to censor dissenting opinion.

However, while people are murdered in darkness no doubt, but as Virilio notes in his book War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (1989) that there is no war without representation. I think this principle clearly explain why mass media play such crucial role in war time persuasion. In addition in what defines cinema, Virilio writes, is not the production of images but their manipulation: pans and tracking shots, zooming in and out, editing, etc. This, in some way, explains the government’s usage of censorship as a tool to manipulate public opinion.

Totalitarian Society

            Now the new question is being raised. If we are not living in the age of Total War then what age it is we living in. Totalitarian society? Speaking of totalitarian society, the US may not be the first name that comes in mind.  But if we look closely to some of the law, for example, it is illegal to collect rainwater that falls on your own property, in Oregon or it is illegal to have an “unrestrained” cat or dog in your vehicle while you are driving in New Jersey. It is arguable that the US is turning into totalitarian society. I would like to sum up my thoughts on the current state of the US by the following news report on the partial government shutdown.

“Only the unimportant parts of the government are shutdown, the parts that refer to ordinary people,” Sherwood Ross told Press TV on Sunday.“You can tell in our society what really counts by what is shutdown and what is still running and the military is running all over the world. The soldiers and the sailors are getting paid, the defense contractors as far as I know are getting paid; who is not getting paid are ordinary people because they no longer count in America,” Ross added“The average person in America no longer counts for anything. This is now a totalitarian society where the state is more powerful than the individual and that’s one the characteristics of the totalitarian society,” he said. “The Republican Party which is very close to fascists in many ways and some ways it’s already fascist that has no concern for people. Food stamps are cut but aid is given to Israel and Egypt and to other countries around the world,” Ross noted.“America is going on to create its own problems and it would create its own bankruptcy and it would create its own demise. It is its own worst enemy.”



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