Reducing How Much War There Is - Idea No.3: Go off half-cocked

We've considered sending free-prostitutes into warzones to distract soldiers from fighting and make a ceasefire necessary. We've looked at the idea of stopping soldiers from even reaching the battlefield, and sending them to mix with their erstwhile foes in holiday camps. Here is the final instalment of this 3-part essay looking at ideas to end or reduce war.

PrĂ©cis: Wars could be fought as ‘simulations’ or in the same style as ‘historical re-enactments’, instead of proper battles with real, harmful violence.

This third idea for reducing war is rather harder for me to explain. This post is about me thinking out loud, and not seriously expecting to be understood. The idea is a work in progress, and this blog post is the workshop.

Part 1:

The first bit of background to my thinking is the claim that the Persian Gulf War did not ‘really happen’, as argued by French thinker Jean Baudrillard. He’s the philosopher who popularised (in so far as such an obscure idea can be called ‘popular’) the concept of ‘simulacra’. I’m not intending to say exactly what Baudrillard said, but I’m using some of his ideas to build my own. When I talk about the simulacra, what that word ‘simulacrum’ – or simulation, if you prefer - refers to is basically this concept:

We are surrounded by representations of things. All media is formed by representations of ‘real’ – or imagined - things, and there are also representations we’re so used to, that we don’t even think about the fact that they’re only representations of something else.

An example of a media representation would be an actor in a film portraying a real or imagined character. Another media representation is the caption a newspaper editor uses for a picture, which could define what the photo is showing. The choice of camera angle is a decision made by the photographer, leading to another particular representation of something. The colours, sounds, words – basically everything in any newspaper, magazine, book, website, film, radio or TV show, painting, or song – goes towards building some particular representation of something that exists or existed (whether in the physical world or in someone’s imagination).

Less obvious ‘representations’ are things like signs. For example, the little stick figures with or without a skirt on, to show the male and female toilets. Or to take it even further, something like an alarm is a representation. If you hear a siren you know it represents a police car or ambulance so you know to keep out of the way – so you feel ‘danger’ but the siren itself isn’t going to run you over. U2 in their song Sunday Bloody Sunday used a siren to help represent what they were singing about. That’s an example of a representation of a representation. And these words you’re reading are representations of the words I typed at my keyboard – but they’re not the exact same words I saw on my screen as I typed.

So in summary of the simulacrum, lots and lots of things are not exactly ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ in themselves, they’re images of other things, but we accept them as our everyday ‘reality’. This is what Baudrillard was referring to when he said the Gulf War didn’t really happen – he interpreted the ‘war’ as the culmination of the media reporting of a ‘war’, compared to the mismatch of the coalition forces who were ostensibly ‘fighting’ the Iraqi army, but were mainly just dropping thousands of tons of bombs and bulldozing their defences.

Disney Land was used by Baudrillard as an example of how an entire ‘world’ can be composed of simulacra (and I suppose this applies to any ‘theme park’), and that people’s experiences of so-called ‘reality’ and ‘simulation’ can be very blurred. Baudrillard also suggested that the ‘simulacrum’ eventually became indistinguishable from - and sometimes preferable to - ‘reality’.

Now, the second thing I need to talk about to try explaining the idea.

I spoke with someone involved with historical war re-enactments who told me of a group dedicated to creating an historically accurate display of the Croatian army from the Yugoslavian war of the early 1990s. This group visits various historical shows at weekends to give the public an idea of how the Croatian forces looked at the particular moment of (quite recent) history. Most historical re-enactors (so far as I am aware) recreate more remote eras like the English Civil War or even World War 2, periods we can more readily accept as being ‘historical’ and sufficiently long ago to be thought of as historical (even if within living memory).

The battle re-enactments, undertaken for public education and entertainment, are simulacra in yet another guise. The living history groups are setting a good example for how war could be conducted relatively safely.

To make this idea complete, I just need to contrive a way of combining Sealed Knot-style historical displays with modern, ‘real’ warfare.

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