by Harun Farocki
On TV, the 1991 Gulf War appeared very different from the wars before and afterwards. It was shown mainly from the air through images of projectiles homing in on their targets. While the war was in progress, Virilio wrote a book about the way it was being presented and over the following years these images appeared to be constantly re-shown and commented upon. But this war did not leave a lasting impression. At the end of hostilities George Bush enjoyed an extremely high degree of popular support but one year later he was not reelected.
»People talk about "real time" when the computer simulation of a process is simultaneous with the same process outside the computer in what we call the real world, and takes the same length of time. Real time occurs in the head of the missiles and both simulates and actually guides the missiles' flight [depending on how they have been programmed]. Real time occurs when the same program that determines how the missile flies runs on the computer in Commander Schwarzkopf's quarters and the missile on the screen explodes at the same time as the actual missile when it hits its programmed target. This has more than nothing, it has absolutely nothing to do with LIVE transmission. [...]
In most of the pictures of missile strikes cleared for our SONY by US HQ, I was unable to tell whether these were the images taken by the missile homing in to its target or the images seen by the pilot on the screen in his cockpit, or one of the images from the computer screen at command HQ. If it is the image from the photographed bomb, at the point when it appears on screen we experience the utter identity between bomb and reporter [not the identity between bomb and the spectator who is also involved in the shooting process].
Not only are we not also involved in the on-screen shooting process, indeed we are the targets of these real-time images of missile strikes. When it is impossible to distinguish between photographed and simulated images then it is not only the images that have been removed from their spatial coordinates, but we too and time as a quality of the image becomes fictitious. During real-time process we cease to exist as historical beings and become caught up in the computer simulation even though we are living creatures. The computerized images of war extinguish the difference between simulated and real events, the difference between historical time and technically/electronically simulated time.
It becomes potentially impossible to decide whether something occurs and what occurs and whether it occurs at the same time we see it. The people who died in Iraq in real time underneath filming bombs were already being treated by the machinery like simulated people. The military censorship decided nothing less than to show us only this kind, wherever possible. What this means is both abolishing the "authentic image" [the famous image with its "dog tag", indicating time and location around its neck] and abolishing the eyes as the organ that bears witness to history.«
[Klaus Theweleit, in: Lettre International, no. 12, 1991]
Cruise missiles have the data relating to their target areas stored and they photograph their current locations using a camera. They compare the actual and the hypothetical image, a pattern recognition program looks for correspondences, particular rural or urban landscape formations. A navigation aid for motor vehicles developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Karlsruhe functions in exactly the same way. Based on the data contained in a map, GPU pinpoints the current location of the vehicle, which is equipped with a camera. A pattern recognition program reads the markings on the freeway and, if the street has no markings, it reads the curbstones or the lampposts and then marks the correspondences with false colors.
Robots whose ability to cooperate is currently being tested at Munich's Technical University work in exactly the same way. Going by the name of autonomous systems, these robots have camera eyes and compare what they "see" with the spatial data they have stored: the ground plan, the position of any fittings in the room. They then allocate to the latter any accidentals such as the positions of the other robots or human traffic. According to Karl Marx the regularity of the honeycomb puts the human worker to shame, but the latter's superiority comes from the fact that he can plan his activities. And this is exactly what the "autonomous robots" do, they simulate a movement in a CA representation before actually executing it.
According to Ute Bernhardt/Ingo Ruhmann, [»Computer im Krieg: die elektronische Potenzmaschine«, in: Computer als Medium, ed. Bolz/ Kittler/ Tholen, Munich 1994] although the images of missiles homing in to their targets were extremely effective and much talked about, these images were not of new weapons. Most of the "intelligent" weapons used in the war were laser-guided bombs which functioned in exactly the same way as those used in the Vietnam War.
In other words, this was not a matter of using new weapons but rather of promulgating an image policy different from the one in the Vietnam War. In the latter case the foundations were laid for conducting electronic warfare, for example with attempts at an electronic fence to monitor the border between North and South Vietnam. But what was shown were the small outfits engaging in skirmishes as if conducting a duel.
In laser-guided bombs a sensor follows a laser beam, a simple switch steers the bombs' fins. This is a further refinement of the beam riding guidance systems used as long ago as the Second World War. And by no means accurately: General Schwarzkopf reported that 24 bombs needed to be dropped in order to hit a bridge in Iraq. The images from the Gulf War are a reminder of the fact that the computer was a product of the war and was not born of a civilian need.
The images that amazed us in the Gulf War are only a small part of the C3I cycle now permanently in place throughout the world. [C3I stands for command, control, communications and intelligence. Global and tactical early warning systems, site surveillance with seismic, acoustic and radar sensors, radio direction finding, systems to monitor the news put out by the enemy and the use of jamming transmitters to disrupt all this kind of equipment.] Today, the above is more important than force or kilotons.
»The reconnaissance systems deployed on the battlefield have [...] multiplied as never before because if one side wants to fight its enemy's second echelon over a distance of many kilometers it needs to know just where the enemy is located and what its own weapons are capable of. Satellites, aircraft assisted systems such as the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack System [JSTARS] and remote-controlled or "autonomous" drones collected radar, infrared and video sensor data. These data were transmitted to the computers forming part of the various situation appraisal and analysis systems on the battlefield. From here, the relevant information was passed on to the computers controlling all kinds of weapons systems. [...] This makes it possible ... [to] follow the positions of individual soldiers anywhere on earth to within a few meters, to transmit information to them or to allow them to pass on important video material by means of appropriate equipment, which is the size of a suitcase. [...] The global C3I system has revived the military strategist's hill, something long considered passé, in the form of a cybernetic system. [...] This makes all the difference with regard to the comments of those critical to the Gulf War. What we saw was a small part of the larger picture. The purpose of the C3I system is not to act independently or to allow the commanders to "be there". Its purpose is to project the latter's authority of command onto the battlefield.«
The thinking behind this is: the better military action can be controlled, the easier it is to calculate in political terms.
Theweleit talks about "filming bombs". These projectiles could also be described as hara-kiri cameras. Camera aiming at one single final image. Which calls to mind phrases like: »To make a film, you need to be prepared to kill someone, you need to be prepared to die for one camera setting.«
What I am planning here is a parallel montage, a comparison between two sets of images.
To contrast the image of "historical time" with the image of "technical/electronic time", to compare the mass of data with the planned model, the program image registered within a piece of equipment versus the real image of its environment.
In the 1920s, parallel or contrasting montages were considered the truly cinematographic method of linking images. After a time, the enthusiasm for the technique evaporated. It transpired that the contrasts that can be highlighted in an image, in a comparison, are all too often trivial. What matters here is the difference between the similar.
The question of "conversion" may also be considered in terms of montage.
This word used to indicate the process of turning to the true faith was seized upon by the peace movement and now indicates the pacific use of military products. The "pacific use" of atomic energy has demonstrated just how difficult it is to discard a destructive quality. Little remains of the pathos of the formula "from swords to plough-shares" if we consider how inventions for the military sphere such as short wave and stereo sound bolstered the entertainment industry in the post-War era.
With the end of the Eastern Block, the budgets for military technology were cut. Today, many companies in the United States involved in C3I are attempting to market non-military products, particularly in the field of property protection and production monitoring.
If the images of the Gulf War are propaganda images lauding the power of information technology then the same also applies to the non-military domain.
We see bombs detonating and do not fail to understand that this is not a question of conquering other countries or destroying capital. In the images of destruction, information technology also presents itself as a new continent offering greater scope than the old world. More activity, greater riches.