Chapter 4: Death's Dream Kingdom: Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq
London: Pluto Press, 2006.
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION FOUND IN IRAQ
I. Laugh In Brings You the News:
The US CODE, TITLE 50, CHAPTER 40 Sec. 2302 defines a Weapon of Mass Destruction as follows: “The term ‘weapon of mass destruction’ means any weapon or device that is intended, or has the capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release, dissemination, or impact of (A) toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors, (B) a disease organism, or (C) radiation or radioactivity.”
The reader over my shoulder can no longer withhold a fundamental objection. Renewing the dialectic of Eros and Thanatos as a way of understanding contemporary history may be speculatively satisfying, but what possible relevance can it have to actual U.S. policies and actions? As Robert McNamara taught us, everything now is essentially a matter of technoscientific rationality and thus the function of a way of thinking that has nothing to do with deep psychological conflicts. Political culture has in fact purged itself of such things. Objective calculation within the world of Realpolitik is all that is the case today. Dark forces in the psyche have nothing to do with it. Confronted with such an objection the psychoanalytic historian can only reply by endorsing the wisdom of Wittgenstein: “look and see.” If fact, let's drench ourselves in the empirical. Maybe it's there that thanatos will reveal itself in its true visage.
Depleted uranium (DU) is a waste product of the uranium enrichment process that fuels both our nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear power programs. In fact, over 99% of the uranium enrichment process results in this waste product, which has a halflife of 4.5 billion years. DU is both a toxic heavy metal and a radiological poison. The U.S. currently has over 10 million tons of DU. The disposal of nuclear waste is, of course, one of the unintended consequences of the development of nuclear power. Fortunately, a solution to the problem of DU has been found. DU is now used in virtually every weapon employed by the U.S. in Iraq (and earlier in Afghanistan and in Kosovo). To cite the most conspicuous example: every penetrator rod in a shell shot from an Abrams tank contains 10 pounds of DU. DU is selected for weapons for three reasons: it's cheap ( made available to arms manufacturers free of charge) and easy to develop; it's heavy, 1.7 times the density of lead and thus most effective at killing because it penetrates anything it hits; and it's pyrophoric, igniting and burning on contact with air and breaking up on contact with its target into extremely small particles of radioactive dust which is dispersed into the atmosphere. The result: permanent contamination of air, water, and soil.
DU was first used by the U.S. in Desert Storm. The amount used was between 315-350 tons. Five times as much was used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Over a third of the U.S. soldiers who served in the first Gulf War are now permanently disabled. The Department of Energy and the Department of Defense of course continue to deny that DU has any harmful effects. A U.N. sub-commission on Human Rights has ruled that DU, which fits the definition of a “dirty bomb,” is an illegal weapon.
Huge chunks of radioactive debris full of DU now litter the cities and countryside of Iraq. Fine radioactive dust permeates the entire country. The problem of clean-up is insoluble. The entire ecosystem of Iraq is permanently contaminated. The Iraq people are the new hibakusha. Their fate, like that of the “survivors” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a condition of death-in-life. The long term health effects of DU on the Iraqi people (and on our own troops) are incalculable. There is no mask or protective clothing that can be devised to prevent radioactive dust from entering the lungs or penetrating the skin. Moreover, DU targets the DNA and the Master Code (histone), altering the genetic future of exposed populations. Because it is the perfect weapon for delivering nanoparticles of poison, radiation, and nano-pollution directly into living cells, DU is the perfect weapon for extinguishing entire populations. The Iraqi's are not alone. Vast regions of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans have been permanently contaminated with radioactive dust and debris.
These facts are worth bearing in mind the next time we are told what has now become a bipartisan article of faith: the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam Hussein gone. Or as Bill Maher put it on his show of Sept. 24, 2004: “Eventually they're better off.”
We need a new term to describe our actions in Iraq. Genocide is inadequate. Thus: Ecocide [from Gr oikos, house; and cide, the destruction of] Ecology has two referents. It refers to that branch of biology that deals with the relations between living organisms and their environment and that branch of sociology that deals with relations among human groups with reference to material resources and consequent social and cultural patterns. The destruction of both is the goal of Ecocide. Ecocide is the deliberate production of a condition of permanent radiological, biological, and chemical contamination whereby death comes to inhabit an entire ecosystem. A condition of ecocide exists when life itself and all possibilities of its renewal are being systematically destroyed in an identifiable geographical area, which is also defined in terms of specifiable racial and religious characteristics. As is now known, the cumulative result of such actions may bring about for the entire planet the condition of homo sacer described by Giorgio Agamben. The European Council on Radiation Risk, for example, calculated the damage to human health of the low level radiation thus far released into the atmosphere from nuclear weapons testing to be 61, 600, 000 deaths by cancer alone. Moreover, in our wars since 1991 the U.S. has now released in terms of global atmospheric pollution the equivalent of 400, 000 Nagasaki Bombs.
II. Appointment in Samarra
— Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick
Does the situation described above offer us an intimation of what Sigmund Freud had
in mind when he spoke of a pure culture of thanatos?
But it's always a good idea when seeking an explanation of the human motives behind actions to stick with the empirical. With stated intentions and official rationales. Otherwise we give ourselves over to psychobabble. Despite official denial by the Department of Defense that DU is harmful, a series of explanations are now in place to account for the development and use of DU weapons. DU is cost effective, militarily efficient, and turns to productive use a waste product we'd otherwise have to dispose of at great cost. With motives and intentions thus circumscribed, the decision to use DU in weaponry need not raise the spectre of anything dark in the psyche. It's all a matter of pragmatic efficiency with a little capitalist profit motive thrown in for good measure. There's only one thing wrong with this explanation. It leaves out the basis for the calculus. There's every reason to use DU and no reason not to use it if, and only if, one rationale informs all decisions. How to maximize death, regardless of consequences or alternatives. Introduce any countervailing motives and the entire chain of decisions becomes questionable. Conscious, stated intentions then reveal themselves as functions of something else that has been conveniently rendered unconscious. What looks like a purely pragmatic matter devoid of psychological motives now reveal the opposite: the fact that thanatos so inhabits the system that the absence of anything opposed to it “goes without saying.” Thanatos has become what Wittgenstein called a “form of life,” a way of being so deeply rooted that it operates automatically, habitually, and of necessity. It has become a collective unconscious. And as such it is no longer accessible to those whose intentions conceal and reveal it. The reason for sticking with the empirical is now clear. There is something insane in the empirical. It is what the historian must uncover.
Before we ask ourselves how this situation came to pass we need to ask another question. For it's easy to claim we don't know about such things because the media refuses to tell us about them. There's another reason for our ignorance, however, and it's the one we need to confront. I refer to the possibility that we choose our ignorance because otherwise we'd lose the system of guarantees we depend on for our identity and our understanding of history. As Barbara Bush put it in telling Diane Sawyer why she doesn't watch the news: “Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose. Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” It would be easy to deride Mrs. Bush, to congratulate oneself on not sharing her attitude. What I hope to show, however, is that on an essential level, one determinative in the last instance, we are in full agreement with her and delude ourselves as long as we think otherwise.
III. The Fatal Lure of Guarantees
Recently, my mother died. At the end of her funeral the priest left us with these words as a final reminder of what had been said repeatedly in a variety of ways for the past two days: “We who leave here in sorrow know that we will one day be reunited with her in joy.” My concern here is not with the ontological status of this preposterous belief, but with its psychological function as a guarantee that offers human beings a way to deprive death of its finality. And the terror that prospect entails. The function of guarantees is to enable human beings to bear events and contingencies that would otherwise be too traumatic. There is much that we can face apparently only by denying. Such perhaps is one accurate estimation of what it means to be a human being, to remain a child of one's needs and desires disguising that fact in the form of beliefs and ideas.
The primary purpose of religion, philosophy, and culture has been to provide conceptual, psychological, and emotional guarantees so that traumatic events become part of a larger framework that assures the realization of our hopes and dreams. Without such supports, most people supposedly would find life unlivable. Through the ministry of the guarantees we banish those thoughts and feelings that we are convinced would deprive life of meaning, plunging us into despair. Experience, accordingly, becomes the movement from and to the affirmation of the guarantees through their imposition on events. The main line of Western philosophy can most profitably be seen as a series of efforts to provide a ground for the guarantees. That effort achieves one of its culminations in Hegel who defined the purpose of philosophy as the elimination of the contingent. As father of the philosophy of history, he offered that new discipline a single goal: to demonstrate that the rational is real and the real rational; that history is the story of progress, liberty, the realization of a universal humanity. Or, to put it in vulgar terms, democracy and civilization are on the march and will soon sweep the entire Middle East.
In order to triumph over the contingencies of existence—doubt about oneself, one's place in the world, and one's final end—many guarantees are needed. Moreover, they must form a system of reinforcing beliefs such that if one guarantee is threatened other guarantees come in to fill the breach. Thereby the function of the system as a whole is assured. Within the system of guarantees one guarantee, however, is superordinate. The belief that human nature is basically good. As animal rationale we are endowed with an a-historical essence that cannot be lost. Evil is an aberration. Consequently, there's always reason for hope and the belief that no matter how bad things get we'll always find a way to recover everything that the guarantees assure.
What follows is a brief and by no means exhaustive description of the system of guarantees. One need not believe all of it for the system to hold. Guarantees are superfluous. If they collapse at one point, their hold becomes even stronger at another. That is one reason why the death of God gave birth to so many secular religions. The best way to read what follows accordingly is for each reader to locate the guarantees that have the greatest hold over them, since in them one will find what controls one's response to traumatic events. Or, to put it in other terms, what one must overcome in oneself in order to experience the ontological force of existence, contingency, and history. Perhaps one only begins to know, to think, and to respond appropriately to events once one has eradicated the entire system of guarantees has been eradicated.
Here then a list of the central planks in that edifice.
Religious: a loving creator with a redemptive purpose assures us of the triumph of goodness and the rewards of eternal life.
Philosophic: rationality gives meaning, direction, and pragmatic efficiency to the human mind and all the purposeful activities in which we engage.
Scientific: science is the fulfillment of reason and through its development we will harness nature to our needs. This guarantee gives birth to another: the technological imperative, which teaches us that all technological developments are good. (Or, in any case, that the die is cast since all technological problems require for their solution the development of new technologies.)
Historical: History is the story of progress: the development of those universal values through which eventually the real becomes rational and the rational real. Through that long march all contingencies are eventually overcome. A Political corollary: the democratic ideal as realized in the United States is an ultimate good; its benefits should thus be extended to all humanity.
Economic: capitalism, the economic realization both of reason and of human nature, is the global principle that will bring the greatest good to all. Therefore, any actions required to advance it are both necessary and good.
The deepest guarantees, however, address us on a far more personal level.
Psychological: We have an identity, a self, that is strong and once attained can never be lost. Trauma is but the occasion for its recovery. There is nothing fundamentally dark or disordered in the psyche, nor do our actions derive from repressed or unconscious forces. The intentions we give offer a full account of our actions, and thus the limit of our responsibility.
Emotional: The innermost need of human beings is to feel good about themselves. Whatever threatens that feeling must be exorcised. Health, normalcy, and productivity depend on avoiding negative feelings. Hope and optimism aren't just healthy attitudes; they are requirements of our nature. Biologically wired. We cannot remain for long in trauma. Recovery, moreover, must restore our faith in the guarantees and our hopes for the future. The need for hope is, in fact, the capstone of the entire system of guarantees. Yet it too apparently has a history. Today over 10 million of our children are on prescription drugs to prevent depression and anxiety. Informed of this fact by Bill Maher, the French actress Julie Delphy spoke the spontaneous wisdom of an archaic culture: “Don't they know that depression is a good thing; that it's something you have to go through in order to grow?” Not anymore.
The key to understanding the power of the guarantees is to understand the fears that they exorcise. Thanks to religion, death, suffering, and evil are deprived of their power. Through the attainment of reason, all other forms of consciousness and what they might reveal are put in their place. Poetic knowing is deprived both of its legitimacy and its terror. Science, as fulfillment of reason, assures us of domination over nature. What Heidegger termed technoscientific rationality becomes the measure of what is real. Belief in historical progress banishes the recurrent suspicion that history may lack direction or, even worse, move to the darkest of ends. The condition is thereby set that makes it impossible for us to experience traumatic events such as 9-11 except as occasions to take whatever actions are needed to reaffirm our goodness and restore our guarantees. It is in the personal order, however, that the guarantees do their deepest work. Psychologically, belief in the self or self-identity exorcises the most frightening contingency: that there is a void at the center of the American psyche with panic anxiety and its corollary, compulsive consumption, the expression of a desperate non-identity. That spectre brings us before the greatest fear: that our psyche, not our conscious, deliberative intentions, is the author of our actions, an author who will do anything in order to feel safe, secure, and righteous. All of our emotional needs then stand forth under the rule of a single necessity: the need to feel good about oneself at whatever cost and to sustain hope by banishing anything that would trouble us. Resolution, catharsis (i.e., the discharge of painful tensions or awareness), and renewal emerge as the needs that bind us with an iron necessity to the guarantees and all that they make it impossible for us to know. It is easy to deprecate Dubya and, apparently, to hold onto the idea that he's a temporary aberration. But the problem goes deeper. To revive a battle cry from the 60's, insofar as one is wedded to any one of the guarantees one is part of the problem and not the solution. For the grandest function of the system of guarantees, as a whole and in each one of its parts, is to blind us to history.
And so to take up again the question stated previously, how did the situation now being created in Iraq come about? The next three sections constitute an attempt to answer that question by constructing for America a repressed history.
IV. The Nuclear Unconscious
— Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
To recapitulate historical facts that it took over 50 years to rescue from myth: the United States did not bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki “to end the war and save countless lives.” It did so for four reasons (and in the knowledge that a defeated Japan was pursuing terms of surrender through several diplomatic channels): (1) to avenge Pearl Harbor, (2) to justify the amount of money spent developing the Bomb, (3) to create a laboratory whereby our scientific, medical, and military personnel could study its effects, and (4) to impress the Russians—and the world—with this opening salvo of the Cold War. In short, Hiroshima was the first act of global terrorism. That story couldn't be told, however, and still encounters strenuous resistance from most Americans, because it exposes too many of the guarantees we want to have about our Nation and its actions in history.
Those actions also gave birth to another myth and another skewered history. The mythical story of the development of “the peaceful atom.” No sooner were the tidings of the Nuclear Age broadcast to a terrified world than we heard promises of a nuclear Utopia. Through those promises a collective fantasy was created about the guarantees that the peaceful atom gave us about the future. Entire cities would have all their energy needs met for the cost of a nickel. Etc. Now fifty years later we find that we can't get rid of the nuclear waste we've created. Nuclear technology, it turns out, is the least cost effective and most environmentally destructive source of energy ever developed. What it provides—less that 20% of our electrical energy—comes at a cost of trillions of dollars and at the expense of the safe and clean technologies (wind, solar) that we must soon develop if there is to be a future. What we now know is that nuclear power was a mistake from the start and should have been aborted in its inception. (It also had among its unintended consequences a loss of life of those living near or downwind of our reactors that now well exceeds the combined loss of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) But to learn of such things points to something even more troubling: the recognition that the peaceful atom was always a fantasy, created after the fact for motives that had nothing to do with official ideological proclamations.
Robert Oppenheimer made two prescient observations. “The use of the Bomb was implicit in its invention.” “We [the scientists] did the devil's work.” Opie's error was his belated belief that by recalling us to humanistic beliefs it would be possible to reverse the process begun in Los Alamos. The humanistic reflections that preoccupied his final years offer one of the clearest examples of the effort to reassert essentialistic ahistorical guarantees as a way of cleansing our collective hands of history. What Oppenheimer hoped to exorcise was the spectre that there are certain actions that are irreversible, giving history a totally new direction that permits no return to the way things once were. Perhaps there are events that mark fundamental turning points in which the human psyche—with no essential, a-historical nature to protect it—makes a quantum leap into a new way of being, embracing a logic that will propel it to move in new, unseen, and unwanted directions.
Oppenheimer offers us a picture of the Los Alamos scientists that exposes the official ideology of science. He and his colleagues know what their discoveries will lead to but dissemble that knowledge. As Freud could have taught them, hiding something from one's consciousness empowers it. The rush to the Bomb that seized them fulfilled a desire that had little to do with value free objective inquiry. “Devil's work” is of a different order and draws on something else in the psyche. Here, briefly, is one way to constitute its meaning. In inventing the Bomb the scientists of Alamogordo realized the two sublime motives that have informed the history of science: the effort to know the secrets of nature and to harness them to our will so that its power becomes an extension of our power to overcome any and all limitations, moral as well as physical. The belated effort of Leo Szilard and others to draw up a petition to the President banning the use of the Bomb and Oppenheimer's intervention reminding them that doing so oversteps their role as scientists is the comedy of a reaction formation: the effort to restore the a priori cleanliness of hands that are already dirty, the nostalgic attempt to arrest a historical process that has already broken free of them as Edward Teller would soon reveal.)
Once the Bomb was used, the consequences of devil's work announced themselves. Nuclear fear became condition general in the United States, producing for the first time a collective national psyche. What we did to the other we could expect in return. Projection and denial thus assumed command over both consciousness and policy. Globally. The only way to make ourselves safe from ourselves was through the production of more nuclear weapons. Like Macbeth, we had to repeat our deed, increasing its scope each time, as if somehow this would undo the original error. Teller's Hydrogen Bomb provides succor to a quest for power fueled by the engines of guilt and fear. The whole world became a prisoner to the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction. Bush's recent actions in Iraq merely ratify once again the basic truth: the only way to prevent U.S. aggression is to develop one's own nuclear arsenal. MAD offers the only certitude, security, and “peace of mind” that is now possible. A psychotic peace. Devil's work thereby evolves the condition demanded by the thanatos that the Bomb released in the psyche. Death has cut itself loose from anything that could restrain it. What began as a fantasy of unlimited power ends in the assurance of total annihilation.
While we've resisted this knowledge, there is another knowledge fatally tied to it that we've resisted with even greater fervor. Namely, the true story of “the peaceful atom” as a continuation of the same thanatopic process under the guise of a protracted search for a felix culpa. For expiation and redemption. To expel any lingering (unconscious) guilt over having dropped the Bomb. How else but by finding in the atom a new guarantee which would enable us to claim that everything we did from the start stemmed from good motives and served finally to bring about a greater good. Technoscientific rationality as secular theodicy. The peaceful atom as Messianic historiography. Our faith in this new faith, like our rush to the Bomb, could not be questioned. The two main dogmas of this faith in fact necessarily gave birth to a historical process that could not be halted since any negative results could only lead to a further investment in the process. Dogma one: Technoscientific rationality, the new logos which will finally reveal the truth of everything, always produces good results in the end. All that's needed is to develop the appropriate technology. Dogma two: That development is mandated. Technology is the only thing that can save us, since all technical problems require new technological developments for their solution. Like the rush to the Bomb, there is no way to halt or question the technological imperative no matter how troubling the results and the ensuing technological problems they pose such as how to clean up the vast amount of nuclear waste and radiation that now poisons the atmosphere. Having committed ourselves to “the peaceful atom” in order to deny and repress guilt over the Bomb, we found ourselves wed to the development of civilian nuclear power because it fulfilled both a psychological necessity and what had become a technological imperative. Like the logic of nuclear weaponry leading of necessity to M.A.D., the peaceful atom was fatally tied to a logic incapable of preventing the movement to the situation we now face. We've been promised the benefits of the peaceful atom for over 50 years. The results are now in. Since 1945 Dr. Strangelove has operated simultaneously on two fronts. The production of massive piles of nuclear waste with destructive capacities we have no way to contain. (Try sometime devising a warning sign that can be easily deciphered 4.5 billion years from now.) Such is the nature of “devil's work.” Every step you take trying to get out of it only leads you deeper into it.
Hegel found in “the cunning of reason” a way to redeem any and every historical situation. All evils are but apparent; even the darkest events serve the course of progress. 1945 inaugurates a different logic, calling for an antithetical understanding. The primary lesson is that history lets loose consequences that cannot be controlled, that every action taken to make us safe from the destructiveness we introduced into the world by turning that destructiveness to a good end only proliferates the very evil it would reverse. There was no way to forsee or prevent the situation pursuit of the peaceful atom would create because belief in it derived from the same grandiose fantasy that fueled the Bomb. Its task was in fact even more grandiose. Utopian and Messianic. Otherwise the unthinkable: history would have to be conceived in a radically different way. But that idea is more terrifying than the magnitude of the nuclear pollution that now confronts us because it forces us to see that nothing protects us from history and the irreversible changes that certain events bring about. There are no guarantees. Nothing in the conceptual, psychological, or emotional orders that we can call on to deliver us. We face, instead, a different task: we must deracinate the entire system of guarantees because it is the main thing that stands between a correct understanding of our situation and, of even greater importance, how we must learn to feel in the face of it. Einstein said the bomb changed everything except the way we think. That task still beckons.
The development traced above offers us a way to understand the movement of the Nuclear Unconscious from 1945 to the present. As a history defined by what I call the Macbeth principle: to live with the guilt of a deed one repeats that deed until one is no longer troubled by it; or what amounts to the same thing, until nothing else exists. A world ruled by Thanatos in which the psychological transformation it requires has taken place through increasingly more rebarbative actions one progressively eviscerates the voice of conscience. Eventually it becomes so thin that it's transformed into its opposite: the fanatical voice of a fundamentalism proclaiming its rectitude. We're ready for a tour of Bush's Amerika.
V. The Fantasmatic Becomes the Real
Here is one way to describe American foreign policy since 9-11. Long before Dubya's ascension fantasies of democracy sweeping the Middle East danced like sugar-plums in the neo-con imaginary. 9-11, however, upped the ante. As return of the repressed, a terrifying case of the chickens coming home to roost, it raised the spectre of Hiroshima. A new exorcism was needed. Projection and denial were once again called on to provide the only possible psychological response. By appropriating ground-zero as a symbol of what had happened to us we became fantasmatically the innocent victims of an unmotivated and unprecedented terror. Thus Bush's “they hate us because they're jealous of our freedom.” Our duty became clear: to rid the world of evil. The trauma of 9-11 was thus transformed into the only thing that it could be: the occasion for unleashing destructive rage toward any object deemed the target of our wrath. Preemptive unilateralism is psychologically necessary to the fantasmatic demand for grandiose action as the only means of restoration. Reality be damned. Thus, the unleashing of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD), Depleted Uranium (DU), on a country, people, race, and religion that deserves that fate for being the non-cause of 9-11. The psychotic need to proclaim fantasy over against any correction by reality has become peremptory. We have attained a Cartesian certitude that the Iraqi people (and then the entire Middle East) will embrace us for setting them free; and surface evidence to the contrary we see new signs of progress toward that goal each day.
Only our hold on Iraq deteriorates more every day. None of the things the fantasy assured happen. Two things do happen, however, providing a new confirmation of Engel's Law. (1) The shelling of Iraq with DU increases, contaminating the entire infrastructure with chemical and radiation poisoning. Ecocide becomes official policy. (2) The fantasms become more fervent in their affirmation the more they prove false to reality. Bush proclaims “Democracy is on the march.” Quantity has, as Engels argued, become quality, bringing about a fundamental psychological change. Before Iraq, neo-con fantasy was a dream that longed for projection in the belief that it could be realized in reality. It is now a delusion that can be sustained only by denying reality. The fantasmatic has become a psychosis. There is, accordingly, no way it can refer to or be corrected by reality. Only one solution is now possible: reality must be eradicated. The conditions of psychotic certitude have been met. The infra and eco structure of an entire country is destroyed in order to sustain the fantasy that one will be embraced as a liberator for doing so. Because psychotic certitude has been attained, otherness cannot exist. Any challenge to Belief activates what has now become an underlying paranoia. Failure to conform to fantasy can only be the product of conspiracy. Patriot Acts become necessary as a way to hypnotize oneself by systematically seeking out and eliminating any and all signs of dissent from the fantasy. It must become omniscient and omnipotent. Consequently, everything fantasmatic becomes hyperreal in a blind rush to global realization because with the onset of psychosis the mad know, in the evanescence of a consciousness they cannot sustain, the actual function that all their beliefs have played from the beginning. They are the ways one flees the void within, the catastrophic condition into which one would plunge should they ever collapse. Such is the inner state of those who throw themselves into the arms of the Lord, into absolute belief systems, in order to deliver themselves from themselves. The final solution that constitutes the inner condition of the paranoid psychotic has been reached: the necessity of continued, increased explosions in order to avoid a psychological implosion.
We are now in a position to describe the Amerikan psyche—a void defined by a panic anxiety that is relieved by conversion to an absolute faith: Jesus for Bush and Ashcroft, Leo Strauss for neo-con ideologues; Kapital for Dick Cheney. Because the faith must bring total salvation, its reach must be global. That's what Technoscientific Rationality is: the obliteration of any logic other than its development and thereby a progressive estrangement from any other way of being. That's what capitalism is: the abolition of any moral restraint against imposing on the world what conditions will maximize profits. After all, people are nothing but consumers consuming. And it's what Christian fundamentalism Amerikan style is: the need to establish an allegory in which as Good one is empowered to undertake an apocalyptic effort to rid the world of Evil. By turning Iraq into a vast thanatopolis all three imperatives achieve simultaneous fulfillment.
Karl Marx, at a far more innocent time in history, saw the task of philosophy as one of extracting the rational kernel from the mystical shell of Hegelianism. That kernel was the proletariat and the materialist understanding of History the new guarantee. Living at a later stage of things, shorn of all guarantees, we face a far different task: to extract the psychotic kernel from the fantasmatic shell.
And thereby to understand its objective correlative. For the fantasmatic process traced above has a mundane corollary. Converting DU into a WMD that we could deploy throughout Iraq fulfilled another fantasy dear to the dream logic that informs capitalism. DU is pure waste. And like surplus products and the falling rate of profit, waste keeps piling up with no way to get rid of it. It's one thing when we only killed the poor bastards who had the bad luck to live downward of our reactors or the black inner city children to whom we shipped radioactively contaminated milk. But now things have gotten out of hand. We've got over 10 million tons of radioactive waste. Eventually it'll seep into everything, turning even our paradisiacal estates into nuclear cesspools. Unless we can find a way to rid ourselves of it. Any solution, however, must derive from the logic that informs the system and fulfill the unconscious needs that fuel it. And then Voila! in answer to our prayers, one day we see a way to turn our waste products to gold. Nothing is ever lost. The deepest article of capitalist faith is fulfilled. There will be no bad, unintended consequences from our lengthy romance with the atom. We've found our own cunning of reason. Even our waste can be redeemed once we've developed the appropriate technology. With its discovery we seize a way to turn waste to profit while fulfilling an even deeper need: to dump our waste on everything that impedes the progress of global capitalism. Iraq is perfect. After all, the oil is the only thing there that has value. The rest of that landscape is nothing but a toilet. By dumping our waste products on it we get the true macho pleasure that comes from a good defecation: the feeling that we're releasing all of our toxic matter on the Other—in this case those people of color committed to a religion that Samuel Huntington and others remind us stands unalterably opposed to the forward march of civilization. In short, the clash of civilizations and the making of the new world order requires no less than the storm of depleted uranium being rained down over Iraq.
The maximization of death under the reign of thanatos finds in Iraq one of its ghostliest embodiments. Another end to a desultory history. War in the 20th century witnesses the progressive erosion of all distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, military and civilian targets. Inflicting the greatest possible physical and psychological damage to “the enemy” becomes the object of military strategy. Hiroshima was the first realization of that logic as a pure and unrestrained expression of thanatos as global terror. Iraq now serves to advance that logic in a new, and qualitatively different, way. Thanks to DU thanatos finds release from all restrictions and extension over time in a way that promises to advance its agenda through a silent, unseen, inner working on all that lives. Death is everywhere now: in the air they breathe, the food they eat, the water they drink, the shards radiating up at them from the DU debris that litters their cities, the sperm they transmit in the act of love, the coming cancers and birth defects, the violence to the DNA, in all the leukemias of body and of soul that will turn Iraq into one vast Thanatopolis, the city of the future, an oidos where all that lives will come to bear Death as its sole meaning, the visible and invisible sign that is present everywhere.
VI. A Billet for Dubya
— Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Here, then, is a picture of our true historical situation, what we'd know if we looked at our world without the guarantees. The categorical imperative of the historian is to know the horror of a situation by apprehending the madness behind it. One name for that madness is Nuclearism. A proper definition of it is now possible: nuclearism is the assertion of the right to unlimited power over nature through the overcoming of anything in the psyche that would resist that assertion. To put it concretely, there is no peaceful atom and there never was. Nuclearism has only one logic, implicit in it from the beginning. Ecocide. Another name for the madness is Capitalism, It too is wedded to a deadly imperative: the extinction of everything in the human being that opposes the logic of acquisition and consumption. The ideal condition it seeks is one where there is nothing but consumers consuming. Everything else must be purged from the psyche.
When a belief becomes dominant in American psychological circles one thing is certain: that belief refers to something that no longer exists. Such is the case today with self, subject, identity, and the ego. The same goes for the countless guarantees that are invented to support that belief: as in the current emphasis on attachment theory (the perfect theory of mothering for the age of child beauty pageants) and relationality (the warm fuzzy of “adult” life) to provide new guarantees that healthy, normal development is in the cards. In its rush to be the mental health wing of the guarantees, contemporary American psychoanalysis has become a primary barrier to the truth. There is no self in Amerika today, only a void producing panic anxiety in the rush to compulsive consumption as the momentary way to fill what thereby becomes progressively empty of everything save one necessity. Malignant envy. That psychological disorder, brilliantly described by Melanie Klein, has become the only motive that remains: the desire not to attain but to destroy anything and everything that excites one's envy. Iago triumphant disguised as progress. Only thanatos matters. The envy that nuclearism projects unto nature, capitalism projects onto all human relations. The whole world must come to gorge itself under the golden arches. No moral restraint, no residual humanity can intrude on the necessity to reduce everything and everyone to the conditions that benefit capitalism. It's no accident that Dick Cheney's wife Lynne's time as Head of the NEH was a watershed of reactionary ideology.
The History of the U.S. since 1945 constitutes a stunning refutation of our most cherished ideological beliefs. Events dance to a far different logic, which is not hidden. It's out in the open now as thanatos takes the steps needed to gain control over all sources of potential resistance. That is why the principles expressed overseas must perforce inform actions in the Homeland. The result under Dubya is an Amerika that can be defined by three interconnected developments: (1) an Apocalyptic christo-fascism wedded to sado-masochism as the only pleasure capable of keeping the masses at a fever pitch of resentment; (2) a corporate capitalism in control of all economic decisions and political alternatives, thereby assuring the system's reproduction and extension; (3) a police state developing through the series of Patriot Acts required to create, even in the privacy of the home, a condition of generalized surveillance dedicated to the eventual extinction of any trace of otherness or resistance. To use Hegelian language, through these measures thanatos as “Absolute Spirit In and For Itself” attains the form it requires.
In Amerika today the condition Dostoyevsky described in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor slouches toward its final realization. Miracle, Mystery, and Authority find in Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft the three functionaries needed to create a lasting, impermeable collective psyche that offers its subjects deliverance from freedom and that anxiety that can never be uttered or allowed to enter consciousness—that we exist without any guarantees. Bush or miracle: the theocratic allegorization of politics and international relations in order to assure us that we are Good and everything other than us Evil. (For those who can't find their way to God, the neo-cons offer a secular version of the same faith: progressive western civilization vs. reactionary Islamic fundamentalism.) Cheney or mystery: capitalism is the ultimate truth of economic reality; whatever we must do to secure its Empire is therefore good and ultimately of benefit to the entire world. Put money in thy purse: the hidden hand is the cunning of reason assuring future benefit to all. Aschcroft or authority. Surveillance working in all subjects will complete what the Grand Inquisitor called “the happiness of man” in a condition of total obedience. Thereby Abu Ghraib will become the inner condition that defines the mass subject's relation to the State. At the same time that these structures of power extend their sway, the psychotic need to deny reality continues to take on new forms, each further removed from the possibility of correction. Thus, in the latest efforts to affirm that we were right all along—even if there aren't any WMD in Iraq—we get the following sequence: we couldn't know then what we know now; “Saddam aspired to making nuclear weapons (Bush/Cheney);” “Once out from under the sanctions, he would have developed them (Powell); “Saddam Hussein is himself a Weapon of Mass Destruction” (Guiliani). (From which follows the reason for Dubya's desire to revive the space program and go to Mars: that's where Saddam hid the WMDs.)
Sections IV-VI describe a collective psyche. Such a use of psychoanalysis is a far cry from the justly discredited “psychohistory,” which I'll indulge briefly here for purposes of an important theoretical contrast. Thus: Bush had the hots for Saddam from the day he took office because deposing him would enable Dubya both to avenge and to replace his father. Recall, in this connection, his statement that if we'd had the courage and determination we'd have finished the work we (i.e., his father) began in 1991. Fortinbras replaces Hamlet in Dubya's imaginary. No wonder he couldn't wait to dress himself in borrowed garb (a military uniform such as his father wore as a pilot in WWII) pulled in as tight across the crotch as he could bear, and stride across the decks of the Abraham Lincoln. He finally had a dick and had to trumpet it to the world. But having found it, he can't stop shaking itÉ. All of this is of course obvious, irrelevant—and pernicious whenever it functions as an ideological blinder to deflect our attention from the real psychological forces that shape history. Bush is but a part of that psyche. At times its farcicalia and village idiot, at others its fundamentalist believer and “great communicator” who conveys the tidings to the masses in a way sure to reinforce their fascination with their own fascization. Dubya is a way to deflect attention so we won't see the puppetmaster Cheney pulling the strings. Nor, of more importance, the part that both play in the constitution of the collective psyche I've described. That psyche is the proper object of psychoanalytic cultural and political theory.
My effort here has been to offer us a new way to think about the possibility that there is a collective Amerikan psyche ruled by a nuclear Unconscious that has a history which can be described in rigorous psychoanalytic terms. The principles whereby that psyche operates are not so much a question of the conscious intentions of particular individuals as of the role that different individuals and institutions play in securing the hegemony of the whole. That whole finds at each key place the man or woman it needs (from Groves and Oppenheimer to Colonel Tibbets, from Cheney and Rice to Private Englund) because the decision to do what the System wants derives from ideological choices that each individual has made long before the call comes. The end result in each and all is today the hegemony of a way of being in which Thanatos not Reason directs History. Such is the age we live in. An Age of Terrorism. State Terrorism. Everything else is a reaction.
VII. Final Jeopardy
— Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
To know this situation for what it is challenges what is finally the deepest and most fundamental of the guarantees. The principle of Hope. To appropriate Eliot: “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” There is perhaps nothing that can be done to change the situation I've described. But then what is the purpose of knowing such things if they only produce meaningless suffering? Is despair the end result of a life shorn of the guarantees? Or are we finally like the drunks in O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, knowing that in order to sustain the illusions required to go on living they must pronounce Hickey mad and reject everything he revealed to them about their lives as a product of that madness?
Perhaps it's time to admit what the need for Hope really signifies. Denial of responsibility for certain situations under the assumption that knowing them correctly would lead to despair. Raising that spectre is, of course, the rhetorical ploy invoked to prematurely terminate inquiry lest it impinge on emotional and psychological needs. Despair thus remains an empty concept. We don't know what it is and never will as long as we use the need for hope to prevent discovery of our capacities to endure. Whether despair is what we will find on the other side of hope is something we can't know. For all hope really signifies is a testament to our weakness and our fears. Perhaps we are called to something beyond it. What Shakespeare called tragic readiness. For in opening ourselves to the possibility of despair we also open ourselves to the possibility of self-overcoming and through it the discovery of a praxis that lies on the other side of the conceptual and existential paralyses created by the guarantees. We can't know “what is to be done?” as long as we continue to respond to our situation by invoking a-historical values and guarantees that are grounded in an essentialistic and a-historical theory of human nature. (I take up the ethical implications of this idea in Chapter 10.)
“Is there anything more evil than shooting children in a school yard or flying planes into buildings?” One hears this rhetorical question often today. Getting it firmly implanted in our minds seems to be one of the current ideological functions of the media. A correct response requires careful reflection on the circumstance that underlies the knee-jerk response. The power of the image it conjures up. The promise inherent in Technoscientificrationality is deliverance from images. Killing for it, like everything else, occurs at a distance. In the inaugural moment: Tibbets in the cockpit of the Enola Gay unable to imagine what he has just done as a human act. “It was all impersonal.” And today: in the silent, secret, midnight ways that radiation poisoning works from within, like a deed without a doer, separated in space and time from its absent cause. Perhaps killing at a distance is the greater evil precisely because it abrogates the image and the human connection between slayer and slain. If I kill another man with my bare hands my deed is immediate to my embodied consciousness. To kill that way you have to feel hate, fear, anguish, remorse, etc. whereas to kill from a distance or through an invisible contamination is to render the whole thing impersonal. With the desired result: the ability, for example, of the man who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima, incinerating 600,000 people in a second and condemning another 300, 000 to the condition of hibakusha, the walking dead, to boast for over 59 years now that he has never felt a moment of regret or remorse. Tibbets' lack of moral imagination is one with his representative status as precursor. For now it's easy to litter a landscape with DU while denying that the stuff has any long term medical or environmental effects. The evil of killing at a distance is that it makes death unreal. Protected from the image, all who participate in the deed are delivered over to a pure and impersonal calculus. (An aside: if we really want to support our troops we must achieve for them a new Bill of Rights. No one should ever be ordered to use weapons without being given a full knowledge of the long term human and environmental consequences of those weapons. To do otherwise is to deprive our soldiers of the choice that makes them human.)
The powers that be learned one lesson from Vietnam. No more images. The mistake was to let us see the carnage up close every night on TV. The news as image entered our consciousness at the register where genuine change begins. Where horror is felt, free of the tyranny of the concept and the hypnotic power of the guarantees. Desert Storm was the corrective: the Nintendo war, a war broadcast to look just like one of the video games we'd been programmed to love. Prohibition of the image is now a fundamental article of faith. No images are allowed to come back to us from Iraq II. (Michael Moore's real crime was to give us a brief glimpse at what the mainstream media proscribe.)
Abolition of the image is one of the primary conditions of Ecocide. Everything must be rendered abstract, invisible, unreal. No image can be allowed to trouble our sleep, to lacerate our soul. For then we might begin to know that there is indeed an evil far worse than shooting children in schoolyards or flying airplanes into buildings. To move us toward that knowledge let me end with the forbidden, which I must here attempt to convey solely through the more abstract medium of words since I've not yet gained permission to reproduce a photograph I saw not long ago. It's the picture of an Iraqi baby, a victim of DU, who was born with no nose, mouth, eyes, anus or genitals and with flipper limbs, a common result of radiation exposure in utero. That child's body, full of red open ulcers, is twisted in knots, its ulcerated face contorted in a look of unspeakable suffering. An authentic image of the sacredness of human life. Of the preciousness of every breath. To look at that child is to realize one's duty to mourn it, to give voice to its right to invade our consciousness and expose the evil of those who prate on about being Pro-Life while refusing to let us see what they've reduced life to. Luke, 17:1-2. The image of that child must become the force in our minds that motivates us to deracinate all guarantees that shield us from the reality of that child's situation. Or to put it another way: every time one demands catharsis, resolution, and renewal that child is born again, condemned to its writhing.
That is why its image must embolden us to question the most hallowed of the guarantees, the one I've refrained from discussing until now. In the face of such evil what is to be done? Is resistance ever justified in resorting to violence? No, we are told, because “if we do so we become just like them.” This ethical principle supposedly applies universally and a-temporally. It does so, however, because it assures the guarantee that no matter what happens we'll never get our hands dirty. History can't intrude on the categorical imperative. Whatever action one takes one must maintain one's ethical purity. Even if that means there is nothing one can do and after it's been demonstrated that there are no non-violent ways to change the situation. Perhaps we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of such an ethic. Bush did the moral imagination one favor. His preemptive unilateralism made official what has been clear for so long but denied due to its implications. There is no body to which we can turn for Justice: not the U.N., the World Court, or any other framework of International Law. The U.S. will flaunt its contempt for such bodies whenever it suits its purpose. And thus another mode of peaceful, non-violent praxis is deprived of its guarantee.
But then what is to be done? I can't offer an answer. Because I don't have one? Because to do so would drive the last nail into the coffin of Hope? Because any answer would only serve to displace the trauma we have perhaps only begun to experience? Because doing so would minimize the psychological terrorism of this chapter? Or, for a final hypothetical reason—which I included in an earlier oral version of this essay presented to a Conference on Depleted Uranium—because to do so would legally open everyone who hears it to the charge of taking part in a conspiracy? Such warnings need not be attached to what we read. Surely we can preserve that guarantee. But of course we can't. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the same warning must now accompany the written word.
- Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society (NY: Knopf, 1964) remains the finest study of technological rationality and the imperative it imposes on all fields and disciplines to rethink their subjects of inquiry so that they conform to what this way of thinking establishes as the real. Martin Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, and other essays (NY: Garland, 1977) offers a magisterial meditation on the ontological implications of technology. One way to define our world is this: in Wittgensteinian terms, technological rationality has become the “form of life” that renders all other forms unintelligible and archaic.
- I've relied on numerous sources for the factual bases of this essay. An extremely useful website is Depleted Uranium Watch. See also: www.umrc.net/contact.aspx and www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5941.htm. On the nature of depleted uranium see: www.umrc.net/du_and_ndu.aspx. The entire book from an important conference on DU is now available at www.uraniumweaponsconference.de. See also the Uranium Medical Research Center in Toronto. Mention should also be made here of a recent and alarming report done by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on corporate options for DU disposal and it's risks. See: www.ieer.org/reports/du/LESrptfeb05.pdf.
- In connection with this paragraph, see: www.sfbayview.com/081804/Depleteduranium081804.shtml; Depleted Uranium: Dirty Bombs, Dirty Missiles, Dirty Bullets; www.truthout.org/docs_03/062903H.shtml; www.rense.com/general56/dep.htm.
- In connection with this paragraph, see: Doug Rokke asks DoD 3 Questions on DU; and Chris Busby, Ph.D., Interviewed at IPPNW, Berlin. Desert Storm was not, however, the first use of DU. DU was used by Israel under U.S. Army supervision in 1973.
- Giorgio Agamben, Homer Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford UP, 1998).
- On tactical nuclear weapons currently being planned for development by the U.S. see: The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program; www.dtic.mil/futurejointwarfare; and Popular Science (Defense 2020) and www.fredsadademiet.dk/library/stealth.htm. Recently 153 million dollars of DU weapons including bunker busters (or to use official language and thus gain insight into the libidinal bases of the new technologies, Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators) was sold to Israel. The purpose of all these developments is to blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear war. Iraq is the systematic eradication of that distinction, and as such a first sign of things to come.
- See Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. For example, #129: “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.... The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a person at all. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.” One purpose of this essay is to show that our responsibility is not to acquiesce in this situation but to become aware of it as the ethical duty of historical subjects. Responsibility to history deprives us of the luxury of leaving the social, ideological, and communal bases of our thoughts and practices in the dark, however convenient or natural it is to do so.
- I ran across this delightful quote in Mark Crispin Miller's Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order (Norton, 2004), p.298.
- See, for example, Harvey Wasserman, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation (Delacorte, 1982).
- Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude (NY: Delta, 1967).
- Paul W. Tibbets, Clair Stebbens and Harry Franken, The Tibbets Story (NY: Stern and Day, 1978) On Tibbets and Hiroshima, see Walter A. Davis The Holocaust Memorial: A Play About Hiroshima (Bloomington: First Books, 2000).
- The Department of Energy continues to insist that there is no evidence to support the claim that DU is harmful; and of course they've lined up the usual scientists to support the proposition, despite all the medical evidence our soldiers have now brought home in their bodies. Moreover, the claim of non-knowledge by the Department of Energy is also pernicious, since not knowing what the effects of a weapon will be is a prima facie reason not to use it. Or, to state the matter in terms of the facts. The U.S. continues to practice what was one of the rationales for bombing Hiroshima: to create a laboratory so that our scientific, medical, and military personnel can study the effects of our weapons. Ethically, to formulate the antithesis: the use of any weapon that has not been fully tested in terms of all its possible consequences should be classified as a War Crime. Naturally, the powers that be will always claim that some other cause is to blame. This explanation has already been floated re. Iraq, the claim being that the increase in cancers etc. of the Iraqi people stem from Saddam's use of chemical and biological weapons. That is, the cause is not the weapons we used on him but the ones we gave him, a transfer presided over by none other than Donald Rumsfeld.) [On this see: Depleted uranium casts shadow over peace in Iraq] All this suggests a concluding fantasy of how the clean up of Iraq should begin. Each of them—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Perle, Rove and all the others—should be given a sack and ordered to fill it with chunks of the radioactive debris that now litters Iraq. They should then be required to take that sack home and use it as their pillow. Pleasant dreams.
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Chapter 3: Passion of the Christ in Abu Ghraib
Chapter 4: Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq
Chapter 7: Bible Says: The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism
Table of Contents:
|Preface:||The Way We Were|
|PART ONE: THE BELLY OF THE BEAST|
|2||Living in Death's Dream Kingdom: The Psychotic Core of Capitalist Ideology|
|3||Passion of the Christ in Abu Ghraib|
|4||Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq|
|5||A Humanistic Response to 9-11: Robert Jay Lifton, or the Nostalgia for Guarantees|
|6||A Postmodernist Response to 9-11: Slavoj Zizek, or the Jouissance of an Abstract Hegelian|
|PART TWO: TO THE LEFT OF THE LEFT|
|7||Bible Says: The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism|
|8||The Psychodynamics of Terror|
|9||Evil: As Psychological Process and as Philosophic Concept|
|10||Men of Good Will: Toward an Ethic of the Tragic|