chapter  1
24 Pages

Postmodern war in a world without meaning

What is ‘postmodern war’? As Steven Best and Douglas Kellner observe, although the term is very common today, it is often used loosely, sometimes as little more than a fashionable buzzword (Best and Kellner 2001: 63, 85). Even in the academic literature there is scant agreement about what is distinctive, and what is distinctly ‘postmodern’, about contemporary war. Writing on the topic is diverse in terms of the disciplinary background of different authors (from Media and Cultural Studies to International Relations), the perspectives adopted (some taking a broadly postmodernist perspective, others rejecting it), and the issues which are emphasised. The critics who have addressed the question of postmodern war most directly have tended to focus on technological change. Writers such as Chris Hables Gray and James Der Derian have investigated the new technologies of the digital battlefield, and the new military doctrines and media strategies which have accompanied their development. Yet while these authors offer some important insights into the nature of contemporary warfare, it is partly the emphasis on these essentially technical issues that has sometimes led to a lack of clarity about war’s relationship to postmodernity. There is a tendency toward technological-determinism in this discussion, as when Der Derian argues that ‘a revolution in networked forms of digital media has transformed the way advanced societies conduct war and make peace’. For Der Derian, information technology is not ‘a neutral tool of human agency’; rather, ‘it determines our way of being’ (Der Derian 2003: 447, 449). Though it is undoubtedly the case that warfare as waged by the Western military is more high-tech than ever before, this in itself provides no grounds for claiming that it has become ‘postmodern’. It would be just as logical to understand the role of technology in terms of modernity, as Kevin Robins and Frank Webster (1999: 161) implicitly do in describing military ‘technophilia’ as expressing ‘an entirely rationalistic and technocratic attitude towards the world’.