Info at War

By Ed Twist

We are officially at war. I am not talking about glorious, painful and messy warfare that has defined our historical conception of conflict over territory and economic gain. The conflict in question is a defining feature of the information age. Your mind is at stake. Confused? You should be. The battle lines have been drawn up. The human mind defines the territory. Information warfare defines the age. Your beliefs may not be your own.

Visionary thinkers have warned us about the encroaching dangers of information warfare. In the past, warnings about misinformation missiles and propaganda bombs have been discounted as sci-fi informed futurist paranoia. However, as we tiptoe through the debris of millennial hype, a new picture emerges. The conditions of information warfare have been accepted by a White House affiliated US Government think-tank. The Rand Institute has argued that the information revolution is propelling power towards new non-governmental alliances and networks of civil organisations, leaving traditional nation state power bases in the cold. The authors of the Rand Institute report refer to the situation as a ‘netwar’: 'Information-related conflict between nations or societies. It means trying to disrupt or damage what a target population knows, or thinks it knows, about itself and the world around it. A social netwar may involve propaganda and psychological campaigns, battles for public opinion and for media access and coverage.' The militaristic tone of the report suggests that information warfare is being taken extremely seriously as the possible style of future conflicts.

The battle to control information and manipulate the media has always been an integral cog in the war machine. Crude Iraqi propaganda and high tech allied media spin were defining features of the Gulf conflicts that scarred the nineties. Interestingly, it is worth remembering that the catalyst for conflict was a dispute about restricting information. In Russia, the authorities have gone to extreme lengths to control news of their current war. The disturbing fate of Radio Liberty’s war correspondent, Andrei Babitsky, symbolises the worst of Russia's crackdown on media coverage. He spent weeks reporting from inside the besieged Chechen capital for the US-owned radio station, and repeatedly contradicted the official line taken by the Kremlin. He has recently, in accordance with the traditional Stalinist approach, been ‘removed’. When foreign journalists requested a visit to the war zone, the military press officer told them: 'What’s going on here is none of your business. You wouldn't like it if we demanded to see what you get up to in your bedroom.' But the question remains: who is shafting who? In Lebanon’s capital of Beirut demonstrators have fought back against media misrepresentation. Angry at what they see as bias in CNN’s coverage of Israeli attacks on Lebanese and American support for the attacks, 6000 demonstrators clashed with riot police and actually attacked CNN studios. Closer to home, the Northern Ireland situation has had more spins than a Jeff Mills set and has been rendered far too complex an issue for most people to embrace with insight. And maybe that’s the point. Ponder a lyric from iconic eighties punk outfit Culture Shock; ‘Northern Ireland situation / war within a single nation / no one thinks of it as war / cos that's what televisions for.’

Almost every piece of history we haven’t directly experienced has been altered by the time it reaches us, and in the High Court, history itself is currently on trial. The controversial historian, David Irving is questioning accepted beliefs about the Holocaust. He admits that some Jews were treated badly by the Nazis but denies that they were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz, denies that Hitler directly ordered their slaughter and denies that their were any systematic plan to destroy European Jewry. Famous concentration camp footage and film of bodies being bulldozed into pits is not reliable evidence for Irving. In a scene that could have come straight out of the satirical current affairs programme Brass Eye, but would have inevitably been banned for being insensitive, Irving claims that the victims were not gassed but died of 'natural causes' and that the infamous gas chambers did not exist.

If an individual can dismiss the testimony of tens of thousands of witnesses, where does this leave history? After all, Baudrillard has argued that the Gulf War never happened, some say the first lunar landing was fabricated in television studios and Overload has acquired hard evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that Rome was built in a day. If some of the most shocking imagery of the twentieth century can be written off as poppycock, how the hell can we trust anything we see, hear or believe? In our sophisticated media savvy society where everything is subject to spin, it is clear fascism doesn’t come knocking at your door wearing jackboots and sporting a pencil moustache. In Austria’s current political climate it wears a smart suit and kisses babies. In England: Neighbourhood Watch, CCTV, Shop a Benefit Fraud and Rat on a Rat poster campaigns. Everywhere you turn Little Brothers are watching you. Keep ‘em peeled and remember, in the words of Michael Howard on the merits of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, ‘normal people have nothing to fear...’
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