Volume 2, Number 1
Translated by Dr. Paul A. Taylor
(Institute of Communications Studies, Leeds University, United
...tomorrow there will be nothing but the virtual violence of
consensus, the simultaneity in real time of the global consensus:
this will happen tomorrow and it will be the beginning of a world
with no tomorrow. ...This is what the Americans seek to do, these
missionary people bearing electro-shocks which will shepherded
everyone towards democracy. It is therefore pointless to question
the political aims of this war: the only (transpolitical) aim is to
align everybody with the global lowest common denominator, the
democratic denominator... ...the New World Order will be both
consensual and televisual. That is indeed why the targeted bombings
carefully avoided the Iraqi television antennae...The crucial stake,
the decisive stake in this whole affair is the consensual reduction
of Islam to the global order.3
* * *
World Trade Center: shock treatment of power, humiliation inflicted
power, but from outside. With the images of the Baghdad prisons, it
worse, it is the humiliation, symbolic and completely fatal, which
power inflicts on itself – the Americans in this particular case –
treatment of shame and bad conscience. This is what binds together
Before both a worldwide violent reaction: in the first case a
wonder, in the second, a feeling of abjection.
Prisoner Under American Control.
For September 11th, the exhilarating images of a major event; in the
other, the degrading images of something that is the opposite of an
event, a non-event of an obscene banality, the degradation,
atrocious but banal, not only of
the victims, but of the amateur scriptwriters of this parody of
The worst is that it all becomes a parody of violence, a parody of
itself, pornography becoming the ultimate form of the abjection of
war which is
unable to be simply war, to be simply about killing, and instead
itself into a grotesque infantile reality-show, in a desperate
simulacrum of power.
These scenes are the illustration of a power which, reaching its
point, no longer knows what to do with itself – a power henceforth
aim, without purpose, without a plausible enemy, and in total
impunity. It is
only capable of inflicting gratuitous humiliation and, as one knows,
violence inflicted on others is after all only an expression of the
inflicted on oneself. It only manages to humiliate itself, degrade
and go back on its own word in a sort of unremitting perversity. The
ignominy, the vileness is the ultimate symptom of a power that no
knows what to do with itself.
September 11th was a global reaction from all those who no longer
knew what to make of this world power and who no longer supported
it. In the case of
the abuse inflicted on the Iraqis, it is worse yet: power no longer
what to do with itself and cannot stand itself, unless it engages in
self-parody in an inhuman manner.
These images are as murderous for America as those of the World
Trade Center in flames. Nevertheless, America in itself is not on
trial, and it is
useless to charge the Americans: the infernal machine exploded in
suicidal acts. In fact, the Americans have been overtaken by their
power. They do not have the means to control it. And now we are part
power. The bad conscience of the entire West is crystallized in
images. The whole West is contained in the burst of the sadistic laughter of
the American soldiers, as it is behind the construction of the
This is where the truth of these images lies; this is what they are
the excessiveness of a power designating itself as abject and
Truth but not veracity: it does not help to know whether the images
are true or false. From now on and forever we will be uncertain
about these images.
Only their impact counts in the way in which they are immersed in
There is no longer the need for "embedded" journalists because
themselves are immersed in the image – thanks to digital technology,
images are definitively integrated into the war. They don¹t
anymore; they involve neither distance, nor perception, nor
judgment. They no
longer belong to the order of representation, nor of information in
strict sense. And, suddenly, the question whether it is necessary to
produce, reproduce, broadcast, or prohibit them, or even the
question of how to know if they are true or false, is "irrelevant".
For the images to become a source of true information, they would
have to be different from the war. They have become today as virtual
as the war itself,
and for this reason their specific violence adds to the specific
the war. In addition, due to their omnipresence, due to the
prevailing rule of
the world of making everything visible, the images, our present-day
images, have become substantially pornographic. Spontaneously, they
embrace the pornographic face of the war. There exists in all this,
in particular in the last Iraqi episode, an immanent justice of the
image: those who live by the spectacle will die by the spectacle. Do
you want to acquire power through the image? Then you will perish by
the return of the image.
The Americans are having and will make of it a bitter experience.
And this in
spite of all the "democratic" subterfuges and the hopeless
transparency which corresponds to the hopeless simulacrum of
Who committed these acts and who is really responsible for them?
superiors? Human nature, bestial as one knows, "even in democracy"?
scandal is no longer in the torture, it is in the treachery of those
knew and who said nothing (or of those who revealed it?).
any event, all real violence is diverted by the question of
transparency – democracy trying to make a virtue out of the
disclosure of its vices. But apart from all this, what is the secret
of these abject scenographies? Once again, they are an answer,
beyond all the strategic and political
adventures, to the humiliation of September 11th, and they want to
answer to it
by even worse humiliation – even worse than death.
Without counting the hoods which are already a form of decapitation
(to which the decapitation of the American corresponds obscurely),
without counting the piling-up of bodies, and the dogs, forced
nudity is in itself a rape. One saw the GIs walking the naked and
chained Iraqis through the city and, in
the short story Allah Akhbar by Patrick Dekaerke, one sees Franck,
agent, making an Arab strip, forcing him into a girdle and net
and then making him sodomize a pig, all that while taking photographs which he
will send to his village and all his close relations.
Thus the other will be exterminated symbolically. One sees that the
goal of the war is not to kill or to win, but abolish the enemy,
extinguish (according to Canetti, I believe) the light of his sky.
And, in fact, what does one want these men to acknowledge? What is
secret one wants to extort from them? It is quite simply the name in
which they have no fear of death. Here is the profound jealousy and
revenge of "zero death" on those men who are not afraid – it is in
that they are inflicted with something worse than death… Radical
shamelessness, the dishonor of nudity, the tearing of any veil. It
the same problem of transparency: to tear off the veil of women or
abuse men to
make them appear more naked, more obscene...
This masquerade crowns the ignominy of the war – until this
travesty, it was present in this most ferocious image (the most
ferocious for America),
because it was most ghostly and most "reversible": the prisoner
with electrocution and, completely hooded, like a member of the Ku
Klan, crucified by its ilk. It is really America that has
Abu Ghraib Prisoner Under American Control.
Baudrillard is among the
most important theorists of our time. He has been employing theory
to challenge the real for many years. His recent books include
Le Pacte de Lucidité, The Vital Illusion, The Spirit of
Terrorism, Requiem For The
Cool Memories IV, and Passwords. He is an editor of
(translator) is Senior Lecturer in Communications Theory at the
Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds, England. He
is author of "Hacktivism & Cyberwars: Rebels with a Cause?"
(with Tim Jordan) Routledge, 2004; and "Digital Matters: Theories
and Culture of the Matrix" (with Jan Harris) [Routledge
forthcoming]. He is an editor of IJBS.
This is a translation of Jean Baudrillard. “Pornographie de la
guerre” In Liberation,
Wednesday May 19, 2004.
The author expresses his gratitude to Dorota Ostrowska,
University of Edinburgh for her assistance with this translation and to Dr. Gary Genosko for his
assistance in the publication of this translation.
Jean Baudrillard. The Gulf War Did
Not Take Place
(c1991). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995:84-85.
This quotation has been added to this article by the Editor.