War's Exciting New Features: The Revolution in Military Affairs

By JJ King, 4 July 2003

JJ King sees a new kind of war, and a new kind of soldier, emerging from the ‘Shock and Awe’ of battlefield Iraq


In Falls Church, USA, a man called James Wade has been quietly fielding a stream of questions from journalists desperate to know more about ‘Shock and Awe’. Wade is the co-author, with Harlan Ullman, of the 1996 publication Shock & Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance[1]. As a former Pentagon official and a nuclear physicist, Wade’s not surprised at the influence his ideas have achieved, or that his ‘Rapid Dominance’ strategy has became so closely associated with Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks’ plan for the War on Iraq. Like Rumsfeld and Franks, Wade is a true believer in the so-called ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA) under which the American military is ringing its latest changes.

Shock and Awe (whose originally stated goal, as is not terribly well known, was to create the same kind of sensation experienced by the Japanese during Hiroshima and Nagasaki), is only one element of the larger concept of Rapid Dominance. This provides for the all-new ideas of ‘befuddling and disheartening the enemy leadership’; establishing ‘dominant battlefield awareness,’ and, most importantly of all, quickly defeating and destroying the enemy with minimal casualties.

This is where the Revolution is really at. When Wade and Ullman talk about a new ‘discriminate warfare’, featuring more precision and fewer casualties, what they really mean is fewer American casualties. The RMA responds first and foremost to the increasingly tyrannical ornamentalisation[2] of Western life, in which the death of any American citizen, soldier or no, has become an ‘unthinkable’ and ‘tragic’ loss. The carpet-bombing of non-Westerners, combined with deployment of ‘special’ forces to ‘take out’ key targets, and (as in Afghanistan and Iraq) the purchase of local militias to do the real dirty work, is an attempt to prevent the massive attrition that would otherwise accrue in the continuously unfolding ‘War on Terror.’ Fighter pilots are rarely shot down, and ‘special’ forces missions occur in a media-controlled environment, outside of the usual procedural oversight; the public, for its part, only gets to hear about the casualties that it’s cleared to hear about. Meanwhile, the relatively tiny amount of necessary ‘traditional’ losses are treated with increased pomp and circumstance, poster-children for the sacredness of Western life. After the Revolution, the US Infantry will only fight on the ground as a symbolic act: just enough ordinary soldiers will die in order for the proper, tragic, public honouring ceremonies to take place.

Meanwhile Private Military Corporations (PMCs) are being toted as the future of warfare. Wade and Ullman see tomorrow’s soldier as ‘more of an entrepreneur,’ ‘wired to the max,’ ‘mobile’ , ‘technologically empowered’, ‘a free agent, not a blunt instrument.’ The logic is sound: PMC actors seem little more than ‘economic’ factors of the free market; their use is predicated on the tacit understanding that a mercenary is, in fact, merely a piece of fixed capital – in short, a form of ‘bare life’[3] which can be acceptably destroyed in the process of occupation, fall to amphetamine-addled friendly fire, or be disowned in the event that an ‘operation’ goes wrong and someone other than another ‘unlawful’ combatant is dispatched.

In Iraq, the dangerous business of ‘keeping the peace’ post-’liberation’ will in fact be handled by Dyncorp[4], a PMC with an utterly dishonourable track record leading from endemic child abuse in Bosnia[5], to trading heroin[6], to charges of terrorism in Ecuador and Colombia[7]. That these post-Clausewitzian mercenaries are given such a fat pay packet and long leash is no error or oversight: the role of sacrificial man they assume is set to become absolutely central to the machinery of everwar. Fighting outside of the Geneva Convention or any other juridical order, this bare life army are the true inheritors of the military’s latest Revolution.

[1] Available at [ ][2] For an in-depth treatment of ‘ornamental life’ see JJ King, ‘The Conflict Of Everyday Life, War In The C21’, in Metropolis M magazine, 2003 (forthcoming)[3] See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, tr. by Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, 1998[4] See [ ] for more on this PMC[5] See [ ][6] See [” ][7] See [ ]

JJ King <jamie AT> is forever working on his anti-everwar novel. He is currently acting deputy editor at Mutes