Cylons in Baghdad: Experiencing counter-insurgency in Battlestar Galactica

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapportBidrag til bog/antologiForskningfagfællebedømt

In the summer of 2003 the US soldiers were making their presence felt on the streets of Baghdad and most of the soldiers wore sunglasses to protect themselves from dust and sun. Word on the street had it that the soldiers’ sunglasses could in fact see through clothing (New York Times 2003). This rumour captured the secret desires of young men on the street at the same time as it reflected a belief in the all-powerful nature of American military technology - a belief that was only rivalled by a sense of alienation. How could the American soldiers be the heroes of the ‘liberation of Iraq’ when the military campaign was carried out with such decisiveness and by a force so technological superior to the Iraqis that only the imagination seemed to set the limit for what the US soldiers were able to do? To the Iraqis, US military power was not on a human scale and that was one reason why the soldiers on the streets of Baghdad did not present themselves as heroes. As if taking the cue from the way the Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad perceived the US soldiers as alien robots rather than liberating heroes, the four first episodes of the season three of Battlestar Galactica dealt with the cylon occupation of New Caprica.1 This chapter will take its point of departure in these episodes in order to describe the way in which Battlestar Galactica offers a sophisticated reflection on the consequences of fighting insurgencies on the way soldiers identify themselves in relation to civil society and on the notions of military virtue. Battlestar Galactica’s narrative thus becomes a means to study the consequences of late-modern warfare on civil-military relations as well as a means to study the American experience in Iraq. The episodes were aired in October 2006. At the time there was a wide- spread disquiet about the occupation of Iraq, which had resulted in endemic violence on the streets of Baghdad rather than the new beginning for Iraq and the Middle East, which was advertised in 2003. ‘It seems very unlikely’, Francis Fukuyama noted, ‘that history will judge either the intervention itself or the ideas animating it kindly’ (Fukuyama 2006). In the autumn of 2006, however, the problem for the United States was not so much the judgement of history but the verdict on American military strategy that was handed down on the streets of Baghdad. The US was widely seen to be on the brink of losing the war. ‘The US can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily’, US Representative Murtha concluded in November 2005, ‘it is time to bring them home’ (Murtha 2005). In October 2006, General Sir Richard Dannatt, commander of the British army, embarrassed his government by arguing that the British should ‘get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems’. ‘Iraq is not yet lost’, Larry Diamond concluded, ‘but Iraq is not yet won either’. In his view the reason was mismanagement: ‘the United States squandered its extraordinary military victory, through a series of gross strategic mistakes, acts of ideological blindness, and a breathtaking failure to prepare militarily and politically for the post-war era’ (Diamond 2006: 34). One may regard Battlestar Galactica as a discourse on ‘The Global War on Terrorism’ and the episodes on the occupation of New Caprica offers a discussion on the consequences of the war in Iraq. In Slate, Spencer Ackerman wrote about ‘Battlestar: Iraqtica’ noting that ‘like many sciencefiction shows before it, BSG concerns itself with the porous membrane between humanity and barbarism. Unlike most of its predecessors, however, it has the benefit of an open-ended, real-life war as its backdrop, making its lessons about barbarism unavoidably resonant’ (Ackerman 2006). On the one hand Battlestar Galactica Season Three can be seen as an example of the sombre mood with regards to the war in the autumn of 2006; on the other had the series offers a discussion of the moral dilemmas of occupation and tries to show the occupiers (the American public) how it feels to be occupied. The result is, as Brad Reed noted in American Prospect in October 2006, ‘a stinging allegorical critique of America’s three-year occupation of Iraq’ (Reed 2006). Actually, Battlestar Galactica is neither an allegory nor a critique in the conventional understanding of the terms. Following Daniel Nexon and Iver Neumann’s argument for ‘exploring the nexus between popular culture and world politics’, one can argue that the episodes of Battlestar Galactica are much more than an allegory (Nexon and Neumann 2006: 1). Nexon and Neumann refer to fiction’s ability to ‘re-present social and political life’ as second order observation (Nexon and Neumann 2006: 7; cf Weldes 1999). Niklas Luhmann defines second order observation as the ‘observations of observations’ (Luhmann 1998: 48). Thus Battlestar Galactica is not merely using a fictional setting in order to make an argument about the nature of the Iraq more digestible. The episodes taking place on New Caprica sets the scene for a discussion of the debate on the Iraq War in the United States at the time. In a sense, Battlestar Galactica is not merely an indictment of the conduct of the Iraq War, but rather a critique in the Kantian understanding of the term where different points of views are discussed in order to reach a better and more full understanding of a subject (I describe this ‘double move’ below). Perhaps science fiction is uniquely suited for making that kind of argument since the genre, as a matter of definition, sets up an alternative world that functions as one of those ‘second-hand worlds’ by which C. Wight Mills believed persons experience are shaped (Nexon and Neumann 2006: 7). In science fiction, this second hand world is not made by the accounts of all those witnesses to the workings of the world we meet in conversation every day, but is the fictional creation of an author which makes it possible to present a coherent alternative to our personal experience. To a series preoccupied with notions of honour and destiny, counter- insurgency becomes an important topic because that type of war challenges military codes of conduct and pushes the limits of acceptable behaviour on both sides. Battlestar Galactica thus becomes one semantic universe that offers one to imagine the war in Iraq and the moral military dilemmas that followed from this war. This chapter tries to make the imagination of the war talk to two other seminatic universes, that of the soldier’s own notion of the war as well as the universe presented by military bloggers which attempted to present their military experience within a civilian everyday experience. By focusing on the interrelationships of meaning between the fictional, military and civilian semantic universes I seek investigate the way in which stories of Iraq became part of the history of counter-insurgency.

TitelBattlestar Galactica and International Relations
Antal sider17
ForlagTaylor and Francis/Routledge
Publikationsdato1 jan. 2013
ISBN (Trykt)9780415632812
ISBN (Elektronisk)9781135089696
StatusUdgivet - 1 jan. 2013

Bibliografisk note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 for selection and editorial matter, Nicholas J. Kiersey and Iver B. Neumann.

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