In The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Baudrillard argues that the style of warfare used in the ‘Gulf War’ was so far removed from previous standards of warfare that it existed more as images on radar and TV screens than as actual hand-to-hand combat, that most of the decisions in the war were based on perceived intelligence coming from maps, images, and news, than from actual seen-with-the-eye intelligence.
Most provocatively, Baudrillard argues that the startlingly one-sided nature of the conflict (fewer US soldiers were killed in this ‘war’ than would have died in traffic accidents had they stayed at home) means that it should not be seen as a war: the US-led coalition could not engage with the Iraqi army or take the kind of risks that constitute war.
Baudrillard relates the Persian Gulf War to the film Capricorn One, which is about a staged event – a manned trip to Mars that never took place, but instead was staged in a studio and broadcast to stations around the globe. Another recent example is Wag the Dog, which is a story about a presidential advisor who taps a Hollywood producer to help him manufacture a war in Albania that the president can heroically end.
Baudrillard pins the impetus for war on the Americans: “The Americans themselves are the vectors of this catalepsy. There is no question that the war came from their plan and its programmed unfolding.” For him, the war has been “stripped of its passions,” and then reclothed through media. He claims that we are all “accomplices in this fantasmagoria.”
He points to “ironic balance sheets,” such as the notion that of the 500,000 American soldiers during the seven months of operations in the Gulf, three times as many would have died from road accidents alone had they stayed in civilian life.