Martin van Creveld’s Simulacra and Simulation

Here is Martin van Creveld in The Transformation of War (1991) essentially agreeing with Jean Baudrillard, that not just the Gulf War, but nearly every conflict of the post-nuclear era, did not take place:

One factor affecting conventional war as waged by both the super-powers and, increasingly, by other countries, is that nuclear weapons make their dampening effect felt in such wars even when nobody threatens their use. As a result, the United States for one has only been able to employ its conventional armed forces in cases where its vital interests were not at stake. The war fought in Korea, a small appendix of Asia several thousands of miles away, provides an excellent case in point. The American Chiefs of Staff recognized this even at that time, emphasizing the fact that the really significant areas were Japan and the Philippines. The same also applied to Lebanon (1958), Vietnam (1964-72), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1972-75), Lebanon (1983), and the Persian Gulf (1987-88). Looking back, so microscopic were the stakes for which GI’s were supposed to shed their blood that most of the cases could hardly even be explained to the American people. On occasions such as the Mayaguez Affair (1975) and Grenada (1983), so puny were the opponents against which American forces pitted themselves that hostilities took on a comic-opera character. (p. 14)

In the convoluted logic of the post-nuclear world, if a state goes to war, it is prima facie because it is an objective not a vital national interest. Any interest that is actually vital would involve levels of determination that are simply too dangerous to test. Vital national interests are those interests for which states were willing to pay prices in other ages that can no longer be afforded in an era of total annihilation.

1 thought on “Martin van Creveld’s Simulacra and Simulation

  1. Interesting. “Transformation of War” is on my short list to read right now. I was going to write a blog post linking to this one, which would include some similar insights from a book I read recently, Robert Jervis’ “The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution”, but it just had to be the only library book I’ve read in the past 4 years, so I don’t have it with me to quote. Jervis makes the same point very well: that the unpredictability of crises prevents nuclear-armed countries from threatening real national security objectives of one another. Moreover, in instances such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Suez Crisis, they actively collaborate to ratchet down the intensity of the crisis, something I assume is unprecedented prior to nuclear weapons.

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