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Stealth B-2 Bomber © Jim Barber

The US “Drops a Bomb” on New Year’s

In today’s increasingly hyperreal world, taking the time to reflect is a luxury that nobody — not even the US Strategic Command — believes they can afford. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary reports.

Even before the stroke of midnight on January 1, the year 2019 began on an appropriate note of hyperrealism. Imagine someone reading in the news in the year 1999 that on New Year’s Eve, the US Strategic Command addressed the entire world by sending a “tweet” with the following message: “#TimesSquare tradition rings in the #NewYear by dropping the big ball…if ever needed, we are #ready to drop something much, much bigger.” The tweet was accompanied by a video of a stealth jet dropping bombs.

The reader of 1999 would have found unbelievably surreal the idea that people in government and the military could communicate with the entire world in short cryptic sentences, dotted with incomprehensible symbols (#), to deliver a message that addresses no one in particular but sounds like a gratuitous boast combined with a sinister threat.

Hyperreality didn’t have the last word, however. The owners of the Strategic Command’s Twitter account deleted the tweet while apologizing for it with the following text: “Our previous NYE tweet was in poor taste & does not reflect our values. We apologize. We are dedicated to the security of America & allies.”

Here is today’s 3D definition: 

Reflect:

Faithfully reproduce the image of an object or a phenomenon, including one’s tendency to act without reflecting 

Contextual note

The US Strategic Command oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It functions strictly under the orders of the commander-in-chief, the US president. Its own feelings about its mission, including the “values” it cites in the second tweet, are allowed to have no bearing on its actions. It has only one guiding principle: to follow orders. The original tweet nevertheless reveals the emotions some key people in the Strategic Command feel. The tweet contained the link to a video showing stealth jets accompanied by the words “stealth, ready, and lethal” that flash across the screen. It instructed viewers to “watch to the end,” where a stealth bomber releases two bombs producing several violent explosions on the ground.

CNN’s commentators mused about what we may justifiably fear could be an serious cultural shift, in which tweeting as a means of informing the public of government policy or executive intentions has become legitimized. One commentator, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, pointed to the trend of compulsive tweeting: “You shouldn’t have to tell those folks: ‘Think before you tweet.’” Another commentator, Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic, expressed his astonishment that the Strategic Command would be “tweeting at all.”

In his movie, Dr Strangelove, director Stanley Kubrick portrays a general of the Strategic Air Command, General Jack D. Ripper, who follows his emotions rather than presidential orders in launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Whether we’re considering the Strategic Command or its commander-in-chief, Kubrick’s screenplay may today seem prescient.

The farewell message sent to the Defense Department by departing Secretary of Defense James Mattis highlights the uncertain borderline between reality and hyperreality, between Dr Strangelove and today: “I am confident that each of you remains undistracted from our sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution while protecting our way of life.” This sounds eerily like the pleading of Kubrick’s fictional president, Merkin Muffley, aghast at the prospect of a nuclear war that General Ripper has already unleashed. The difference today is that Donald Trump may be playing the role of General Ripper.

Most rational Americans today wonder how long President Trump’s brand of hyperreality will last. Will it survive his presidency, which may end rapidly with impeachment, less rapidly with the election of a Democrat or third-party candidate in 2020, or only after a second term in 2024?

But the real question is this: How addicted have the American public and American institutions — including the Strategic Command and the news media — to the sensationalism that hyperreality cultivates?

Most Democrats and a lot of Republicans dream of a return to what they deem to be “sanity,” in which politics plays the good cop — the realistic investigator — to the hyperreality (bad cop) of entertainment, finance and technology, three sectors that never stop celebrating super-wealth, power plays and celebrity culture. In normal times, the good cop explains the nation’s strategy and pretends to be in control, while the forces of hyperreality discreetly run the show in the background. But now that everyone has experienced the excitement of seeing hyperreality take control of the institutions, will a return to normal lead to unbearable withdrawal pains, at the risk of never being complete?

Historical note

In 1999, in the rich, technically-advanced nations of the West, when two people met, it was common to hear the question: Do you have an email address? Today, they simply say, give me your email address. What was once a privilege — to be on the Internet — is now a social, if not civic obligation.

That was a time when a home PC was a private space that could only connect with the outside world via floppy disks and other portable technologies. A different world. The age of Facebook and Twitter dawned in 2006 and since then hyper-connectivity has consolidated the already existing tendency toward hyperreality. It isn’t just digital. Society’s psychological structure has changed. The meaning of democracy can no longer be the same.

More on this vast subject in the coming weeks and months.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.