Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 46, Number 2, Summer 1990
pp. 55-71 | 10.1353/arq.1990.0019
PHILIP KUBERSKI Hardcopy: The Remains of the Cold War Language is a virus from outer space.—Laurie Anderson We are the language.—William S. Burroughs The revolutions of 1 989 have led most commentators to conclude that the Cold War is "over." But what could be the concluding terms of such a war? Can one say that it was indeed "fought" Ot "won" when its defining and ultimate weapons were never deployed / And when the culture and the technical apparatuses which it inspired have become institutionalized and "normal"? Between 1947 and 1989 the Cold War has been carried on through a series of displacements , symptoms, precursors, signs, and foreshadowings: guerrilla wars from Greece to El Salvador are understood as simulations of a "teal" confrontation between metaphysical opposites. Crisis thus becomes perpetual, because all political events are overdetermined, predicted , weighed and measured in advance as instances of and opportunities of a war which would be Real, present, there. An apocalypse in which reality, revelation, and destruction would coincide. From its beginnings, the Cold War has been conducted in the cool, dispassionate, technical terms of information and game theory. And as the informational technologies developed for destruction began to assume "peaceful" uses, the world itself has been increasingly overshadowed by representations of itself. The Cold War became the model of models for a culture addicted to simulations of the past and Arizona Quarterly Volume 46 Number 2, Summer 1990 Copyright © 1990 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 16 10 56Philip Kuberski the future, in which the present becomes more and more simply a space for the projection of representations, the recapitulation of the past (from the instant-replay of televised sports to the "docu-dramas" of "history" and "biography") and the prognostication of the future. In such a culture the Real becomes increasingly associated with an end of representations, and the end of representation could only be brought about by nuclear war. Without such closure, there can be no end to the Cold War: its rationale and discourse may change, but its hardware and software, its remains, are destined to stay. In order to consider how the apparent end of the Cold War may in fact signal its ultimate tealization in a postmodern culture of information and simulation, one needs to appreciate the systematic and oxymoronic logic with which it began. The central document in this new order of affairs was the National Security Act of 1947, which formulated the Orwellian notion that "war is peace" by transforming the Department of War into the Department of Defense. Henceforth the classical notion of "war" would be interpreted through a series of euphemisms: "security," "stability," "balance," and, of course, "peace." The National Secutity Act also chartered the National Security Council , the CIA, and the National Security Agency, the last of which engaged in electronic surveillance. A year later the Smith-Mundt Act created the United States Infotmation Agency in order to "promote the bettet understanding of the U.S. among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations." Within the emerging dogmatics and informational networks of the National Security state certain propositions became accepted operational assumptions if not public policy: from 1947 onward the United States would be neither at war nor at peace in the classical sense of these words. The nation entered an epoch in which information and destruction were intimately bound. The central axiom was that however armed the U.S. was, it would always remain vulnerable; however defended, it would always remain endangered. The key to this logic is the concept of "security," a word which comprehends corporate, psychological , diplomatic, strategic, and imaginary demands, all without much distinction. The article of faith of the Cold War was document number 68 of the National Security Council (NSC 68), written by Paul Nitze. NSC held that the world had entered a new order of affairs characterized by the The Remains of the Cold War57 struggle between Soviet Communism and the Free World. The U.S. security doctrines, maintained and acted on largely in unconstitutional ways, translated the complexities of a world emerging from colonialism into a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Every significant event...