It’s probably not surprising that in so much of this discussion of the war machine and the state, I’m put in mind of US imperialsm, particularly the past 20 years of the so-called War on Terror in the Middle East. With the recent situation in Afghanistan, a lot of people have been referencing Vietnam, so let me do the same. With Vietnam it was truly the US going to war – the draft meant many young men were sent to fight regardless of their own feelings about that war or war in general, it was a highly televised event broadcast into American homes every night, and it weighed heavily on political discussions and elections all throughout the years of the war.
Compare that to 20 years in Afghanistan. There’s no draft, so the people going over to fight have volunteered to do so – though economic realities being what they are for many people, can it really be called volunteering? – and even then, more and more of the war was entirely privatised. It wasn’t a war fought by the American people – by the State – but rather by the State’s military apparatus.
A fact that many people likely aren’t familiar with is that even when the US does deign to sign on to various climate change agreements, they will always demand that the US military is exempt from any restrictions related to decreased pollution. In so many ways it is simply not held accountable to the State or the people it is ostensibly protecting.
The war machine is pure exteriority, taking funding from the polity, but otherwise having little or nothing to do with it.
It is not enough to affirm that the war machine is external to the apparatus. It is necessary to reach the point of conceiving the war machine as itself a pure form of exteriority, whereas the State apparatus constitutes the form of interiority we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking.
Now, the US military isn’t a true war machine in the D&G sense. “(What we call a military institution, or army, is not at all the war machine in itself, but the form under which it is appropriated by the State.)” As they say: “The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems.” That seems a really interesting point to me – the state and the military are always at odds with one another – but still the State is convinced it needs the military, even as the military takes ever-larger pieces of the state’s budget, and even when that military might choose to one day become the state, as with many coups across the last hundred years.
The military institution is a highly regimented and striated hierarchical organisation, but it seems to me that in formal militaries, the true nomadic war machine comes to light in the ways units are able to conduct their duties under their own supervision. There is still a military chain of command, but if the large number of atrocities and war crimes committed by our forces is any indication, that command must seem very distant indeed. And that ties in to some of the other parts of this essay that seemed to me to be speaking of the experience of the war veteran.
If being a part of the nomadic war machine means moving over smooth space – literally, in many desert settings, but also mentally or spiritually, a space where the moral and ethical constraints that underpin society have been smoothed over by a set of increasingly-lax Rules of Engagement –then it’s no wonder both that the rigid hierarchy is required to keep these would-be nomads under control, and also that they so often struggle upon return to the striated space of real life.
Deleuze and Guattari write: “Trapped between the two poles of political sovereignty, the man of war seems outmoded, condemned, without a future, reduced to his own fury, which he turns against himself.” They go on to cite some examples out of ancient myth, but we don’t have to look any further than the many, many veterans who commit suicide upon return to the world. It’s not that their description matches every veteran, but it sadly covers many. Some survive by returning to the war machine – either the formal military institutions, or the private sector – some survive by an act of reterritorialization, becoming something other than a man of war.