De-centering the Perception of War: From Virilio’s ‘Desert Screen’ to the Ultra-Modern Era of Bioweapons
By Avnoor Makhu
The 2019 catastrophic outbreak of a deadly virus was at a nascent stage in the month of December but left the entire world high and dry soon thereafter. Deserted streets, empty park benches, closed pubs, abandoned movie places, locked learning institutions, vacant offices, no foot traffic in museums, trades crashed, aviation halted, and borders sealed. The running order of existence changed completely, and uncertainty loomed large. Not only the global economies but also the lives of individuals seem to have crippled. The entire world seemed to collapse as it could not weather the impending storm. It also seemed like some political agencies had deliberately camouflaged the real picture and blindfolded the rest of the world. Therefore, it can be said that media portrayal of COVID-19 outbreak may or may not wholly represent the utmost reality.
Truth and reality tend to differ because of the presence of the bio-weapon labs all across the world. The molecular microbiological elements in such labs are the foundation of developing promising bio-weapons which includes the practice of forming viruses and bacteria. Furthermore, the agencies working for bio-terror activities preserve and cushion nation’s secret defensive information. The fact that many bio-weapon labs are heavily funded for research purposes show that a new era of war has penetrated our global warfare system.
Changes can be seen in the ways and means of war and warfare in today’s world. In olden times, there was no accuracy in geo-political strategic influences, weapon technology was not up-to-date, fortifications were dominant and men on the battlefield held a central position in war. With certain advancements, it can be rightly said that the perception of war has decentered. The centrality of missiles and men were once the primary tools of war but are now challenged by the microbes that can be used in various biological destructive activities. It is no longer necessary ‘who’ fought the war but ‘how’ it is fought. The strategic agency plays a vital role. In Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light, Paul Virilio points out the transition in the structure of war. He sets forth three different epochs of real war. First, the tactical and prehistoric epoch which employed weapons of obstruction; second, the strategic, historical ,and purely political epoch which put into action the weapons of destruction; and third, the contemporary and transpolitical logistical epoch where weapons of communication became most important (6-7). Thus, the threat to life proliferates with each revolution in war. With the world changing at a rapid speed, nations would probably never get back to conventional means since they now have easy access to bio-weapons.
This mode of war helps to invade into the opponent’s territory at an accelerating speed. From territorial warfare strategies, the world has moved to de-territorial means and the organizations of control have changed. Paul Virilio discusses how the Gulf War was the last industrial and the first information war. He asserts that “future conflicts would be decided not in the various nations’ foreign ministries or on the battlefield, but in the electromagnetic spectrum of informational, cybernetic wars of persuasion and dissuasion” (ix). Extending this viewpoint in the contemporary interconnected world, one need not dwell too much on the information aspect but can remit microbes as lethal strategy of war. Since trade and travel is rampant, its consequence is that human contact and communication propelled the virus to travel from one person to another reaching from one country to another. The ramification of this travel chain was that it upshot the deadly pandemic which killed people in large numbers. This manner of silently killing masses is quite unlike the conventional war. The contemporary situation became a moderate possibility of a warlike situation that had taken the shape of a microbe which has caused mass scale destruction.
Looking back at the Vietnam War, the most powerful country of the world realized the horror of this destruction: “It took 20 years, from 1955 to 1975, for the United States to lose 58,220 men and women to the nation’s most divisive conflict since the Civil War. In less than four months, just as many Americans have died from the COVID-19 pandemic – the toll, on Tuesday, hit 58,947, surpassing the total number killed in Southeast Asia. If this is indeed a war, President Donald Trump has described it – in his words, “We’re raging a war against the invisible enemy”” (Turse 2).
It must be noted that viruses have been in existence since time immemorial. Some of them have proven as beneficial viruses while some are rated harmful, but they keep on evolving with each passing year. The use of bacteria and virus as bioterrorist tools tend to advance as the new era of warfare because “during the past century, the progress made in biotechnology and biochemistry has simplified the development and production of such weapons” (Riedel 400). In earlier days, war-time opponents made “the crude use of filth and cadavers, animal carcasses, and contagion” (ibid 400) to win over their enemies although the contemporary germ warfare has proved to be more life-threatening than the nuclear warfare. The worrisome notion about the coronavirus, just like other deadly viruses is that it cannot be seen with the naked eye and has massive transmissibility characteristics but it certainly is a silent killer. Therefore, it can be said that the perception of conventional war has been decentered and destabilized wherein the idea of war seems to have been transformed initiating a nation to easily target its opponent population at a widespread radius without thundering the enemy with bombs and explosives.
War and terror are utterly elusive notions where none of the opponent parties can be given credulity. The politics of global warfare are constructed in an undecipherable course of action. On one hand, the US officials tried to debunk the mystery of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and on the other hand, the Chinese government officials denied the charges put up against them. According to the report of Defense Intelligence Agency of America, the pandemic may have been caused by a lab error in Wuhan and not by the wet market. They asserted that it is not a matter of scientific debate; instead, it had inclination towards being a global political issue. Moreover, they stated that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been practicing their research on the basis of gain-of-function technique in which the prior focus remains to bank on future global pandemics via turning viruses into human pathogens (Guterl). Nevertheless, the heinous act to be highlighted amidst all these charges is that majority of bio-weapon labs like the one in Wuhan are heavily funded by the US Agency for International Development. The recent pandemic situation gave a smeary impression of a global war. Individuals in the guise of slothful soldiers combated against the disease while having kept divorced from the real phenomenon of swelled up international war politics.
Certain evidence results in proving that the virus originator nation plotted a biological attack as a war apparatus in order to establish their strength as the most powerful country in the whole world. Wuhan virologist Shi Zhengli carried out testing for “some of the first people to become infected with the new and then-mysterious respiratory illness in China in December and found it was similar to SARS… But she was “muzzled”, and her team was ordered not to reveal any information about the new disease, which was already spreading rapidly as China kept the world in the dark” (Kitching). While Dr. Ai Fen is missing and nobody knows about her whereabouts, Dr. Li Wenliang with whom Fen shared the reports via an online platform contracted the virus and died. The shared reports have been removed by the Chinese censors. This mysterious act reflects China’s cover-up from the world (“Gravitas: The interview China tried to hide| Wuhan Coronavirus | Dr. Ai Fen” 00:10-02:55).
While China whose rudimentary aim is to establish itself as a top-notch capitalist nation and wants to lead from the other supreme economy of the world, i.e., USA in the ongoing Trade War, it did not hang back even once in the recent testing times. It successfully sent unusable kits to India for amplified prices. In this regard, the New York Post writes: “China has sold nearly 4 billion masks to foreign countries in the past month and is ramping up production… But a number of countries – the Netherlands, the Philippines, Croatia, Turkey and Spain – have complained that the medical equipment has been substandard” (Moore).
China has not only boosted its economic profits but also produced global war threat. An age-old novel, The Eyes of Darkness, by American author Dean Koontz mentioned the use of biological warfare which originates in Wuhan, China. The novel clearly creates a thunderstruck attitude by its revelations: “It was around then that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen defected to the United States, carrying a diskette record of China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon in a decade. They call the stuff ‘Wuhan-400’ because it was developed at their RDNA labs outside of the city of Wuhan, and it was the four-hundredth viable strain of man-made microorganisms created at their research center. Wuhan-400 is a perfect weapon. It afflicts only human beings. No other living creature can carry it. And like syphilis, Wuhan-400 can’t survive outside a living human body for longer than a minute, which means it can’t permanently contaminate objects or entire places the way anthrax and other virulent microorganisms can… the Chinese could use Wuhan-400 to wipe out a city or a country, and then there wouldn’t be any need for them to conduct a tricky and expensive decontamination before they moved in and took over the conquered territory” (Koontz 353).
The world has been frightened as well as devastated by this deadly war-like scenario. Families of the deceased coronavirus-affected individuals are mourning the death of their loved ones. The Chinese government is trying its best to hide certain facts and has now started branding COVID-19 victims as martyrs (“Gravitas: Chinese citizens want to sue their government” 0:17-0:46). Only soldiers who die in the war are entitled to martyrdom, does calling Covid-19 victims as martyrs signify ‘war’ situation? The world has gradually restored normalcy, but does that mean the global threat has vanished? In a country like India, the financial budget inclines more towards military defense rather than medical health. Ideally, it should be the other way around, but it seems that war, power domination, and economic strength are the highlights of the new-fangled globalized world. Merely signing the peace treaties will not prove fruitful when the ground reality articulates a different story. The world “must” ponder.
“Gravitas: The interview China tried to hide | Wuhan Coronavirus | Dr. Ai Fen.” YouTube, uploaded by WION, 3 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beDmuDDknNI.
“Gravitas: Chinese citizens want to sue their government.” YouTube, uploaded by WION, 5 May. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J7QSSvx9Ho&feature=youtu.be.
Guterl, Fred, et al. “The Controversial Experiments and Wuhan Lab Suspected of Starting the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Newsweek, 27 Apr. 2020, 3:34 p.m., https://www.newsweek.com/controversial-wuhan-lab-experiments-that-may-have-started-coronavirus-pandemic-1500503.
Kitching, Chris. “China ‘hid work of “Bat Woman” scientist who unlocked coronavirus gene.” Mirror, 12 Apr. 2020, 9:20 a.m., https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/china-hid-work-bat-woman-21853459.
Koontz, Dean. The Eyes of Darkness, New York: Berkley Books, 1981, p. 353. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/stream/eyesofdarkness00koon#page/353/mode/1up.
Moore, Mark. “China sold nearly 4 billion masks to other countries over past month.” New York Post, 6 Apr. 2020, 1:24 p.m., https://nypost.com/2020/04/06/china-sold-nearly-4-billion-masks-to-foreign-countries-over-past-month/amp/.
Riedel, Stefan. “Biological Warfare and Bioterrorism: A Historical Review.” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, vol. 17, no. 4, Oct. 2004, pp. 400-06. Taylor and Francis, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/08998280.2004.11928002?needAccess=true.
Turse, Nick. “In Just Months, the Coronavirus Has Killed More Americans Than 20 Years of War in Vietnam.” The Intecept, 27 Apr. 2020, 4:30 p.m., https://theintercept.com/2020/04/27/in-just-months-the-coronavirus-kills-more-americans-than-20-years-of-war-in-vietnam/
Virilio, Paul. Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light. Continuum, 2002.
Avnoor Makhu is an Assistant Professor of English at Mehr Chand Mahajan DAV College for Women, Chandigarh. She is pursuing research in the applied field of Artificial Intelligence. Her research intends to deal with AI that is encroaching into various domains and cultivating itself in the field of Creative Writing.
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