Some extended thinking on the original post was inspired by Adam and Ortho, who both provided articles about the IDF and its attempt to appropriate Leftist critical theory in developing an ‘operational art’ to combat Palestinian and/or Lebanese insurgents. The articles (one from Frieze Magazine and the other from Haaretz) discuss the theory of Brig. Gen. Shimon Naveh and Brig. Gen, Aviv Kokhavi, who invoke postmodern interpretivism to reconceptualize Israeli military operations in urban environments. This use of theory evolved out of Israeli military operations in Nablus (2002) and Lebanon (2006). Insurgents moved not through streets and doorways but through walls and ceilings, a form of movement called ‘infestation’ that reconceptualizes the physical space seen by military forces.
According to Kokhavi,
“This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it…The question is how do you interpret the alley?…We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapona awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us bind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win…This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls.”
The idea of emanicipating oneself from the imposed structure of reality is a key theme of critical theory/constructivism. The above use of these ideas thus inverts (or perverts, depending on who you ask) their original purpose. Ortho pointed this out awhile ago and I only came upon this insight recently.
However, it becomes apparent that for all the Frankfurt School philosophy the IDF may convert to operational practice, they will still have a hard time defeating their insurgencies. For example, in promoting the ‘walk through walls’ tactic, Naveh appropriates Deleuze and Gauttari’s distinction between ‘smooth’ and ‘striated’ space, between spatial territory that is boundless and has no restrictions on movement (imagine an open field) and spatial territory is divided by boundaries which prevent free movement (a city, which buildings, walls, fences). Naveh says “In Nablus the IDF understood urban fighting as a spatial problem…Travelling through walls is a simple mechanical solution that connects theory and practice.”
And this is precisely why the IDF has never defeated the Palestinian intifadas, nor Hizbollah in Lebanon: Naveh and Kokhavi are using postmodernism only to improve upon their original objective, to kill or capture insurgents. They apply Deleuze and Guattari to access the physical space of the insurgency, yet they completely ignore its social space, and the networks of social relations that comprise it. In fact, they never penetrate the social boundaries that separate and divide ‘Israeli’ social space from ‘Palestinian’ social space. While they may be more effective in their physical operations against insurgents, these actions will only serve to reinforce the boundary between the two social spaces. They may capture or kill more insurgents, but these operations only perpetuate anti-Israeli insurgencies and reinforce the sense of enmity felt between these two collective identities.
“Civilians in Palestine, as in Iraq, have experienced the unexpected penetration of war into the private domain of the home as the most profound form of trauma and humiliation. A Palestinian woman identified only as Aisha…described the experience: ‘Imagine it – you’re sitting in your living-room, which you know so well, ; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal, and suddenly that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else.’”
This has the entirely opposite effect of what social military constructivism would strive for (if the Israeli version might be termed physical or material military constructivism). Specifically, the social variant would strive to erase the boundary between the social space of the insurgent and counterinsurgent through interaction, communication, and mutual recognition of each Other’s existential autonomy. In doing so, the counterinsurgent would be socially constructing a new community that includes his former enemies in a shared identity. With the establishment and maintenance of this community through communication and joint decision making, counterinsurgents would be able to provide security on behalf of civilians and ex-insurgents and thus legitimate their acts of violence against. In this way, the goal of social military constructivism is to build a community in whose name war (or violence legitimated as law enforcement, in the case of counterinsurgency) is to be waged.
Physical military constructivism cannot do this, as it does not contest the social space of the insurgent. This might be more of a Marxist hangover, as Marxism considered all ideas to be rooted in a material mode of production, and hence privileged physical or material objects over social objects like ideas. (see Wendt 1999, Chap. 1)
The IDF is manipulating the perception of physical space to communicate the following message: “You will never even understand that which kills you.” If nothing else, this is a waste of communication. It reinforces the previously held notions held by each side that the Other is coming to kill them, and resistance is necessary. A better message (entirely consistent with 5GW/SecretWar) would be “I understand you, I am not trying to kill you, and I am not your enemy.”