“Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers” was written in 2002 by Jean Baudrillard, a French twentieth century philosopher and sociologist and published in the French newspaper Le Monde on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. Baudrillard delves into many separate subjects in this essay such as, the underlying symbolism of events in contrast to non- events, the breakdown of a singular dominant world player (the West, especially the US), and the effect of media imagery in the reporting of world events.
The Twin Towers attack, taken for face value only as a senseless killing of thousands of innocent eople, has far less meaning by itself without the symbolism of the event. Baudrillard calls it “the mother of all events, the pure event uniting within itself all the events that have never taken place” (Baudrillard 4). It’s the most dramatic event to take place on the world stage for nearly a decade. His analysis points to the need to slow down the thought process about the event because the media essentially bombards us with both raw information and analysis presented as facts.
Essentially, it’s too much to take in all at once as it is happening, because the constant stream of information makes it too difficult to decipher he facts. It poses the questions; can we not decipher truth from multiple sources quickly? Was the symbolism immediately recognizable? Baudrillard asserts that the US has, through it projection of power, brought this event upon itself by leading the world into a massive economic division and in a sense through the use of media and technology evened the playing field between the terrorists and us.
He says, “everyone without exception has dreamt of [this event] because no one can avoid dreaming of the destruction of any power that has become hegemonic to this degree” (Baudrillard 5). This statement attempts to present the idea that all people deep down want to rebel against something no matter how much wealth or power they may have. “Allergy to any definitive order, to any definitive power, is – happily universal, and the two towers of the World Trade Center were perfect embodiments, in their very twinness, of that definite order” (Baudrillard 6).
One of Baudrillards’ main themes is that after the “Cold War” ended, the world was pushed towards a single world order leading towards terrorism, which is the only form of attack that can be used to any effect ecause the terrorists are at a massive military disadvantage against western power. The idea of trying to fight random violent attacks is so difficult to conceive that we attempt to put the conflict back into terms we can identify, feel comfortable with and manipulate to our liking. In 1991, coalition forces led by the US began Operation Desert Storm against Iraq as a response to the Iraqi invasion of its neighbor Kuwait.
We no longer have any idea what a symbolic calculation is, as in poker or potlatch: with minimum stakes, but maximum result. And the maximum result was precisely what the terrorists obtained in he Manhattan attack, which might be presented as quite a good illustration of chaos theory: an initial impact causing incalculable consequences; whereas the Americans’ massive deployment (‘Desert Storm’) achieved only derisory effects -the hurricane ending, so to speak, in the beating of a butterfly’s wing” (Baudrillard 22,23). Baudrillard is saying here that we did not understand the power of the symbolic effect of an action.
As a result, we launch massive actions with minimum results. In the West, Operation Desert Storm was presented and seen as having a beginning, middle and a conclusion by the media. Ultimately in the end, Saddam Hussein was perceived in the West as the loser. That was probably not the perception in the Middle East however. This is how we in the West are comfortable seeing war. It is seen through images, from smart bombs, on aircraft carriers and in the newsrooms of the US. We are at once intimate with the details of war but we do not understand the symbolism of the act.
The images and the symbolism of the images on 9/11, the crashing down of the empire (the United States) truly had the intended result in the eyes of the terrorists, which was the opposite result that the US chieved with Desert Storm. To many in the US, the war was over. In reality, it gave birth to a new war, one against terrorism. Terrorist acts, combined with media coverage have different qualities, which are more difficult for our Western society to comprehend such as with suicide bombings. Attacks get more news coverage because the act is random and it’s carried out in a way to make us feel vulnerable.
Innocent people are killed and the bomber is dead. From the standpoint of loss of life it can sometimes be no greater than accidental deaths which occur daily all over the world. Only it is different. It’s symbolic as well. Its the terrorist reminding us that they can do this anytime and there is not much we can do to stop it. Baudrillard concludes that the terrorists “have succeeded in turning their own deaths into an absolute weapon against a system that operates on the basis of the exclusion of death, a system whose ideal is an ideal of zero deaths”(Baudrillard 16).
The idea that attacking the West in this way, symbolically, brings about an “excess of reality” (Baudrillard 18), collapsing the system beneath it (our Western system). The terrorists are turning our own technology ystems against us by using the internet as a recruiting tool for terrorism, untraceable cell phones for communication, satellite map images and info for targeting attacks and most likely financial trading systems to acquire wealth.
Further proving Baudrillards assertions that the terrorists are bringing down the West are his ideas about “sleeper cells” as they are now known. He points out there are those seemingly ordinary Western citizens, “activating themselves suddenly like time bombs” (Baudrillard 19-20), “every plane also becomes suspect” (Baudrillard 20). Examples of this effective strategy are he San Bernadino California terrorist attack in 2015 and the bombing of a Russian commercial aircraft over Egypt killing 224 people, also in 2015.
France being one of leaders of the European Union, the widely accepted heart of freedom in Europe was attacked in 2015. The underlying symbolism lying being the choice of city, after all the attack could have been on any other European city with much less significance. It’s the combining of all these strategies, which multiply the power of terrorism. As the terrorists now have a certain amount of their own media today, Al Qaeda and ISIS both maintain ebsites, magazines and media outlets, they are using it to multiply the power of terrorist events.
While the Western media shows the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq as clean surgical operations, the terrorists show the bloody gore of beheadings and conquering civilian populations. It’s a validation of Baudrillards’ assertion that media creates the reality, that we as a society are disconnected from actual reality. In conclusion, what must be understand is that Baudrillards’ The Spirit of Terrorism, attempts to show how terrorists have used, and are continuing to effectively use symbolic attacks to further their causes.