The mindset of perfection in the 'forever wars'

By Alice Yin, FIMS Communications Staff

September 29, 2021

Tim BlackmoreWar has always interested Faculty of Information & Media Studies professor Tim Blackmore. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, the Vietnam war was a cultural constant in Blackmore's childhood, and he saw how it influenced many of his favourite things - from film and comics to science fiction and narrative arts.

Later as a Cultural Studies PhD student at York University, Blackmore became increasingly interested in American studies and the various views of war held in America.

"I did what many of us do, which is to follow our lines of inquiry wherever they lead," he said. "In my case, concerns with high technology, the absorption of the body by the state, the conversion of worker to cyborg, the loss of affect and the toxic remasculinization of America, were all unified by war."

Blackmore has written prolifically about war throughout his career, and recently published Gorgeous War: The Branding War between the Third Reich and the United States, which explores how branding and graphic narratives like the Swastika and American military's uniforms served propaganda purposes in the period between WWI and WWII.

Now, he's in the early stages of researching for his next book examining the mindset of perfection, as carried out by the American military and civilian command, in pursuing the 'forever wars' in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It follows that writing about the impact Vietnam had on culture would lead me to consider how the first and second Gulf Wars, now the so-called 'forever wars,' would operate societally," he explained.

To explain the mindset of perfection, Blackmore references James William Gibson's 1986 book, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam, which painted a picture of what the future of warfare would look like by tying together the narratives told by the Pentagon, the White House, Vietnam war veterans and arms manufacturers' documents.

"This book highlighted how human beings could and would be enhanced in future wars," he said.

Perfection, says Blackmore, is a steady whispering force that informs the way the military establishment - the whole of the military industrial Congressional complex - creates its fictional world. "I argue that perfection, more than anything else, is the ideology that drives true believers who annually divert a trillion dollars to defense spending in the United States."

Drawing on military theory and the concept of 'revolution in military affairs,' Blackmore has studied how new military technologies fundamentally change the character and conduct of armed conflicts. His 2005 book, War X: Human Extensions in Battlespace, looked at the weaponization of drones by the Americans in the late '90s as one such example of how this manifests.

"The onset of drone warfare, a true disaster for citizens everywhere on the planet, is part of the drive toward information dominance - apparently perfect knowledge of the battlefield."

But recent international news may represent a blow to the American military's ego and desire for perfection.

As of August 31, all U.S. combat troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan in a chaotic and deadly exit that made headlines around the world. While a massive airlift to evacuate American military personnel and civilians was underway, the Taliban swept across Afghanistan to reassert their control over the majority of the country.

"What's instructive about the current disaster in Afghanistan is that it is representative of the whole 20 year effort there," adds Blackmore. Although the American military mindset says that they will hit every target, and save every soul in the name of good, in reality it "repeatedly ignores, damages and kills with a sort of carelessness that we can see in color as the last flights stagger into the air from the Kabul airfield."

Blackmore's upcoming book on the mindset of perfection in pursuit of the 'forever wars' is expected in 2024.