Fact, Fiction and Rationality - War Games of the Imagination
Fiction or speculation is a heuristic tool of testing scenarios and hypothesis indispensable for strategic planning. Beyond scientific extrapolation, prospective scenarios and retrospective narratives are a traditional domain of the arts. It is not only in the realm of fashion that self-fulfilling projections of the imagination and the contagious ideas and social fictions spread like an epidemic. More than ever, in the massive embedded media environments of information societies, life imitates art. But the telling of tales and the painting of pictures into the mind is a key tool in the arsenal of power. This makes artists, writers and other engineers of the imagination a force on the global stage of conflicts. Conjecture of "what might be" easily turns into "what really is behind it", both undermining the borders between fact and fiction and encouraging a perception of the many layers of appearances and the making of realities itself. And while many aspects of reality are not predictable, experts of foresight, trained to think around the corner or to pry into the future through aeromantic divination are assets in the fog of war.
Simulation and dissimulation, technologies of the imagination and the fine art of deception are deeply intertwined. Military camouflage techniques in response to modern fire weapons were developed by illusionists and artists. Soon to be followed by all major armies, the first camouflage departments were established in WWI France under artists command with camoufleurs largely drafted from painters, designers and architects. Under pressure from U-boat war, the new techniques were expanded to ships. But large vessels in open waters are not easily rendered invisible. Inspired by artistic ideas of the time a distinct style of distortion with high contrast shapes, so called dazzle camouflage was invented. Rather than concealment its purpose was to confuse the periscope view of submarine gunners with bizarre patterns. The deconstruction of the ships outline was disrupting the view of rangefinders used for naval artillery and made it hard for human operators to compute the range based on optical mechanisms. Tested on small wooden models viewed through a periscope, most British model designs were painted by artists from London's Royal Academy. With the introduction of radar and other new technologies painting became largely obsolete, but it was considered to be morale boosting and used well beyond the end of WWII. Certainly these huge abstract paintings were aesthetically advanced at the time of their conception and can measure up to later public artworks. Large scale camouflage was also used to mask the Douglas military Aircraft production in Santa Monica with an imaginary landscape; a major work of illusionist land art during WWII. The military-entertainment cooperation with Warner Bros studio set designers made the plant and airstrips disappear under an artificial aerial view of Californian suburbia. Lightweight house imitations complete with garages, fences, clotheslines and trees made of wire and painted feathers stood on top of a mesh, covering terminals, hangars, buildings and parking lots. Miles of chicken wire stretched across hundreds of tall poles. Green colors sprayed on the runway simulated a grass field while painted streets and sidewalks on the covering blended into the adjacent neighborhood of employee homes. Seen from above, the streets of burlap and mock-up trees looked like a gently sloping hillside neighborhood.
"The elementary principle of all deception is to attract the enemy's attention to what you wish him to see and to distract his attention from what you do not wish him to see. It is by these methods that the skilful conjuror obtains his results." Middle East Commander General Wavell wrote in a 1940 Memo to his Chiefs of Staff. To either deceive with a specific manipulation or to create confusion in interpretation became decisive for WWII. Under his command Jasper Maskelyne, third in a family line of famous stage magicians applied his imagineering skills to the task of concealing British military assets and misleading aerial reconnaissance in the theater of battle. Strategic deceptions and tactical simulations amounted to simulated armies and massive virtual landscaping including fake train tracks and pipelines, false artillery, phony trucks, tanks, buildings and even harbors. as well as artificial light, sound and radio communication design. Together with artistic types that ranged from the avant-garde to the traditional, his group informally known as the Magic Gang became the core of an industrial production of swindles and deception devices in North-Africa.
Roman Emperor Constantine decreed a new state religion with a threat to those who do not follow the new truth "There shall be no more divination, no curious inquiry, for evermore. Whoever dares disobey shall loose his head by the avenging sword of the executioner." Obviously the unlicensed manipulation of the tools of imagination was perceived as a threat to enforced dominant ideology. Free inference at the borders of fact and fiction nourishes revolutionary milieus. A practice that encourages subalterns to trade their own ideas is less than desirable for strict ideological control. Dissent created by speculative intelligence proved to be a continuing factor of unrest and left a distinctive mark in the European history of conflict and rebellion. Typically a famous magus and cryptographer like Agrippa von Nettesheim would be part of a secret society of revolutionary radicals. Sometimes employed by European rulers he fought in 16th century armed revolts of dispossessed peasants and not only exposed catholic nunneries as brothels but passionately championed the superiority of the female sex. Studying speculative philosophies in invisible colleges, secret societies of likeminded trouble-makers were all over 17th century Europe. In this setting the "Rosicrucian" royalist political campaign drew from occult concepts of magic imperialism from the 16th century spy chief and astronomer John Dee. In espionage, the secular means to foresee the future, spies are clandestine fortune tellers. Characteristically the quintessential new technology to look into the far distance, the telescope of stargazers was soon known as "spyglass". Late 18th century utopian revolutionary and conspirator Philippe Buonarroti, explored the turning of ideas into realities by psychological manipulation and believed in the adoption of ideas by the masses with the help of secret societies. Babeuf's Conspiracy of Equals in the French Revolution brought the Italian egalitarian writer into trouble but his publications informed the work of French astronomer and political activist Louis Auguste Blanqui. Despite so called Blanquism always being used as pejorative by both left and right, concepts of deep underground conspiratorial politics remained to be influential.
Seminal US Secret Service chief John E. Wilkie had a passion for espionage and magic. Wilkie had studied with the illustrious Alexander Herrmann, a prominent European nineteenth century stage magician that moved to the United States. In his time as a Washington Post reporter Wilkie invented the "Indian Rope Trick". To sell more copies of the paper he achieved mild mass hypnosis under the audacious pseudonym Fred S. Ellmore with a story about "the world’s greatest illusion". One of the most persistent media fakes in history. As a master of media manipulation he pioneered a new tradition of black propaganda other than the time-honored forces of religion, monarchic sovereignty or revolutionary motives for mobilizing public opinion. Applying fiction as a weapon he became a founding father of modern false flag operations in the Spanish-American war. It is a deployment of fiction that also accepts sacrifice of some own people for a greater cause if reasonably well within "plausible deniability". Combining the binding operations of law and enforcement along with the dazzling application of illusionism and the performing arts he saw magicians as ideal operatives. Coordinating counter-intelligence from 1898 until 1911, he ran a ring of illusionists and hired escape artists with well known names on the vaudeville circuit including Prof. R.G. Hermann and Louis S. Leon. Besides his talents in scheming and deception he was fascinated by devices based on skillful crafts and state of the art technology gadgets. Chicago's Police Chief Andrew Rohan introduced Wilkie to legendary escape artist Harry Houdini. The co-founder of International Association of Chiefs of Police and fierce opponent of late 19th century anarchists had engaged the illusionist trickster to teach his peculiar skills to city detectives. It is little known, that Houdini was not only a world class showman, but a widely travelled undercover agent. A vocal opponent of the spiritualist fashion of his time he realized some spectacular mind-reading stunts using the most sophisticated electronic equipment of his time.
Both illusionists and spies not only strive for the most sophisticated gadgetry but also make use of a deep practical understanding of cognitive psychology. Psycho-diagnostic research concludes that perception and interpretation depend on individual factors but without clear boundaries. Framing dispositions in which experience is situated, apperception, and seeing things, unfolds through the lens of accumulated impressions where the borders between "seeing" and "seeing as" dissolve. Spies are method actors and conjurers by profession, mimetic cartographers in the service of exploring territories for purposes of influence and domination. In the domain of nested identities in complex convolutions, professional intelligence implies mimicry, a deep mimesis and rapport with the other in ways that threatens any "original" identity. In the impenetrable and intangible "mirror of mirrors" one gets lost in the endless reflections of reflection. The Russian word konspiracija is simply a term for secret political work and its system of rules except that secret political knowledge not only implies rational logic but inescapably irrational hallucination. Spooks are regulars in the twilight zone and an ambiance of alcoholism, suspicion and continuous borderline madness. Frank Wisner, the first CIA head of covert operations from 1948 to 1958 soon developed psychotic mania. Treated with months of massive electroshock therapy, one of his later psychological operations schemes planned to drop gigantic condoms into Russian territory. Apparently made for Americans but labeled as "medium" size. What is rational in the domain of causal explanation is defined by common sense, a shared cultural belief system that defines our view of the world mostly by habit. This reference is as reliable as uromancy, the art of divination by gazing into puddles of urine. A good 20% of the British population openly believes in ghosts according to a Gallup poll, similar numbers are confirmed for the US in the 90's. A recent UK study found a majority believing Sherlock Holmes to be a real historical character (58%) while half of the queried considered Richard Lionheart to be fictional. Not unlike the high priests of today's rationalistic worldviews, scientists and experts that like to believe their formulas not to be just part of a hidden harmony and veiled intelligence, but to have an existence of their own. Rationality turns out to be a myth in itself and the joke is on the rationalists.
Computer terminals of today's intelligence analysis are the scrying stones of an omni-directional war. Monitor screens that reflect paranoid game theory rationality like digital crystal balls. Fixing the gaze on a model of the mind of the enemy, that in turn is modeling its enemy, can at best foretell what the other "should" do based on rational thought, not what they would do. Latest augmented reality information processing technology for anticipatory planning generates graphs of the many possibly futures to force the opponent within the decision cycle. Conflict scenarios are structured along projections and map out pictures of an adversary where the investigation of the situation easily fluctuates between rational models and the catastrophic delirium of the infinite regress, a computational overheating of a predatory war machine. Fact and fiction, vital elements in the war games of the imagination lose their boundaries in a reciprocal phantasmal dynamic of pseudo-rational machines and their operators or operated. A political practice of realizing or exploiting dreams, of binding visions of unity or manifest identities around fictional and imaginary constructions is taking advantage of desires and phobias or phantasmal libidinal forces. Cultural intelligence is a critical practice that uses the technologies of the imagination to tell another story.