The Gulf War Did Not Take Place

"The Gulf War Did Not Take Place", a book by Jean Baudrillard, is a collection of three essays published in "Libération" and the Guardian between January and March 1991. Contrary to the provocative title, the author does believe that the events and violence of the Gulf War actually took place. The title is a reference to the play "The Trojan war will not take place" by Jean Giraudoux (in which characters attempt to prevent what the audience knows is inevitable).

The essays in "Libération" and the Guardian were published before, during and after the Gulf War and they were titled accordingly: During the American military and rhetorical buildup as "The Gulf War Will not take Place"; during military action as "The Gulf War is not Taking Place", and after action was over, "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place". A book collecting the original articles in French was published in 1991. The English translation was published in 1995.`


Baudrillard argues that the style of warfare used in the Gulf War was so far removed from previous standards of warfare that it existed more as images on radar and TV screens than as actual hand-to-hand combat, that most of the decisions in the war were based on perceived intelligence coming from maps, images, and news, than from actual seen-with-the-eye intelligence (Baudrillard 2001, 29-30).

Most provocatively, Baudrillard argues that the startlingly one-sided nature of the conflict (fewer US soldiers were killed in this 'war' than would have died in traffic accidents had they stayed at home) means that it should not be seen as a war, simply because the US-led coalition chose not to engage with the Iraqi army or to take the kind of risks that constitute war (Baudrillard 1995, 69).The US-led coalition was fighting a virtual war while the Iraqis tried to fight a traditional one - the two could not entirely meet (Baudrillard 1995, 69). A great deal of violence took place, but the Gulf War did not; rather than belittling the effects of this violence, this means that the Gulf War should be seen not as a war but as "an atrocity masquerading as war" (Merrin 1994, 447).

Military officials have confirmed that the U.S. did not truly consider Iraq to be a threat before the latter's invasion of Kuwait, and thus had almost no agents or contacts on the ground. Almost every bit of intelligence America received leading up to the war was from the aerial photographs, and from asking leaders of nearby nations.

One of the points that Baudrillard tries to make with this book is that what's considered real is now simply images of what is real: we see "a masquerade of information: branded faces delivered over to the prostitution of the image, the image of an unintelligible distress." (Baudrillard 2001, 40). This is a challenge to the tendency of many people to believe absolutely what they see on their screens. This point also works in with another of Baudrillard's claims that the war was so heavily edited when it was shown on television that what Americans saw wasn't even close to the real war. He arrived at this conclusion after talking with many soldiers about what really happened on the ground.

All this finally comes back to the title of the book, which we now see as his claim that, despite the massive bloodshed in the Gulf in 1991, no war took place there. That the 'Gulf War' did not take place is an important and controversial point to make. However, it is also important to note that even if it were not a "war", it was a situation of violence, and people were killed and wounded during its course of events, regardless of those events' names.


* Baudrillard, Jean (1991) "La Guerre du Golfe n'a pas eu lieu", Paris: Galilée.
* Baudrillard, Jean (1995) "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place", Bloomington: Indiana University Press

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