Special Forces

Above: During the exercise "Cold Response" in Norway, 2010, an Austrian Jagdkommando soldier with his military working dog (MWD), jumps out of a C-130 Hercules. Credit: Bundesheer Fotos.


Through history, to at least the 1970s (up-to-and-including the Vietnam War), the State soldier was a more-or-less disposable unit of force required to gain territory--he was a sort of warfare fuel to be used up by generals in their ambitions for gaining ground (SP: 131). Since then, the epoch of the infantryman solider as pure entity-device of lethal force has been waning: the typical modern soldier is special forces--special operations forces--an agitator, a saboteur, a coordinator, an assassin. The State typically deploys special forces units in missions into the territory of other sovereign States in an era of "the strategic implementation of a kind of State terrorism based ... on the organization of small units similar to the rapid-response commandos now traditional among paratroops, marines, or the foreign legion (LE: 76)." The present-day soldier is becoming ever more similar to the historical figure of warrior monk, the Knights Templar, or the Chinese Shaolin: extraordinarily disciplined, ascetic, solitary, a silent-and-formidible killer. These special forces are "paramilitary assassins, licensed criminals assigned to 'terrorist units' ... a soldier-citizen, lone survivor ... a sort of exterminating angel (LE: 76)."

Up to the late-nineteenth-century, the soldier in battledress was often extremely visible, wearing for example, a scarlet-red tunic, intended to intimidate and terrify an enemy (NH: 77-78). During the twentieth-century this hyper-visibility was replaced by his becoming camouflaged, and he gained the ability to blend into his environment. The special forces unit takes the deception-and-disguise of camouflage to its logical limit: working at night, dressed in black, under cover of darkness--often with no identifying insignia on their battledress, meaning that the "terror cell" and the special operations unit are becoming absolutely indistinguishable. Modern warfare is a warfare, "of decoys, of ruses, and camouflage (DS: 54)."

The modern military commando unit often utilizes the tactics set out by Mao and Guevara, "faced with this mutation in the adversary, the great traditional military units have resorted to counter-guerrilla commandos. In other words, the regulation soldier has gradually become a partisan, a guerrillero ... to survive terrorism ... you become terrorism (LE: 76)." The dominant ethos for the modern soldier is of guerrilla-style operations, and thus brings to the fore infiltration, dissimulation, stealth, concealment, evasion, disguise, pretense, misrepresentation, subterfuge, hyper-mobility, surprise, precise intelligence, strategic-preselection-of-targets, ruthlessness, disappearance. The traditional terms "fighting front" and "battlefield" are now essentially redundant historical military jargon (NH: 84). In modern military operations, "war is everywhere but the front is nowhere (NH: 84)." In modern covert warfare "it is necessary today to dissolve in order not to be encircled by the assailant (NH: 60)." Whether it be find-and-kill missions; sabotage; espionage; or fomenting unrest, etc., the chief priority of the modern fighting unit is "to be continuously undetectable (NH: 85)."

Official declarations of war issued by a State are becoming another historical feature of international military operations, "[The Cold War] marked the end of the distinction between wartime and peacetime, and cleared the way for a worldwide state of undeclared war (GZ: 52)." Existing now is a condition of "relative war," as opposed to relative peace, which is continuous and pervasive (LE: 93). The principal reason for such non-declaration is that once war is declared, and officially commences, the belligerents are subject to numerous treaties and conventions of wartime--and intense media scrutiny--as well as disinformation campaigns, etc. Once war is declared the State's forces are limited, regulated, and thus handicapped.

In the context of Western liberal democracy, the transformation of warfare into covert warfare tends to subvert democratic processes: the operations-mission is deniable, spectral, hidden, secret, clandestine. Virilio's position is that acceptance and normalization of covert warfare will likely be catastrophic, "if the political State itself gets carried away, if it officially and systematically resorts to crime, it triggers a suicidal process (LE: 80)."