Remediating the apocalypse

Bush's Axis of Evil

If Ronald Reagan became infamous for his reference to the Soviet Union as “the evil empire”, Bush's phrase “the axis of evil” (State of the Union Address January 2002) in reference to Iran, Iraq and North Korea was equally the subject of both denunciation and endless satire.

But as Robert Wright has pointed out, it is in its very incoherence as a phrase, that the implications of “axis of evil” become most frightening. There is no known axis/connection between the three states unless the terms are read at a metaphysical level.

If you take the word "evil" really seriously, the "axis" part follows; the various manifestations of evil are inherently coordinated, since they all have the same source. Iran and Iraq may hate each other, but they're both on Satan's team. (Wright 2002)

Bush's response to the attacks of September 11 and his subsequent proclamation of the war on terror was always more than a merely strategic response, it was more even than a threat of revenge it was in his own poorly judged phrase a “crusade”.

In off the cuff remarks to reporters on the White House lawn, September 16, after flying back from a meeting with senior advisers at Camp David, Bush reiterated what he had said at Washington's National Cathedral two days earlier, his task, America's task, was to “rid the world of evil”.

Tomorrow, when you get back to work, work hard like you always have. But we've been warned. We've been warned there are evil people in this world. We've been warned so vividly. And we'll be alert. Your government is alert. The governors and mayors are alert that evil folks still lurk out there. As I said yesterday, people have declared war on America and they have made a terrible mistake. My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of the evildoers. (CNN 16/9/04)

After further questions Bush went on to say:

This is a new kind of, a new kind of evil. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile. (quoted in Salisbury 2001)

As the Christian Science Monitor (Ford 2001) reported, Bush's use of the term “crusade” was ignored or passed over by most the American press until European and Arab leaders started to warn that such rhetoric could only lead to a further “clash of civilisations”.

The European press immediately picked up on the implications of Bush's language and his apparent worldview. Paris daily Le Monde warned in an editorial:

If this 'war' takes a form that affronts moderate Arab opinion, if it has the air of a clash of civilizations, there is a strong risk that it will contribute to Osama bin Laden's goal: a conflict between the Arab-Muslim world and the West (Ford 2001)

Dominique Moisi, a political analyst with the French Institute for International Relations a foreign policy think tank warned:

The same black and white language he uses to rally Americans behind him is just the sort of language that risks splitting the international coalition he is trying to build. This confusion between politics and religion...risks encouraging a clash of civilizations in a religious sense, which is very dangerous. (Ford 2001)

Bush's black and white rhetoric seems to swing from the moral seriousness of his early speeches to jaunty cowboy jesting. In early 2003 Bush addressed a group of sailors

The terrorists brought this war to us - and now we're takin' it back to them," he told the troops, leaning an elbow on the lectern, squinting crosswise at the camera, tossing a breathy Clint Eastwood chuckle. "We're on their trail, we're smokin' them out, we've got 'em on the run." (Klien 2003)

Klien goes on to comment that it is Bush's seemingly infallible sense of certainty that make such incidents troubling.

What is disturbing about Bush's faith in this moment of national crisis: it does not discomfort him enough; it does not impel him to have second thoughts, to explore other intellectual possibilities or question the possible consequences of his actions. I asked one of Bush's closest advisers last week if the President had struggled with his Iraq decision. "No," he said, peremptorily, then quickly amended, "He understands the enormity of it, he understands the nuances, but has there been hand-wringing or existential angst along the way? No." (Klien 2003)

This web project is an evolving space exploring contemporary manifestations of the apocalyptic in current affairs and popular culture. It is being developed in association with my Ph.D. research and is both a research method and a presentation of that research. In exploring the apocalyptic I am particularly interested in mapping a series of multimodal mythic clusters that are evolving through a process of remediation which I identify as a key cultural logic for an age in which electracy is the new literacy of nomadic subjects. This hypertextual presentation foregrounds affiliational logic and although I hope the project accumulates meaning it does not seek to present a single, formal, linear argument. I have presented some of these ideas in more traditional academic formats in other places. Although the navigational choices are the user's own these tips may be useful. Feedback is very welcome.

Marcus O'Donnell 2005-2006