Birth of the Simulacrum and the Human Bomb
The original dream of the Soviet Union was to create a new kind of utopia. A world where the system would be transformed, while in the process transforming the people themselves . They would, in a sense, become a new and improved kind of human bring. And they dubbed this the products of this transformation the “New Soviet Man”.
But by the 1980s, it was clear that the utopian dream had failed. Instead of improving society, the Soviet Union had transformed into a society where no one believed in anything. The people had no real vision of the future and had lost all of their personal beliefs and dreams.
Those around the Soviet Union once believed that they could plan and manage a new kind of socialist society, something that was seen as the justification for the rapid and deadly revolution years before. Unfortunately, due to human nature and the flawed ideas of communist thinkers, they had discovered that it was impossible to control and predict everything, leading to the plan spiraling out of control. To maintain control over society, rather than reveal this, the technocrats began to pretend that everything was still going according to plan.
And what emerged was a fake, hypocritical version of society. Everyone knew that what their leaders said was not real, because they could see with their own eyes that the economy was falling apart. But everybody had to play along and pretend that it was real, and no one could imagine any alternative. One Soviet writer called it Hyper Normalization, expanding on the Soviet term of Normalization. Normalization is the process through which ideas and behaviors that may fall outside of social norms come to be regarded as “normal”. This was the last step of ideological and social subversion the Soviets used to complete their revolution. But because you were so much a part of the system, it was impossible to see anything beyond it. The fakeness was hyper normal.
In this stagnant world, two brothers, known as Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, became the inspiration of a new growing dissident movement. They weren’t politicians, they were science fiction writers. And in their stories, they expressed the strange mood that was rising up as the Soviet Empire began to collapse. Their most famous book was called Roadside Picnic. It is set in a world that seemed like the present, except for a zone that has been created by an alien force. People known as Stalkers go into the zone, to which they find that nothing is what it seems, and that reality changes minute by minute
There are hidden forces that twist your body and change the way you think and feel. The picture the Strugatsky’s gave was of a world where nothing was fixed. Both what you saw and what you believe had become shifting and unstable.
The recently elected president of America had a new vision of the world. It wasn’t the harsh realism of Henry Kissinger. Instead, it was a simple moral crusade where America had a special destiny. This destiny was to fight evil and to make the world a better place.
But this crusade was going to lead Reagan to come face to face with Henry Kissinger’s legacy, and above all, the vengeful fury of president Assad of Syria.
Israel was now determined to finally destroy the power of the Palestinians. But in 1982, they sent a massive army to encircle the Palestinian accounts in Lebanon. Two months later, thousands of Palestinian refugees were massacred, which horrified the world. What was even more shocking was the fact that Israel actually allowed it to happen. It’s troops sat by and watched as a Christian-Lebanese faction murdered countless Palestinians.
Facing the horror of the growing chaos, President Regen was forced to act. He announced that American marines would go to Beirut and lead a peace keeping force, to which Regan insisted were neutral. But President Assad was convinced of another perspective. He saw the troops as part of the growing conspiracy between America and Israel, who’s purpose was to divide the middle east into factions, leading to the destruction of the power of the Arabs. Assad decided to get the Americans out of the middle east. And to do this, he made an alliance with a new, revolutionary force of Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran.
What Khomeini could bring to Assad was an extraordinary new weapon he had just created. It was named the poor man’s atomic bomb.
Ruhollah Khomeini had come to power two years before, as the leader of the Iranian revolution. But his hold on power was precarious. However, Khomeini had developed a new idea on how to fight his enemies and defend the revolution. Khomeini told his followers that they could destroy themselves in order to save the revolution, providing that in the process they killed as many around them as possible. This was something never used in warfare before in the Muslim world, because the Koran specifically prohibits suicide. In the past, you became a martyr on the battlefield, because God chose the time and place of your death.
But Khomeini changed this. He did it by going back to one of the central rituals of Shia Islam. Every year, Shia Muslims march in a precession mourning the sacrifice of their founder, Houssine. As they do, they whip themselves, symbolically reenacting Houssine’s suffering.
Khomeini said that the ultimate act of penance was not just to whip yourself, but to kill yourself, provided it was for the greater good of the revolution. He then mobilized this force when the country was attacked by Iraq. Iran faced almost certain defeat, because Iraq had far superior weapons, many of which were supplied by America. So the revolutionaries took tens of thousands of young boys out of schools, put them on buses and sent them to the front lines.
Their job was to walk through the enemy’s mine fields, deliberately blowing themselves up in order to open gaps that would allow the Iranian army to pass through unharmed. It was organized suicide on a vast scale. This human sacrifice was commemorated in giant cemeteries across the country. Fountains flowing blood red water glorified this new kind of martyrdom.
And it was this new idea of an unstoppable human weapon that president Assad took from Khomeini and brought to the west for the first time.
But as it traveled, it mutated into something even more deadly. Instead of just killing yourself, you would take explosives with you into the heart of the enemy and then blow yourself up, taking dozens or even hundreds along with you. It would become known as suicide bombing.
In October, 1983, two suicide bombers drove trucks into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The massive explosion killed 241 Americans. The bombers were members of a new militant group that no one had heard of. They called themselves Hezbollah. And although many of them were Iranian, they were very much under the control of Syria and Syrian intelligence agencies. President Assad was using them as his proxies to attack America.
Within four months, president Reagan withdrew all the American troops from Lebanon. Secretary of state George Schultz explained. “We became paralyzed by the complexity that we faced,” he said. So the Americans turned around and left. For president Assad, it was an extraordinary achievement. He was the only Arab leader to have defeated the Americans and forced them to leave the middle east. And he had done it by using the new force of suicide bombing.
A force that once unleashed, was going to spread with unstoppable power. But at this point, both Assad and the Iranians thought that they could control it. And what justified the carnage was that it held out the dream of transcending the corruptions of the world, offering a new and better world.