Weaponizing Affect: A Film Phenomenology of 3D Military Training Simulations during the Iraq War
This article critically considers the relation between simulation design and human experience through the analysis of three-dimensional military training simulation scenarios developed between 2003 and 2012 at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in the Mojave Desert of California. Following news reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, the US military began to implement “cultural awareness” training for all troops set to deploy to the Middle East. The military contracted with Hollywood special-effects studios to develop a series of counterinsurgency warfare immersive-training simulations, including hiring Iraqi-American and Afghan-American citizens to play villagers, mayors, and insurgents in scenarios. My primary question centers on the military technoscience of treating human bodies as variables in a reiterative simulation scenario. I analyze interviews with soldiers and actors, my own experiences videotaping training simulations at the fort, and the accounts of many other visiting journalists and filmmakers across time. From this, I contend that the stories participants tell about simulation experiences constitute one key outcome of the simulation itself, blunting dissent and aiding the fort’s long-term efforts to retain clout and funding in the face of wars whose intensity fluctuates. I treat the ongoing cinematic performances on the fort as a kind of “simulation body” unbounded by skin, a theoretical framework drawn from Vivian Sobchack’s (1992) film phenomenological concept of the “film body” and affect theory grounded in the work of Kara Keeling (2007), as well as Eve Sedgwick (2003), Sedgwick and Adam Frank (1995), and Lisa Cartwright (2008), by way of American behavioral psychoanalyst Silvan Tomkins (2008).
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