Digital War: Rhetoric, Risks & Realities
Department of Media Studies and Film
The New School
Spring 2011

Instructor: Peter Asaro asarop AT
Time: Thursday, 8:00 - 9:50 pm
Location: Parsons 2 W 13th 1210

Course webpage is here:

Course blog is here:

Course Description

In the late 1990s the US military committed itself to pursuing Network-Centric Warfare and Full-Spectrum Dominance, which eventually led to the largest military R&D contract in history--the Future Combat Systems program. Several years, two wars, and many billions of dollars later, those digital technologies are finding their way onto the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror. This course focuses on exploring the technologies and media that are having the greatest impact on the way war will be fought in the near future, as well as the cultural meanings of warfare, and the propensity to war itself. We explore how these technologies are changing the nature of warfare, and the rhetoric that is used to justify the development and use of these technologies. The course critically examines the claims that technologies can produce increasingly risk-free, or even bloodless, wars, and considers how the risks of engaging in armed conflict are being redistributed. Topics discussed include the military's use of video games for recruitment and training, the use of video game interfaces for real-world technologies, the use of database systems to manage vast quantities of information in warfare, and the increasing use of military robotics including armed Predator and Reaper drones.

This course examines the complex relationship between digital technologies and warfare, from both the perspective of how wars are conducted, and how they are represented in media.

In the first part of the course we consider the types of narrative roles that robots have occupied, as well as how the concepts of robotics and automation are reflected in the social and cultural contexts in which those media are produced. The second part of the course examines recent developments in robotics as forms of digital media, both continuous with and distinct from other types of digital media. We assess how contemporary debates about the potential uses and social impacts of robotic media intersect with popular narratives about robotics, both pessimistic and optimistic. The class also considers what makes contemporary discourses on robotics unique, and what that might tell us about contemporary society and culture.


Class Attendance and Participation: 25%
Blog Entries & Comments: 25%
Research Project Proposal: 10%
Research Project First Draft: 15%
Final Research Project: 25%

Class Attendance and Participation: 25%

You are expected to have thoroughly and thoughtfully read the assigned texts, viewed the assigned videos, and to have prepared yourself to contribute meaningfully to the class discussions. For some people, that preparation requires taking copious notes on the assigned readings; for others, it entails supplementing the assigned readings with explanatory texts found in survey textbooks or in online sources; and for others still, it involves reading the texts, ruminating on them afterwards, then discussing those readings with classmates before the class meeting. Whatever method best suits you, I hope you arrive at class with copies of the assigned reading, ready and willing to make yourself a valued contributor to the discussion, and eager to share your own relevant media experiences and interests. Your participation will be evaluated in terms of both quantity and quality.

As this is a seminar, regular attendance is essential. You will be permitted two excused absences (you must notify me of your inability to attend before class, via email or phone). Any subsequent absences and any un-excused absences will adversely affect your grade.

Blog Entries & Comments: 25%

Students will be required to make weekly blog entries commenting on the readings for the week. You will be required to create an account on WordPress, and send me an email with their LoginID and the EMAIL ADDRESS used to create the account, so that you can be added as authors for the collective course blog. Everyone will be posting to a common blog page, and this will be readable by your classmates, as well as the entire internet. Any discussions you would like to keep within the class should take place on the Blackboard discussion space. When writing and making comments, you are expected to treat other students with the same respect and courtesy as you should in the classroom.

Discussion questions will be posted each week to help stimulate the writing process. You are also expected to read the posts of your classmates, and encouraged to comment on other people's posts each week. Posts will not be graded (they will recieve 2, 1 or 0 points based on timely completion), but I will read them and occasionally comment on them myself.

Blog posts will be due before the start of each class. They are time stamped when you post them, and late posts will only receive half credit (1 point). Discussion questions for the next week will be posted shortly after each class.


Research Paper Proposal: 10%
Research Paper First Draft: 15%
Final Research Paper: 25%

Research Paper Proposal Due: October 13
Length: 500-1000 words (approx. 1-2 pages)

Research Paper First Draft Due: November 22
Length: 2000-3000 words (approx. 5-10 pages)

Final Research Paper Due: December 15
Length: 3000-5000 words (approx. 10-18 pages)

There will be no final exam. Instead, a final research project will be required. For most students, this will take the form of a 3000-5000 word (Times New Roman, 12pt font, double spaced) term paper, due on the last day of class. If that deadline will not work for you, you need to make other arrangements one week in advance, at the latest. Films and media projects can also be used to fulfill this requirement, but must be approved and should approximate a similar amount of research and work.

Project topics can address any aspect of the topics and materials discussed in class. Projects should include materials beyond what is directly covered in class, as appropriate for your topic. In other words, they should require research. The blog will provide many ideas for projects, as will class discussion.

You will have to write a proposal for your project by October 13, but you should be thinking about possible topics from the start of the semester. Research proposals should state the question, problem, or phenomenon that will be the focus of your research. It should also state your thesis or position on the issue, as well as outline the argument you will use to support your position. This applies to both papers and media projects. You should also indicate the sources and materials you will consult and utilize in making your argument. For media projects, you should state as clearly as possible what you intend to deliver for the final draft (i.e., video length, style, format, content, etc.).

The first draft of your project is due November 22. Like all drafts, this should be treated as if it could be the final draft. It should be a complete term paper or media project. The argument should be fully developed, with appropriate citations, and draw upon your research.

Since even the best papers can be expanded and improved, you will get a chance to do this, based on my feedback, for the final. Re-writing, re-editing, and revising are important and necessary skills for improving your work, so we will focus on this when turning the first draft into a final draft. Ideally, some papers might be suitable for submitting to journals for publication by the end.

Papers and written proposals should be submitted to me in electronic form (Word Perfect, MS Word, PDF, HTML and plain TXT are all fine). Late final papers will not be accepted, as I must turn in grades shortly thereafter.



All readings will be available electronically, via the web, in PDF, MS Word, HTML, or similar format.



Week 1: September 1
Course Introduction

Course Syllabus Overview

How to create a WordPress Account, and make a Blog Entry

Watch: DocZone, (2011) Remote Control War, CBC, 45 min.


Part I: Video Games, Violence & Militarism

Week 2: September 8
Video Games I: Military Simulations


Tim Lenoir (2000) "All but War Is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex," Configurations, Volume 8, Number 3, Fall 2000, pp. 289-335.

James Der Derian (2001) Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 1-121.


Watch: Frontline (2010) Digital Nation, Waging War: Immersion Training, PBS, 15 min.


Week 3: September 15
Video Games II: Violence & Media


Kurt Squire (2002) "Cultural Framing of Computer/Video Games," Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, Vol. 2, No. 1.

Craig A. Anderson (2003) "Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions," American Psychological Association Science Briefs.

Dave Mosher (2011) "Defeated Videogame-Violence Experts: Science Was on Our Side," Wired Science, June 28, 2011.

Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano (1999) Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, New York, NY: Crown Publishers, pp. 1-122.

Watch: (2011) Game Deaths, YouTube, 3 min.

Watch: (2006) Croyt's Anger, YouTube, 5 min.


Supreme Court Opinion on California Law restriciting youth access to violent video games

Nicholas L. Carnagey, Craig A. Anderson , and Brad J. Bushman (2006) "The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence ," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 43, Issue 3, May 2007, pp. 489-496.

Dave Grossman (1995) On Killing, New York, NY: Back Bay Books, pp 1-94.


Week 4: September 22
Video Games III: Interfaces & Serious Gaming


Alexander R. Galloway, (2004) "Social Realism in Gaming," Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, Vol. 4, No. 1.

Tim Lenoir (2003) "Programming Theaters Of War: Gamemakers as Soldiers," in Robert Latham (ed.) Bombs and Bandwidth, New York: The New Press.

Brian Burridge (2003) "UAVs and the Dawn of Post-Modern Warfare: A Perspective on Recent Operations," RUSI Journal 148, no. 5 (Oct 2003): p. 18-23.

Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell (2011) "Autopilots may dull skills of pilots, committee says," CNN, September 1, 2011.

Listen: Radiolab (2011) Games, WNYC, 78 min.


Cuihua Shen, Hua Wang and Ute Ritterfeld, "Serious Games and Seriously Fun Games: Can They Be One and the Same?" from: Ute Ritterfeld, Michael J. Cody, and Peter Vorderer (eds.) (2009) Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects, Routledge, pp. 48-61.

M. Ephimia Morphew, Jay R. Shively, and Daniel Casey (2004), "Helmet Mounted Displays for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Control," in Helmet- and Head-Mounted Displays IX: Technologies and Applications. Edited by Rash, Clarence E.; Reese, Colin E. Proceedings of the SPIE, Volume 5442, pp. 93-103 (2004).

Tim Lenoir (2002) "Fashioning the Military Entertainment Complex," Correspondence: An International Review of Culture and Society, Vol. 10, Winter/Spring, 2002-2003, pp. 14-16.

Brian Burridge (2005) "Post-Modern Warfighting with Unmanned Vehicle Systems: Esoteric Chimera or Essential Capability?"RUSI Journal 150, no. 5 (Oct 2005): p. 20-23.

Week of September 29
Rosh Hashanah


Part II: War as Culture & Economy

Week 5: October 6
War & Economy


Smedly Butler (1921) War is a Racket.

Nick Turse (2009) The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, Metropolitan Books.

Watch: President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1961) Farwell Speech, 15 min.

Watch: Veterans Today (2011) VFW Speech by Smedly Butler, 9 min.


James Der Derian (2001) Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 122-221.

Seymour Melman (1970) Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, New York, NY: McGraw Hill, pp. 1-138.

Watch: Eugene Jarecki (2005) Why We Fight, 98 min.

Watch: Robert Greenwald (2006) Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, 75 min.


Week 6: October 13
War & Risk I
Research Project Proposals Due


Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen (2006) The Risk Society at War: Terror, Technology and Strategy in the Twenty-First Century, Camreidge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Watch: Errol Morris (2003) The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara, Sony Classics, 95 min.

Watch: Frontline (2011) Top Secret America, PBS, 54 min.


Week 7: October 20
War & Risk II


Ian Roderick, "Considering the fetish value of EOD robots : How robots save lives and sell war," International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2010, 13: 235-253.

Niklas Schoernig and Alexander C. Lembecke, "The Vision of War without Casualties: On the use of casualty aversion in armament advertisements," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 50 No. 2, April 2006 204-227.

Christopher Coker (2009) War in an Age of Risk, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.


Watch: Peter Davis (1974) Hearts and Minds, 112 min.


Week 8: October 27
War & Journalism


Ciar Byrne, (2003) "War reporting 'changed forever' says BBC," The Gaurdian, March 31, 2003

Donald Matheson and Stuart Allan (2009) Digital War Reporting, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.


Watch: Errol Morris (2008) Standard Operating Procedure, Sony Classics, 116 min.

Watch: John Pilger (2010) The War You Don't See, BBC, 120 min.
YouTube link


Week 9: November 3
Work on Research Project Drafts!


Part III: The Future of Warfare

Week 10: November 10
Information Technology & Military Imagination
Research Project First Draft Due


Paul Edwards (1996) The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 1-145.

Paul Virilio, "Cinema isn't I See, it's I Fly," in War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, London: Verso, 1989: 11-30.

Watch: Frontline (2000) The Future of War, PBS, 6 min.


Severo Ornstein (1987) "Computers in Battle: A Human Overview," in Computers in Battle: Will They Work? New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 1-43.

David Alberts, John Garstka, and Frederick Stein (1999) Network Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority, Second Edition, US Department of Defense: CCRP.

Watch: Stanley Kubrick (1964) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 95 min.


Week 11: November 17
Military Robotics I: Introduction & Overview


Watch: Frontline (2009) Taking out the Taliban: Home for Dinner, PBS, 15 min

Watch: Omer Fast (2011) 5,000 Feet is the Best, 30 min. [select from "Online Preview" menu]

Peter W. Singer, "Coming Soon to a Battlefield Near You: The Next Wave of Warbots," in Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century, New York: Penguin Press, 2009, pp. 109-134.

William Wan and Peter Finn(2011) "Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities," Washington Post, July 4, 2011


Watch: Alex Rivera (2008) Sleep Dealer, Likely Story, 90 min.


Week 12: November 22
Military Robotics II: Targeted Killings


Greg Miller and Julie Tate (2011) "CIA shifts focus to killing targets," Washington Post, September 1, 2011.

Chris Woods (2011) "Number of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan hits 300", The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, October 14th, 2011.

"U.N. warns against extrajudicial killings," UPI, Oct. 21, 2011.

Philip Alston (2010) "Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Study on targeted killings," United Nations, May 28, 2010.

Philip Alston (2011) "The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders,". New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers. Paper 303.

Grégoire Chamayou (2011) "The Manhunt Doctrine," Radical Philosophy, Volume 169, Sep/Oct 2011.

Jenna Jordan, (2009) "When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation," Security Studies, 18, pp. 719–755.

Watch: Frontline (2011) Kill/Capture, PBS, 60 min.


New America Foundation, (2011) "The Year of the Drone: Analysis of US Drone Strikes in Pakistan"

Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki, "How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering al Qa'ida", RAND Corporation, MG-741-RC, 2008, 252 pp.

International Committee of the Red Cross (2009) "Interpretive guidance on the notion of direct participation in hostilities under international humanitarian law," ICRC publication, 2009.

Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (2011) "‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command," Washington Post, September 2, 2011.


Week 13: December 1
Military Robotics III: Legal, Ethical & Political Issues


Armin Krishnan,"Dangerous Futures and Arms Control," in Killer Robots: Legality and Ethicality of Autonomous Weapons, London: Ashgate, 2009, pp. 145-167.

Asaro, P. (2008) "How Just Could a Robot War Be?" in Philip Brey, Adam Briggle and Katinka Waelbers (eds.), Current Issues in Computing And Philosophy, Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Publishers.

Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen, "Does Humanity Want Computers Making Moral Decisions" and "Can (Ro)bots Really be Moral?" in Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 57-71.

Asaro, P., and G. Dabringer (2010). "Military Robotics and Just War Theory," in Gerhard Dabringer (ed.) Ethica Themen: Ethical and Legal Aspects of Unmanned Systems, Interviews, Vienna, Austria: Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, pp. 103-119.


Arkin, R.C. (2007). Governing Lethal Behavior: Embedding Ethics in a Hybrid Deliberative/Reactive Robot Architecture, Part I. Motivation & Philosophy, GVU Technical Report GIT-GVU-07-11, pp.1-8.

Borenstein, J. (2008) "Ethics of Autonomous Military Robots," Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology, 2 (1), pp. 1-17.

Sparrow, R. (2007). "Killer Robots," Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 1, 62-77.


Week 14: December 8
Social Media & Popular Demonstrations


Hannah Arendt, (1968) On Violence, New York: Harvest Books.

Joshua Holland (2011) "How Video of Police Behaving Badly Made Occupy Wall Street a Global Phenomenon," AlterNet, October 24, 2011

Philip N. Howard, “The Lasting Impact of Digital Media on Civil Society.” U.S. State Department Global E-Journal, January 25, 2010.

Philip N. Howard, “#IranElection: Inside the cyberwar for Iran’s future.” Miller-McCune Magazine. January-February 2010. pp. 28-33.

Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker (2011) "The Secret Rally That Sparked an Uprising," Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2011.

Jack Z. Bratich (2011) "Kyber-Revolts: Egypt, State-friended Media, and Secret Sovereign Networks," The New Everyday, April 25, 2011.


Watch: Frontline (2011) Revolution in Cairo, PBS, 60 min.

Philip N. Howard (2011) "Digital media and the Arab spring," Reuters, February 16, 2011.

Jennifer Preston and Brian Stelter (2011) "Cellphones Become the World’s Eyes and Ears on Protests," New York Times, February 18, 2011.


Week 15: December 15
CyberWar & WikiLeaks
Final Research Projects Due


Watch: Fault Lines (2010) Cyberwar, Al Jazeera English, 24 min.

Watch: Democracy Now! (2011) Special: "Conversation w/ Assange & Zizek," 120 min.

Joel Brenner (2011) "The Calm Before the Storm: Cyberwar is already happening -- and it's about to get much, much worse. A veteran intelligence official explains how America can prepare itself," Foreign Policy, September 6, 2011.

E. Gabriella Coleman (2011) "Anonymous: From the Lulz to Collective Action," The New Everyday, April 06, 2011

Allison Powell (2011) "The WikiLeaks Phenomenon and New Media Power," The New Everyday, April 08, 2011

Evgeny Morozov (2011) "Political Repression 2.0," New York Times, September 1, 2011.

Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain (2011) "Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media," The Gaurdian, Thursday 17 March 2011.

Ellen Nakashima and William Wan (2011) "China’s denials about cyberattacks undermined by video clip," Washington Post, August 24, 2011.

Ellen Nakashima (2011) "Cyber-intruder sparks massive federal response — and debate over dealing with threats," Washington Post, December 8, 2011.


Watch: Frontline (2011) WikiSecrets, PBS, 60 min.

Wikipedia, "Cyberwarfare"

Wikipedia, "U.S. Cyber Command"

United States Department of Defense, "Cyber Strategy"

Wikipedia, "Wikileaks"

Wikipedia, "Anonynous (group)"