- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (1 Mar. 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099289806
- ISBN-13: 978-0099289807
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 839,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Virtual War Paperback – 1 Mar 2001
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Kosovo was, Michael Ignatieff asserts, "the first post-modern war". A lateral step from the Gulf War, and further than just decades away from the total wars of the 20th century, it was essentially fought on the Allied side by a few thousand airmen with not one combat casualty, yet was watched by billions of spectators. War without death, he argues, is surely "virtual" war, and this gladiatorial vision, of foreign policy stripped of its physical and emotive restraints, forms the basis of his third book in an unintentional trilogy. The first two books--Blood and Belonging and The Warrior's Honor--explored themes of ethnic nationalism and the impossibly fine line between negligence and interference for outside, ie, generally Western, "democratised" nations or individuals. Virtual War uses Ignatieff's personal experiences in and around Kosovo to bring the two together in a meditation on the Balkans and, by way of it, the future of modern warfare (though "war" is an "unspun", obsolete word in our sensitive age). In 1995, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard published The Gulf War Has Not Taken Place; Ignatieff does not go that far, but in some ways Virtual War is a virtual book. The first half comprises a series of essays concerning key players in Kosovo, and is among the best collected journalism on the subject yet written. Ignatieff is a remarkable journalist; whether profiling American envoy Richard Holbrooke, prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal Louise Arbour, old friend and now "virtual" enemy Aleksa Djilas, exchanging letters with British peer Robert Skidelsky (by e-mail, naturally), or reporting from a Kosovan deportee camp in Macedonia, his writing never fails to match a fiercely wrought intellect to rhetorical eloquence. The latter chapters, in which he expounds his theories of virtual warfare leading to virtual victories, are tightly argued if not groundbreaking, though his portrait of post-Cold War globalisation, of a world shrink-wrapped by telecommunications and homogenised moral universalism, justifies the conceit. In a Playstation world, this is a persuasive, provocative book by a very real thinker. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Ignatieff has produced a work that is both intellectually unflinching and genuinely open-minded. Ostensibly a consideration on the moral and political implications of the West's military intervention in Kosovo, the book is in fact the best exploration of both the operational and moral dilemmas of humanitarian war that has yet been written . . . A considerable achievement."--David Rieff, "Los Angeles Times Book Review"
"Arresting . . . Helps combat many of the cliched images we have of the Balkans, and explain how the world's most powerful military alliance had its credibility put to the test in a long-neglected corner of Europe."--Michael Dobbs, The "Washington Post Book World"
"A talented and versatile writer, Ignatieff takes up the central moral issues raised by the intervention . . . The shadows across his path give his book poignancy and engagement."--Fouad Ajami, "The New York Times Book Review"
"Virtual wars lead to a 'less stable world, '' he concludes, because the victors do not stay, do not 'bring order.' Animated with emotion: informed, documented, and essential."--"Kirkus Reviews"
"Vividly reported and thoughtful . . . Something like the Yugoslav tangle may confront us again, and Ignatieff's book will help our thinking if and when the time comes again to unleash the dogs of virtual war."--Bruce Nelan, " Time" magazine
"Especially vivid and accessible . . . Ignatieff combine[s] fine reportage and sophisticated reflection."--Timothy Garton Ash, "The New York Review of Books"
"Citizens or their representatives will periodically clamor for the military to intervene. When they do, the military will go. It is useful, therefore, to read Ignatieff to better understand the conditions of these kinds of missions. From that understanding, we may reach insights that may allow us to find solutions, or at least to stop the killing."--Col. Gregory Fontenot, Army
"Ignatieff is one of the most thoughtful commentators. He co
Ignatieff has produced a work that is both intellectually unflinching and genuinely open-minded. Ostensibly a consideration on the moral and political implications of the West's military intervention in Kosovo, the book is in fact the best exploration of both the operational and moral dilemmas of humanitarian war that has yet been written . . . A considerable achievement. "David Rieff, Los Angeles Times Book Review"
Arresting . . . Helps combat many of the cliched images we have of the Balkans, and explain how the world's most powerful military alliance had its credibility put to the test in a long-neglected corner of Europe. "Michael Dobbs, The Washington Post Book World"
A talented and versatile writer, Ignatieff takes up the central moral issues raised by the intervention . . . The shadows across his path give his book poignancy and engagement. "Fouad Ajami, The New York Times Book Review"
Virtual wars lead to a 'less stable world, '' he concludes, because the victors do not stay, do not 'bring order.' Animated with emotion: informed, documented, and essential. "Kirkus Reviews"
Vividly reported and thoughtful . . . Something like the Yugoslav tangle may confront us again, and Ignatieff's book will help our thinking if and when the time comes again to unleash the dogs of virtual war. "Bruce Nelan, Time magazine"
Especially vivid and accessible . . . Ignatieff combine[s] fine reportage and sophisticated reflection. "Timothy Garton Ash, The New York Review of Books"
Citizens or their representatives will periodically clamor for the military to intervene. When they do, the military will go. It is useful, therefore, to read Ignatieff to better understand the conditions of these kinds of missions. From that understanding, we may reach insights that may allow us to find solutions, or at least to stop the killing. "Col. Gregory Fontenot, Army"
Ignatieff is one of the most thoughtful commentators. He combines superior reporting with provocative and troubling insights on the world we've inherited. "The New York Review of Booksr"
To the illumination of dark deeds on the killing fields, Ignatieff brings a poetic sensibility and a lyrical style. His insights succeed brilliantly. "David Fromkin, Foreign Affairs"
It is not easy to categorize Michael Ignatieff. He writes something very like moral philosophy. . . . A talent for historical exposition marks everything he writes. Cultural commentator is near the mark, but perhaps public moralist would be the proper description. "Alan Ryan, The New York Times Book Review"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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Let me quote two arguments in the book. "Democracies may well remain peace loving only so long as the risks of war remain real to their citizens." (p. 179) "We keep waging war, not because we want to, but because we have seeded a doubt about our seriousness which only a concerted display of violence. . can eradicate." (p. 205)
If these sentiments seem cogent, this book is for you.
The ex-Yugoslavia is past stomping grounds for Ignatieff, so the conflicts here are dear to his heart. He blames the massacres in Bosnia on "Presidential inaction" rather than on local warlords. His take on Kosovo was to prescribe immediate militarization but then to blame ministers and presidents for side-stepping legislatures and to proceed without UN mandates for this militarization. He calls the bombing of Baghdad in the Gulf War "a light show" and the bombing campaign a "video-arcade game." This idea was the darling of the press in 1991, but the notion is a direct affront to alliance pilots who needed only to look out their windows to see anti-aircraft fire trying to shoot them down. Ignatieff himself speaks of NATO pilots being forced to fly above 15,000 ft and feeling the concussions of near-misses from anti-aircraft fire. Are such realities like a "video-arcade game?" Ignatieff ignores this to paint his warped notion of a "virtual" war.
Ignatieff demanded intervention for Kosovo but then blames how it was carried out. He says the laser-guided bombing was ineffective in stopping Milosevic and so it was. He says how "virtual war" is virtual both to the people dropping the ordnance and those fleeing the bombs. To quote one pilot about Iraq's "no-fly zone" who said that the occasional anti-aircraft shot was the sole thing that reminded him he was "at war" (i.e. a "virtual" notion). Ignatieff fails to realize that once the coalition dominated the skies and knocked out dozens of SAM sites that shots from below were likely to die down. He says of "virtual warfare's victims" that the occasion is like a "spectator sport" (out of the minds and hearts of democracies), something worthy to commemorate by "buying a postcard."
On the whole Ignatieff states a case and then contradicts or refutes himself earlier or later. His rationale is consistent only in isolation. The more he enlarges on his views, the deeper the hole he digs for himself.
This book is not about technology or the way the military fights modern war (per se). It's about disliking fewer casualities, disliking sophisticated weapons, disliking the detachment of commanders and soldiers who are now engaged only at the perimeter, and so on and so on. Pyrhhus and MacArthur and all history's other commanders would gladly tell Ignatieff (who eventually tells himself) that inflicting hurt on the other army without receiving ourselves is only proper tactics. Pity Ignatieff cannot have all wars be his way.
The front end of this book consists of a series of snapshots of different aspects of the war, along with a couple of arguments Ignatieff has with fellow intellectuals. Several reviewers on this site wrote that they couldn't see the connection between these bits of reportage with the latter half of the book, which is an extended essay on aspects of modern, "virtual" war. I think they're perhaps not trying very hard, as the longer essay quite obviously tackles in a disciplined fashion the themes raised in the reportage--international law, the revolution in military affairs, values, societal support or the lack thereof for political decisions to move toward war.
Ignatieff is often clear-thinking. It is a bit startling to read this book, written in 1999-2000, talking about the merits of regime change in places like Iraq and Serbia/FRY. He is likewise prophetic in noting how the revolution in military affairs created an incentive for the Saddams of the world to seek a countervailing military threat in the form of chemical and biological weapons.
Where he is perhaps a bit less far-sighted is in failing to see that the precedent of a "virtual war" in Kosovo--by which he means a zero-casualty, low-cost war (for the attacking side only, of course), that is not legitimised by international law or blessed by the kind of domestic support that must be whipped up to permit a high-cost, full mobilization "real war", with real casualties on both sides--could be used to support not only human rights' causes but narrower interests.
Overall this is a book well worth reading. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in understanding what goes into a modern war.
What is a `Virtual War'? What distinguishes it from traditional `Real Wars'? Simply put, it is the traditional method of warfare, where two (or perhaps more) opponents engage in fighting on battlefields for the sake of securing territory. There are one-on-one confrontations, there is direct killing (justified by self-defense; kill or be killed) and the war is very much a reality to those who fight it, as well as those that work behind the lines to provide the means by which battles can be waged (e.g. armaments and uniform production). Hence, war is a reality in `real wars.' Virtual wars, on the other hand, do not involve such traditional means by which to wage war. In such instances, it is technology that is the backbone of military strength, not personnel. The very word `virtual' is defining of this war: "existing in effect, though not in fact." Those behind the front lines are glued to television screens and press reports; the only sources of information about the wars. Because we see targets within the scopes of missile ranges, we see the effects of aggression. But the location is so far away and beyond the knowledge of the commonplace populace that many of us do not see this as a conflict, or war. We do not know why this war is happening, only that something is happening.
All the crushing (and devastating) weaponry spawns from technological innovation that began toward the end of the Cold War, when the US and the USSR could not outdo each other in the production of nuclear arsenal that, logically, could not be used anytime. There was a stalemate in the arms race, and the only way that it could be broken would be through the production and development of conventional weapons that the opponent did not have. As Ignatieff writes: "The beauty of such weapons was that, unlike the nuclear arsenal, they could be used." On impunity: "From the beginning...technology was in search of impunity. War that could actually be fought had to be as bloodless, risk-free and precise as possible." In Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and most recently Kosovo, there was now a technological capability that made a nation like the US strong, as this technology could actually be used.
Because of this development and revolutionary change, the battlefield has become obsolete. The nature and enactment of warfare (and the targets) have changed for good. In Kosovo, nerve centers became primary targets of strikes. In the past, it was industrial complexes that were primary targets because they were the bloods behind the war machine, producing military hardware. Now, the nerve centers mentioned are command posts, computer and Internet networks because they drive the war machine. "A blinded enemy - without computers, telephones or power - may still have forces capable of attack, but he no longer has the capacity to order them into battle." In the process of hitting such nerve centers in Yugoslavia, NATO knocked out not just television and Internet service providers, but also electricity that powered hospitals, infant incubators and water pumps. In the words of Ignatieff: "...warfare directed at a society's nervous system, rather than against its fielded forces, necessarily blurs the distinction between civilian and military objectives...There is no guarantee that war directed at the nervous system of a society will be any less savage than war directed only at its troops." The blurring of such integral distinction; yet another characteristic of virtual war. The very nature of warfare has changed: "one of the lessons of modern war is that war can no longer be called war." Virtual war is a dangerous and frightening phenomenon: they do not appear to be real to citizens of nations. Therefore, if impunity is guaranteed and military action is cost-free, what democratic restraints will be there to govern the use of force? "If war becomes virtual - and without risk - democratic electorates may be more willing to fight especially if the cause is justified in the language of human rights and even democracy itself." Sounds familiar? Look at Kosovo, where NATO claimed that it intervened for the sake of human rights abuses (at least this was the message to the listening and watching public), yet this moral claim is amoral when compounded with NATO's unwillingness to risk its own soldiers' lives. With its unwillingness to take casualties, how can NATO call themselves defenders of human rights?
Hence, the real risks of virtual war are apparent for those that can decipher and plow through the virtual reality into the real. Michael Ignatieff's work tops off with these words: "Only the most devoted attention to what is real can help us to make judgments and take actions which are both responsible and efficacious." It all waters down to reality checks and thoughts for the future; while progression is something to be lauded, it is also something that requires checks and balances in order to hinder it from spinning out of control. Do we have those kinds of checks to really inform more than just a few?
Ignatieff's book left a tremendous impression on my conscience and my mind. Awareness is most certainly defense, just like the adage "knowledge is power." But there can be no hope without some real risk. To quote Ignatieff one more time: "Virtual reality is seductive." Although I had not read that far into Virtual War when this happened, I mentioned the prospect of virtual war to my Dad, who was fixing a window. "I wouldn't worry about it," he told me. "There are too many checks and balances to hinder a maniac from blowing the world up." Only that night, when I closed the book in completion, did it hit me.
The repercussions of a zero casualty conflict will reverberate throughout the US defense establishment for years to come and will certainly set benchmarks, warranted or not for future conflicts. But sacrifice in battle will be supported by the American public if the situation warrants. The war in Afghanistan bears this point out to an extent.
The dialogue between Skidelsky and Ignatieff was interesting, as was the return of Ignatieff to Belgrade to meet his longtime friend Aleksa Djilas. This dialogue portrayed the extent to which people such as Skidelsky and Djilas would like to look past the atrocities committed by the like of Milosevic, at the expense of Western intervention.
I rated the book three stars only because I didnt see the common thread throughout the book...merely a series of collected essays that may or may not have had anything to do with the subject "virtual war". THe book does add some interesting insight into Holbrooke's dealings with Milosevic, but could have delved more into discussions with Gen Clark and perhaps Lt Gen Mike Short, the Joint Forces AIr Component Commander, on the extent the "virtual war" was or was not fought both on the battlefield, in the media and in the political realm.