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Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
ISBN 0312278357 / 9780312278359 / 0-312-27835-7
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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 [via]