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Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
ISBN 0805064907 / 9780805064902 / 0-8050-6490-7
Publisher Metropolitan Books
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On March 24, 1999, after talks at the French chateau of Rambouillet and further negotiations in Paris failed to produce an agreement between Kosovar and Serbian leaders, NATO commenced air strikes against Serbia. The Kosovo war would last 78 days. According to Michael Ignatieff, the war in Kosovo broke new ground. For those killed in the air strikes and the Kosovar Albanians murdered by Serbian police and paramilitaries, the war was real; yet it was "virtual" for the citizens of the NATO nations, who became spectators to events as "remote from their essential concerns as a football game." NATO combatants (who suffered no casualties) experienced the war as "split-second decisions made through the lens of a gun camera or over a video conferencing system." They rarely saw those they killed. Kosovo was a virtual war also in the political and legal sense, and in Virtual War Ignatieff explores the political and moral implications of what happens when war ceases to be fully real--when technological mastery removes death from the equation on one side.
Five characters figure prominently in Ignatieff's narrative of the war in Kosovo and its aftermath: Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton administration's special envoy for the Balkans; Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Louise Arbour, prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal; Robert Skidelsky, independent member of the British House of Lords and critic of the war; and Aleksa Djilas, Yugoslav opponent of the bombing campaign. Though Ignatieff supports the military intervention, his encounters with these figures, particularly the opponents of the war, put his convictions to the test. The differing viewponts lend a sense of balance and evenhandedness in what is ultimately a deeply moral work. "Virtual reality is seductive," Ignatieff writes. "We see ourselves as noble warriors and our enemies as despicable tyrants. We see a war as a surgical scalpel and not a bloodstained sword. In so doing we mis-describe ourselves as we mis-describe the instruments of death. We need to stay away from such fables of self-righteous invulnerability. Only then can we get our hands dirty. Only then can we do what is right." --Svenja Soldovieri [via]