The opening chapters of Michael Ignatieff’s brilliant study of the Kosovo war deal with the situation at close range. His reportage from the Balkans includes interviews with key participants and moving reflections of the bombed Belgrade. The control of the material is striking.
The chapters that follow reveal Ignatieff’s moral thrust, as he explores the concept of ‘virtual’ war’, when only the enemy are killed, the Allied Command is in another continent and the media provided ‘a light show for Western TV audiences’ who’ve never had to face the body bags of their own sons and citizens. He deconstructs the rhetoric of the war — ‘precision violence’ — and convincingly argues that democratic decision-making was virtually bypassed (a theme taken up by Tony Benn, but few others).
The coherence of this multi-layered critique of ‘the first postmodern war in history’ makes Virtual War deeply disturbing and hugely impressive.