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Virtual War

Virtual War

by Michael Ignatieff

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For a decade, Michael Ignatieff has provided eyewitness accounts and penetrating analyses from the world's battle zones. In Virtual War, he offers an analysis of the conflict in Kosovo and what it means for the future of warfare. He describes the latest phase in modern combat: war fought by remote control. In "real" war, nations are mobilized, soldiers


For a decade, Michael Ignatieff has provided eyewitness accounts and penetrating analyses from the world's battle zones. In Virtual War, he offers an analysis of the conflict in Kosovo and what it means for the future of warfare. He describes the latest phase in modern combat: war fought by remote control. In "real" war, nations are mobilized, soldiers fight and die, victories are won. In virtual war, however, there is often no formal declaration of hostilities, the combatants are strike pilots and computer programmers, the nation enlists as a TV audience, and instead of defeat and victory there is only an uncertain endgame.

Kosovo was such a virtual war, a war in which U.S. and NATO forces did the fighting but only Kosovars and Serbs did the dying. Ignatieff examines the conflict through the eyes of key players--politicians, diplomats, and generals--and through the experience of the victims, the refugees and civilians who suffered. As unrest continues in the Balkans, East Timor, and other places around the world, Ignatieff raises the troubling possibility that virtual wars, so much easier to fight, could become the way superpowers impose their will in the century ahead.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“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

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The past decade has kept London-based journalist Ignatieff busy exploring ethnic nationalism and ethnic war. This latest work (portions of which have appeared in the New Yorker and elsewhere) completes an unplanned trilogy that took shape around current events. Like the trilogy's previous two titles (Blood and Belonging and The Warrior's Honor), this book critiques the West's selective use of military power to protect human rights and the failure of Western governments to "back principle with decisive military force"--but here Ignatieff pushes this critique a step further, attempting to explain the paradox of the West's moral activism around human rights and its unwillingness to use force or put its own soldiers at risk: war, he suggests, has ceased to be real to those with technological mastery. Whereas Kosovo "looked and sounded like a war" to those on the ground, it was a virtual event for citizens of NATO countries--it was "a spectacle: it aroused emotions in the intense but shallow way that sports do." In other words, the basic equality of moral risk (kill or be killed) in traditional war was replaced by something akin to "a turkey shoot." In a series of profiles of major players in the Kosovo crisis (including American negotiator Richard Holbrook and war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour and Aleksa Djilas, a Yugoslav opposed to the bombing), as well as in other writings--including a fine, concluding essay--the author presents a strong argument on the need to avoid wars that let the West off easily and don't have clear-cut results. Ignatieff offers an original analysis of the nature and repercussions of NATO's Kosovo campaign. Only when we have recognized the seductiveness and failures of virtual war, he warns, can we truly assess the risks and benefits of decisive action. This is a timely and provocative book for the politically astute reader. Author tour. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the 1999 war in Kosovo, these works represent a worthy first draft of history. Freelance correspondent Judah explores the historical context underlying the Kosovo conflict and explains why NATO went to war in the misguided belief that a brief air campaign would force Slobodan Milosevic to buckle. He attributes the outbreak of war largely to human error on both sides: Serbian leaders refused to admit that their position in Kosovo was untenable, while the West sacrificed its credibility by repeatedly issuing empty threats of force and drastically underestimated the resolve of Belgrade to withstand a few days' bombardment. Ignatieff, a BBC commentator and eyewitness to the war, examines the troubling aspects of what he calls "virtual" war. Modern technology has made the West virtually unbeatable on the battlefield, while evolving notions of human rights have legitimized intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. Yet the detachment of Western citizens from recent wars, compounded by the widespread revulsion for casualties, dictated an ineffective military strategy in Kosovo. Allied aircraft delivered their munitions from 15,000 feet in order to prevent the loss of aircraft and crews. Thus, NATO military operations never addressed the political objectives justifying the war--notably, protecting Kosovar Albanians from Serb forces in the province. Ignatieff's thoughtful analysis helps explain why the West has seldom been able to back its lofty ideals with decisive force. Both works are strongly recommended for all libraries.--James R. Holmes, Ph.D. Candidate, Fletcher Sch. of Law and Diplomacy, Belmont, MA, Copyright 2000 CahnersBusiness Information.\

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)

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Meet the Author

Michael Ignatieff is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, among other publications and the author of many acclaimed books including Blood and Belonging, Isaiah Berlin, The Warrior's Honor, The Russian Album, and The Needs of Strangers. He lives in London and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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