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Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond Hardcover – May 1, 2000

2.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805064907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805064902
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,573,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A year on from the bombing of Yugoslavia much of Nato's rhetoric has been revealed to be at odds with the reality coming to light about events before, during and after the bombing. If Nato won any victory it was in the area of spin - and that only briefly. Michael Ignatieff has played his small part in that one. The early parts of this book which set out Nato arguments for bombing consequently have a dated air about them. What makes this book interesting, and worth its three stars, is that it is a well written attempt by an apparently informed commentator on Balkan affairs to present the facts and moral arguments in support of the bombing campaign. Unfortunately the arguments are based on 'facts' that are at best contestable, if not occasionally plain wrong, and on the ommission of information, one might have assumed he was aware of, that doesn't support his case. Perhaps his advocacy of internationalism over national sovereignty clouded his view. A debate , included here, about the rights and wrongs of humanitarian interventionsm with Robert Skidelsky, bears out this impression. In the long run his adversary, unburdened by an internationalist agenda, had a better grasp of the issues involved. Kosovo in March 1999 must have appeared as a good place to exercise the new doctrine of "humanitarian interventionism". Nato could prove, in time for its 50th anniversary bash, it still had relevance in the post cold war environment. Drawing the wrong conclusions from the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs prior to the Dayton agreements, Madeline Albright and the other advocates of bombing thought it would be over in a few days. Milosevic chastened, Nato vindicated, a new precedent created for intervention in sovereign states, etc.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book a couple of years ago but did not get around to reading it until last week, shortly after the war in Iraq ended (more or less). I was curious to see what kind of perspective it would offer not only on the Kosovo campaign but on the war in Iraq. I found it both a useful refresher on a very different battle, the 79 day air campaign against Serbia, and an interesting meditation on modern war.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
This book, written by a unique and highly knowledgeable military historian and journalist/broadcaster (okay, and a fellow Canadian!), is quite simply one of the most memorable books that I have read. Looking for further information on the Kosovo war, I came across Michael Ignatieff's current masterpiece and found something unlike other books.
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.
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