Foreword, by Wil Harris
This article is not about politics. Regardless of your views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the internet has changed the reporting and public perception of those conflicts is indisputable. This article looks at how technology is changing our view of the battlefield for better or for worse, and is not attempting to make any judgement on the rights or wrongs of the actions involved. Thanks for your understanding, and I hope you enjoy this thoroughly interesting piece.
Front page image of soldier with video camera courtesy of UC Berkeley.
Part 1 - A Thoroughly Modern Conflict
In this day and age, where nobody questions the wisdom of declaring war on a state of mind, where democracy is delivered from the belly of a B-52 and where a place in heaven is freely available to anybody willing to detonate himself in a public place, one might be forgiven for thinking that war, more so than usual, has gone mad. We are living in an era where war has become not a clash of governments resolved by soldiers in battle but where the combat zone is anywhere, and the soldiers could be anyone.
Of course, it’s preposterous to think that the notions of hearts and minds, propaganda and a war of ideologies are anything new. Rubbishing ones enemies and praising the heroics of allies has always been par for the course, and lying about wars through whatever medium is available is as old as war itself. From the Romans writing off the rest of the world as barbarians, to the Cold War - with both sides telling anybody who would listen that the other side was evil incarnate and intent on nuking the whole planet. We’re seeing the same game being played today as it ever was but now, thanks to modern technology and the Internet, the rules have changed.
The Romans, the Russians and the Americans are well known for their propaganda.
So what makes this modern ‘War On Terror’ so unique? Simply, that these days we have access to far more information at all levels. At one extreme we have the governments and terror groups with the capability to output their message both in the mass media and at a more personal level, getting their message out there on anything they can. On the other end of the spectrum, however, we have the very modern capability of individuals with a little bit of knowhow and the right equipment to get themselves onto the web and onto the screens of thousands of users.
What does this mean for us as, for the most part, mute witnesses to all this? Well first of it means that your modern day Wilfred Owen
doesn’t have to be a dab hand at poetry to convey the horror of war to the folks back home - a digital camera and a YouTube
account will take care of that. For the first time we, as the web-wise public, have front row seats to the pride, pomp and circumstance of war in all its Technicolour glory.
Is Wilfred Owen comparable to YouTube?
It’d be easy to think that this would be a Western pre-occupation, I mean why should getting shot at preclude one’s God given right to fifteen minutes of fame? But the reality is that such is the power of propaganda that your average Iraqi, Afghan or even Chechen guerrilla very often won’t go too far into the combat zone without a digital camera to capture the moment and the equipment back home to upload the action for the enjoyment of the viewers back home. Is it educational? Is it entertaining? Is it right or wrong? The answers vary depending on who’s watching what, but the fact is that it’s happening and it’s here to stay.