The process and question of whether or not the United States should intervene in global conflicts were the topics of a lecture from a renowned journalist Thursday afternoon.
Journalist Michael Ignatieff spoke to a crowd at Campbell Hall about the consequences and future of “virtual” warfare and intervention for humanitarian reasons, in a lecture sponsored by the Global Studies Dept. Ignatieff is internationally recognized for his reports on Kosovo and has authored The Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience and his most recent work, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond.
Ignatieff described that virtual warfare is where death is no longer the defining experience of war and advanced weaponry becomes increasingly important by replacing human soldiers. The recent computer revolution accounts for improved weapons technology, increased precision, subsequent reduction in “spray” – collateral damage due to misfired missiles – and an increase in the distance at which violence can be inflicted.
“It is war under the expectation of zero casualties and zero collateral damage,” Ignatieff said. “It is war fought in search of moral impunity or immunity.”
Based on his experience researching Kosovo – a war where 75 to 80 percent of the weapons used advanced technology – Ignatieff said there are a number of problems inherent in virtual war. A war in which the ends rarely justify the means becomes more of an occurrence, he said, is one such example.
“Low-risk war has low gains. You cannot stop ethnic cleansing at 15,000 feet,” he said. “If no American lives are at risk, what’s to restrain the president from resorting to the fire-and-forget strategy at any time he wants?”
Ignatieff worried that a lack of public participation and knowledge leads to wars where lawyers can morally justify every military maneuver.
“It’s good that lawyers are in there, but let’s not pretend that this operation of legalizing moral problems actually solves them. Moral decisions about combat are too important to be left to generals, lawyers and soldiers,” he said.
More public debate on whether intervention is necessary or not will be essential in the future, Ignatieff said.
“We need to meet our imperialist attitudes head on,” he said. “The dilemma here is to create an exit strategy that returns government to the people. You have to create civic responsibility on the part of the majority towards the minority.”
Senior business economics major Maria Mircheva, a native of Bulgaria, a country accidentally bombed during the Kosovo war, emphasized the need for education and awareness.
“My American history teacher there said that 90 percent of Americans don’t know where Bulgaria is, and some of those are flying up above us,” she said. “In virtual war, what people think is happening is very different to what is actually happening. It’s like a video game, but millions of people die.”