The image of war in western society 1

September 25, 2006

I was born in Italy in the year 1979.
Therefore, like most of my peers, I have never seen war with my eyes. Having been living a quite life until now, I was seldom witness even of acts of violence like riots, criminality and so on. In the 80s, when I was a pupil at the ground school, I had the idea that war was a terrible thing that had happened in the past and that should not and could not happen again, because this war could have been “the last one”. I associated war with the image of destroyed cities, nuclear explosions and scenes of ruthless violence.
I think that in this phase I got most these images from the japanese anime, which were regularily broadcasted by italian tv channels. Many of these anime featured futurible sceneries of highly destructive war between humans and alien races (i.e. the “Robotech” series) or post-atomic worlds full of violence and injustice (i.e. “Hokuto no Ken”, “Mirai Shounen Conan”). Something in my perception changed with the fall of the Berlin wall. I was 10 then and I remember staying the whole night watching on tv the scenes of rejoycing crowds tearing down “die Mauer”. I was very impressed. In the past 5 years I had learned at school that the world I was living in was divided between West and East and that the symbol of our division was the Berlin wall. The photos of the wall were present in my school book as a symbol of this division. But now the tv was showing me that the history written in the books is not definitive and that it changes and evolves. Even at the age of 10-11, I had the perception that the world was changing.
Then the war broke out. The year was the 1991 and the war was the First Gulf War. Italy participated in this conflict, for the first time since the end of the World War II, Italy was officially fighting against another country, Iraq. I remember that, at the beginning of the war, I and other other school mates were wondering if and when Iraq was going to bomb our city using its “super cannon” or its “lethal” SCUD missiles. In my opinion, his fear was a natural reflex of the image of war that we had seen until that point.
Instead, this war appeared to be totally different. Life in Italy was going on as every day and there was no difference with the peace time. But everyday I was spending hours and hours watching the war in tv. It was “amazing” and “exciting”. The image of the night bombings on Baghdad and the footage of the bombs precisely hitting their targets looked really like a film or a video-game. War seemed to be totally different from what I previously thought. Exciting, technological, fast. These concepts have been outlined by authors like Paul Virilio and James Der Derian in their description of the Gulf War I.

But here is the question. How much “real” and “real war” was what I saw on TV? Those images were giving me a totally different impression of what a war is. The were someway inducing me to change the sketched idea of war that I beared in my mind. Millions of people had feelings similar to mines, probably.
Were those image changing our idea of war and our moral evaluation about war?
I think so. I think that images have that power. In my further theoretical posts I will outline my conception of the mass media influence.


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