The impact of the events of 9/11 has been the subject of numerous publications. Social scientists have asked how society has changed since then from a variety of perspectives and concerns; Philip Hammond's is conflict and military intervention. He is interested in how the nature and conduct of war has been transformed as Western societies and their leaders attempt to regain a sense of purpose and meaning following the collapse of the political certainties of the Cold War.
Central to this are the media that have turned post-9/11 war and conflict into spectacle, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. They are "postmodern" wars, and Hammond examines their character, from the so-called humanitarian intervention in the Balkans to the War on Terror.
The book is not a critique of the media nor an inquiry into the changing nature of warfare and conflict. Rather, it focuses on the usefulness of "postmodernity" and "postmodern thought" as a means of understanding, analysing and interrogating the nature of contemporary politics and international relations. Drawing on Baudrillard's influential essay on the 1991 Gulf conflict, Hammond provides an excellent discussion of contemporary warfare. The focus on spectacle, image and attempts to make conflict "risk-averse", a kind of warfare without death and killing, is a response to the "crisis of meaning" in Western societies. The rise of risk society, the decline of trust and globalisation are, among other developments, responsible for what Hammond describes as a "hollowing-out of the national political sphere". To regain a sense of shared values, Western leaders and governments have resorted to using the spectacle and presentation of international interventions, particularly on humanitarian grounds, to bring people together.
Ultimately these efforts have been unsuccessful. The War on Terror is also assessed to have failed in this respect. Manipulating images, managing news, spinning information and pumping out propaganda have led to greater cynicism, further mistrust of political elites and a heightened sense of vulnerability.
The book also concludes that postmodern thought - or some aspects of it - offers insight into the nature of politics today; more so than approaches that see the present as a continuation of the past. However, it has limitations. What is labelled as the "bleak pessimism" of the approach leads the author to argue that we need to think "beyond postmodernity" to make sense of what is happening today.
Who is it for? Postgraduate students of media, culture, politics and international relations.
Presentation: Makes a difficult subject accessible and engaging.
Would you recommend it? Yes.
Media, War and Postmodernity
Author: Philip Hammond