a shift in war reporting


The civilians who had war brought to them: could there be a better encapsulation of the twentieth century’s trajectory of armed conflicts? “That statement shows a real clarity on Gellhorn’s part,” says Jon Lee Anderson, a reporter for The New Yorker who has covered wars in Central America, Iraq, and Syria. Statistics confirm Gellhorn’s insight: the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, for instance, has estimated that in World War I, soldiers constituted 95 percent of casualties; in contemporary conflicts, most of which are intra-national, unarmed civilians account for 80 to 90 percent of casualties. In many of today’s wars, civilians are the deliberate—indeed, the primary—targets: think, for instance, of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Ugandan group that enslaves children; of the militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are systemic practitioners of mass rape and vaginal mutilation; of the Taliban’s bombings of schools and marketplaces; of Al Qaeda’s attacks on Iraqi mosques; of Al Shabaab’s assaults on medical students, teachers, and soccer fans; of the recent wars in Darfur, Colombia, Chechnya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Political theorist John Keane has dubbed these conflicts “uncivil wars” whose perpetrators practice “violence according to no rules except those of destructiveness itself—of people, property, the infrastructure, places of historical importance, even nature itself . . . Some of today’s conflicts seem to lack any logic or structure except that of murder on an unlimited scale.” Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics has written that these new wars replace “the politics of ideas” with “the politics of identity” and cannot, therefore, be understood in conventional political terms.

more from Susie Linfield at Guernica here.