Milosevic finds a strange profit in playing host to enemy reporters

After 17 years, I am still trying to come to terms with the modern way of conducting war and its reporting. My problem will be familiar to all those of my generation (or older) who, as schoolchildren, marked the progress of World War II with flags on maps spread over their kitchen walls. We were brought up with the concept of total war as exemplified by the Blitz and the razing of Dresden and with the notion that only traitors or spies remained behind enemy lines.

After 17 years, I am still trying to come to terms with the modern

way of conducting war and its reporting. My problem will be familiar to

all those of my generation (or older) who, as schoolchildren, marked the

progress of World War II with flags on maps spread over their kitchen

walls. We were brought up with the concept of total war as exemplified

by the Blitz and the razing of Dresden and with the notion that only

traitors or spies remained behind enemy lines.



Now, it seems, total war is out. The military is kept on a tight rein by

politicians who are terrified of casualties on both sides. The result is

that generals are prevented from winning, as in Kosovo, because our

aircraft are allowed to reduce only the military bits of Yugoslavia to

rubble and our soldiers merely to feed refugees outside its borders. And

just as curious, the combatants allow nationals from the other side to

remain on their territory as war reporters.



I first encountered these phenomena in 1982 when we set out to recover

the Falklands. The fuss over the sinking of the Belgrano frankly

astounded me. So did the continued presence of British journalists in

Buenos Aires from which they sent news packages showing us how

determined the Argentinians were to hold the Malvinas. It is true that

war was never declared; but it was certainly waged. Argentine

journalists in London had no difficulty in portraying a Britain somewhat

less resolved, given the scepticism among journalists I had to deal with

over whether the expeditionary force was anything more than sabre

rattling while the diplomats found a peaceful solution.



Then, ten years later in the Gulf, Saddam let British and American TV

reporters describe the passage of missiles past their hotel windows in

Baghdad. And now, another decade on, they are reporting hourly from

Belgrade.



We must assume that Galtieri, Saddam and Milosevic saw, or see, some

advantage.



What it is is less clear when few secrets can be hidden from our high

definition spies-in-the-skies, when we tend to repose more trust in

familiar TV faces we know and when no British correspondent, taking due

account of censorship, wants to return home branded gullible or a

poodle.



Perhaps dictators believe it is a price worth paying so their

state-controlled journalists can remain in enemy capitals. Serb

reporters would have to be deaf, daft and blind in London if they were

not able to serve up nightly tales for their regime of high level

dissent, doubts and deep misgivings about the NATO campaign. But they

could get them if they stayed in Belgrade simply by watching satellite

TV. Another of the modern ways of making war in democracies, after all,

is to shout your reservations from the chimneytops while your boys are

risking their lives. It’s a funny new world, to adapt a phrase.



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