Vital Signs

Illusions of a Tidy War

In the final days and hours preceding the current Persian Gulf war, reports extolling the dazzling information-age capabilities that American troops would take into battle against Saddam Hussein became a media staple.  Newspapers, newsweeklies, and television vied with one another in enthusing about the latest in satellite-guided bombs, unmanned aircraft, and state-of-the-art digital gadgetry.  The media coverage of the war’s first hours and the spectacular air campaign that ensued reinforced these impressions.

The schematic versions of “today’s battlefield” used to juice up these stories—elaborate graphics for print, animation on television, and, finally, video clips of the real thing—offered Americans a bowdlerized version of the “Revolution in Military Affairs.”  For the last decade and more, this RMA has been the subject of intense interest among defense experts.  According to its advocates, the RMA is transforming the way that the Pentagon fights.  In sharp contrast to the uncertainty, error, waste, and carnage that characterized combat in the industrial age, U.S. forces today wage war with economy and precision.  For the United States, military power, once a blunt instrument, has become a scalpel.  At least so the average citizen perusing the latest issue of Time or taking his cues from FOX News might reasonably conclude.  

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