I have a confession to make. Although I'm almost a pacifist and intend to tell Tony Blair what I think about the upcoming war on Iraq on February 15, 2002 in Glasgow (see http://www.stopwar.org.uk/action.asp#1415Feb for more details), every time the west goes to war, I feel sort of excited.
There are a lot of factors constantly drumming into us the notion that War is Cool. As soon as war begins, all the TV news people spring into action like something out of The Day Today. Dramatic music, impressive graphics, even Peter Snow moving toy tanks around his sand box, all convey the message: "This is it, this is big-time, this is what you've been waiting for! Come join the fun." You can tell they're enjoying themselves. War correspondents live for it.
The military colludes too. They're eager to show off pictures of their neat new weapons inflicting damage on inanimate objects, but they know they can't show actual dead people. This gives rise to the video game-style coverage of the last Gulf War.
And when we view a war, our approach is conditioned by all the war movies we've seen, from The Guns of Navarone to Independence Day. The people covering the war on television seem to be equally influenced. For anyone not actually taking part, a television war is a spectacle: it's entertainment.
And you can't just blame sensationalist downmarket coverage. If you want to truly appreciate the sublime and the beautiful nature of war, watch Werner Herzog's documentary about the last time the US attacked Iraq, Lessons of Darkness (Lektionen in Finsternis). Packed with unbelievable images of burning oilfields and mute Iraqis, if nothing else makes you want to go to war, this should.
War is aestheticised everywhere. Even as exceptionally serious and morally responsible a documentary as Claude Lanzmann's Shoah converts the Nazi holocaust into a high form of art. Its talking heads in green fields telling of terrible horrors have the ritualised quality of high minimalism. Its simple structure, vast length and rigour (no wartime footage, simply testimony) were intended to convey the truth in an unsensationalised fashion, but the result is as formally aesthetic as video art by Gillian Wearing or Andy Warhol.
It is impossible to represent war in any media without making it either poetic or dramatic. Perhaps the exception would be something merely amateurish or stupid like a Chuck Norris movie or Red Dawn, but even then you're more likely to laugh than feel the horrors.
All media, all art is emotional voyeurism. Smash it all, and live your life.