War as a Spectator Event

tags: News, war, media, Ukraine, journalism

Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics." 

I was in sixth grade the first time I watched a war.

We had only just gotten cable at our home in rural Indiana, and after school, my brother and I would turn on CNN to see the sky over Baghdad filtered through night-vision lenses, bathed in a neon green color reminiscent of the glow sticks we liked to wave at the skating rink.

Soon, our dinnertime conversations were peppered with talk of Scud missiles and General Norman Schwarzkopf (as German Americans, we quickly mastered his name) as we filled our parents in on the dramatic scenes we watched while they worked.

My dad had little appetite for our reports. A reluctant Vietnam veteran, he had experienced the first televised US war as a combatant, and had no desire in 1991 to watch the bombs fall on Baghdad.

But my dad's experience was not the norm. For most Americans, war has been a spectator event, watched in crowded theaters and quiet living rooms. The invasion of Ukraine is no different. Even though the media has changed -- the current war is unfolding not just on cable news but also on TikTok and Twitter feeds -- the act is the same: most of us consume wars rather than experience them.

Watching war on screen is complicated. Viewing war can deepen our empathy, lead to greater aid and philanthropy and encourage pacifism. But it can also be a source of manipulation, misinformation and even inertia. That is why, as we watch another war begin, we should think carefully about how we consume it.

Read entire article at CNN

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