The bombing of Belgrade seen as an exploitation movie

So, we’re at war. Funny, it doesn’t feel like it. And I speak as a veteran of several wars-by-proxy — I survived both Operation Desert Storm, and the Falklands Conflict (or at least the media coverage thereof), and those were REAL wars in comparison. Even though Kosovo is at relatively close range in comparison, there isn’t the same sense of…well, theatre. For good war is like good cinema; you need characters to empathise with, and a plot which will provide narrative thrust for the heroes’ actions. All this seems sadly lacking in this case; all you’ve really got is a load of Balkans being cruel to another load of Balkans. From the humanitarian point of view this is reprehensible; from the aesthetic point of view, it’s the rough equivalent ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII’ — nothing we haven’t seen far too often before. Am I the only person suffering from genocide fatigue?

It’s also kind of hard to work out what we’re going to accomplish here, since we are dealing with 600 years worth of conflict. A couple of days of bombing isn’t going to counteract that, no matter how many speeches Bill Clinton and Tony Blair make. Whatever happened to “hearts and minds”? We don’t like them killing each other so…we’re going to do it for them. I’m not entirely convinced by the moral argument apparently on view here.

Part of the problem is that NATO is now an organisation without an enemy; it’s as if James Bond suddenly discovered that SMERSH and SPECTRE had given up. He’d be left desperately casting round for alternative enemies. Looking at ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, this means resorting to the sort of evil genius – no, make that Evil Genius – which is entirely unconvincing. And, for Jonathan Pryce read Slobodan Miloso…ok, so I’ve suddenly realised I don’t even know how to spell the bugger’s name. [You never had this problem with Hitler] And he certainly doesn’t seem to be coming across as more than lukewarm on the IQ scale, though the “evil” [*DR* Evil to you!] is predictably being pumped up. Last month it was Glenn Hoddle, this week it’s someone who sounds more like a tennis player than a threat to Civilization As We Know It.

We’re a bit lacking on the hero front as well. At least in Desert Storm, we had Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf; I’ve no idea who’s running the show this time, and I doubt whoever it is will be remembered in the same breath as General Patton or Montgomery. This is actually probably very sensible, since there’s not much glory to be had leading the combined armed forces of countries whose population totals 500 million or so, against…some Mig-29s and a bunch of enthusiastic ethnic cleaners. You are *expected* to kick serious ass; for professional soldiers this is the equivalent of a 3rd round tie in the FA Cup, away at a non-league side. Keep quiet, get the job done and pray you don’t screw up.

The script in this particular conflict also needs some tightening up, since we have the plot equivalent of a long-running soap opera: Bosnia is having an affair with Kosovo, but Serbia comes home early and finds them in bed together. Meanwhile Croatia is demanding to be taken seriously as an actress, while Slovenia is off opening a supermarket somewhere. Unless you’ve been following the story during, oh, the past couple of centuries, it’s understandable if you want to flip over from Newsnight to the Channel 5 documentary about striptease, or even The Weather In Norwegian.

All told, this is the military equivalent of ‘The Avengers’ — something that probably seemed a good idea at the time, but which in a few years time will be looked back on with raised eyebrows and a “What WERE we thinking?” expression. Because it’s , which is mere empty posturing and a chance to use up a few Cruise missiles before their sell-by date. It’s not often I find myself in line with the hardcore of the German Green party and Tony Benn, but pardon me if I opt to wait for the video of this one.