KUWAITIf you looked at all the footage being shot in Kuwait these days, you would be hard-pressed to think peace still reined in the region. Over and over again, as if in some endless loop, run not only the theme but details of war: pictures and video feeds of howitzers firing, gunners gunning, and tanks rolling as if to battle. It's a curious byproduct of waiting for war that simulationfor both reporters and soldiers alikeseems almost as good after a few months of cooling one's jets in the field. Back home, it looks so real, and it sells like hotcakes.
But like a forest lost for the focus on its trees, the reality behind these gritty scenes leaves much to be desired. On Tuesday, for instance, dozens of reporters awoke at the crack of dawn to drive about 50 miles into the desert to see British troops in action. The Brits didn't disappoint either, pulling together one of their combat engineer regiments for a show of how they would quickly breach an Iraqi line. British mine clearers streamed forth, waving mine detectors in front of them and poking and prodding the ground with slender picks. A minibulldozer followed after being given the all-clear, making quick work of a massive sand barrier. Then the rest of the British team drove on through on their heavily-armed Land Rovers, a 50-cal at the ready.
Impressive. But, well, not everybody got the shot. "Could you do it again," asked one photographer. "Are you going again?" asked another. The Brits were happy to oblige the voracious media beast, which perhaps tired of taping the same scenes at American camps, had been hammering them for weeks now for access to the British troops. Suddenly, a pure and simple example of how war is conducted had become a "meta" event. The British military press liasons urged each other to get shots of the photographers photographing the British troops. The photographers kept filming the "re-do." And what was at least a slightly organic happening had become a manufactured scene.
It was good, yes. In fact it was great for an otherwise lazy Tuesday that might have been spent lunching at the $250-a-night Hilton resort or complaining about the service at at other such five-star lodgings in Kuwait. But it was also confusing. "Is that shot a set-up?" asked one reporter running to get some footage of "that shot." "No," I said, but to be honest I really wasn't sure. I bent down and took the picture. Didn't want to miss it. Behind me, reporters and TV crews were piling into the Military Range Rovers to get action shots of the gunners as they roamed across the barren desert, painting the scene of what it just might be like were there really a war.
But of course, in a real war, there wouldn't be a television cameraman sitting on the hood of the Range Rover filming into the gunner's eyes, and screwing up the shot of the photographer who had jumped in the back for his own piece of the action. "Excuse me, you're in my shot," the photographer could be heard saying. "This sort of defeats the purpose," he added, exasperated as the Range Rover began to loop again around the camp. But the TV cameraman just kept on filming. From the sidelines, his compatriot yelled to the photographer why: "Hey, look, he doesn't speak English." Over the loop around the site, neither man budged. Then it occurred to me: Maybe this is what this war will be like after all.