Much digital ink has been spilled over how cyber and unmanned technologies are changing the nature of war, allowing it to be fought more secretly, more subversively and with greater discretion. But the single biggest shift in the sociology of war in the past quarter-century has been not in the way it is fought, but in the relationship between its grim realities and the perceptions of those on the home front. Indeed, it is precisely the increasing visibility of ordinary warfare due to communications technology that is driving U.S. efforts to redefine the rules of engagement. And ironically, this is resulting in an unraveling of old normative understandings about how to achieve human security.
These sea changes began at least two decades ago with the rise of two information technologies that shifted the civil-military balance in Western wars. The first was the shift to 24-hour news media, whose global reach and real-time coverage enabled citizens to imagine themselves voyeuristically “embedded” with armed forces while in the safety of their homes. This was in stark contrast to earlier wars, about which civilians at home heard much propaganda but understood little until usually long after the fact. The psychological impact of knowing what is happening in real time has rendered Western publics increasingly casualty averse, driving industrialized militaries toward unmanned systems and a heightened focus on force protection.