Visions of War: Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age

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9780312200459: Visions of War: Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age

From the dawn of time to the present, from the days of mammoth hunting to the era of Scud-busting, pictures of war constitute the most persistent genre of images human beings have created. In fact, human beings are the only creatures who engage in these two activities--organized violence and the making of pictorial images--and the author shows how both art and war emerge from the same source: the hunter's eye.

This book explores and analyzes the thirteen thousand-year legacy of pictures of war from various cultures over the centuries, from the Stone Age cave paintings and monumental sculpture of the ancient Near East to the art of the classical period and the Middle Ages, from pre-contact Mesoamerican imagery to Napoleonic propaganda and totalitarian art and on to the instantaneous images of the Gulf War.

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Review:

David D. Perlmutter delivers an idiosyncratic and highly original history of warfare by focusing on its images, starting with cave art nearly 20,000 years old and concluding with today's computer games. In between, he brings aesthetic and photojournalistic sensibilities to a series of studies on how artists and cultures (mainly Western) have depicted captains, comrades, enemies, and the terror of war. Readers will find famous pictures on these pages, such as the six American soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi in the Second World War. ("The original group of six could have been cast by Warner Brothers," Perlmutter writes. "Their ethnic background included Anglo-Saxon, Pima Indian, Czechoslovak, and French. Their diversity became one of the selling points of the image and its ideal--they were America, or rather how America wanted to see itself in olive drab in wartime.") Perlmutter shows how some well-known images, such as the crumbling mosaic portraying Alexander the Great and Darius II in close combat, are works of fiction. Alexander and Darius "probably never came within shouting distance," yet this famous picture, in its way, reveals larger truths about combat. And he wonders how the antiseptic, high-tech images of "living room wars" such as the Persian Gulf War will alter warfare in the future: "Could training in virtual war simulations, no matter how realistic in the other elements of war--including noise, jolting movement, and variations in temperature--fail to teach nascent warriors to fear death?" Visions of War lacks a single thesis, but it more than compensates through dozens of fascinating discussions of individual war imagery and what they reveal about human nature and civilization. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

David D. Perlmutter is currently area head for political communication at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He is the author of Photojournalism and Foreign Policy and has published articles in a number of scholarly journals, including Historical Methods, Visual Anthropology, and Journal of Communication.

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