War on Saddam: Armchair Victims of Blanket War Coverage; Julie McCaffrey Looks at the Roller Coaster of Emotions We May Feel Watching the News Unfold

Article excerpt

Byline: Julie McCaffrey

THE nation sits transfixed in front of television coverage of the military action in Iraq. And as we watch from the safety of our sofas we experience a roller coaster of emotions.

We watch in disbelief as Baghdad erupts in flashes of fire and clouds of black smoke. We are repelled by pictures of dead Iraqi soldiers slumped in a ditch and Iraqi civilians wailing at the sight of their crumpled city. We fear for the PoWs paraded on television, and are distressed and saddened by reports of Allied deaths.

Adding to our multitude of emotions is the excitement of frequent news flashes coupled with confusion about what's really happening - are we winning the war or struggling against the unpredictable pockets of Iraqi resistance?

Of course we've seen war before,but not like this. Advances in technology allow reporters to stand in the middle of the Iraqi desert and bring live pictures of the war into our sitting rooms.

But what effect is the blanket coverage having on its viewers?

Nick Baylif,a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of Cambridge,believes the effects of watching war coverage could vary dramatically from quiet understanding to dangerous and criminal thoughts.

He says: ``When you watch something on television there isn't so much a blanket response,but more a question of people bringing their individual personality to the material they are watching.

``It works in much the same way as two different people watching the same film - one enjoys it and the other one doesn't.If you see explicit war photographs and are a stable adult with a stable view of the world and your own values and concerns, you will incorporate the war coverage into the bigger picture and probably get on with your life.

``The danger is the effect highly emotive material can have on anxious adolescents or unstable adults - that's when the trouble starts. Pictures of British and American soldiers and tanks might make life seem to be pretty cheaply held in the desert and Baghdad. And that makes some people believe the world is out of control.

``I was in New York on September 11 and when you see buildings crash to the ground you do think the world is out of control. But I had a home to go to and friends who could help me, share my troubles and say: `we'll get over this'.

``But if I was a loner in a beds it with no friends and an unusual view of the world I might think differently. …