The furore over the News of the World's revelation of abuse by British soldiers of Iraqis is producing new and curious forms of realism, demonstrating that if the Vietnam war was the first to be photographed by critical journalists, and the first Gulf War was the first war-as-televisual-spectacular, that this one is the first to be captured on picture phone.
When Jean Baudrillard said that the first Gulf War did not take place, he meant that it was pure representation, an event that only existed for us as a televised spectacle. He did not mean that thousands of people didn't die in Kuwait and Iraq, simply that this was not what we were referring to when we talked about 'the Gulf War'. Image hid the reality, rather than revealed it. What's different today is that the most powerful images by which this war will be remembered are not those produced by Government-endorsed media agencies or even by independent journalists seeking to look behind the propaganda, but by practitioners in the war itself. These pictures exist not for any political purpose, as propaganda or anti-war protest, but as sheer pornography. These pictures are not of war, but part of it, and so the question of their relationship to reality is irrelevant.
But this unification of representation with reality (I guess what's known in philosophical jargon as naturalism) has worrying consequences: there has been precious little question of how much brutalism may be going on away from cameras, or going on in front of cameras but not ending up in the tabloids. Baudrillard was able to keep alive a sense of a war that happened off screen, away from television cameras, inspite of the politicised image. But now that every soldier has a camera in his pocket and a journalist in his tank, there's a worrying sense in which the Iraq war is taking place, and the image is becoming a depoliticised, naive reality. Via any other medium, images like this would produce an outcry about brutality by the British army, rather than widespread calls to catch the perpetrator. From a picture phone, it becomes pure anecdote.