This is a kind of war, with its mud, tears and human misery, that our generation thought had gone for ever

I am glad that everyone else knows what to think about the war in Kosovo, because I don't. This is probably a terrible failing in a columnist for, as the battle lines are drawn up among commentators, it is surely important to know which side you are on. I admire the certainty of those who say we shouldn't have intervened because Nato is the Great Satan. I admire the impulse of those who say we should have intervened because something has to be done. I guess at the end of the day, like most people, I veer towards the something-has-got-to-be-done angle, as long as someone else does it.

Yet confusion reigns because left-wing isolationism looks exactly the same as the isolationism of the right. Droning on about the failures of the past ten years doesn't make this war any more of a failure than any other war. War is always an admission of failure, no matter if it comes dressed in a flak jacket and talks of heroes and villains.

What has been so shocking about this war is that it reminds us of other wars, wars we thought were long over. It is not modern enough for our liking. It is about human misery crammed into fields of mud, it is about tears falling in the rain. It is not what we thought it would be at all. We thought that nowadays war was different, that all the technology made it cleaner. We believed cruise missiles could see in the dark. It turns out that they can't even see when it's cloudy. We thought guided weapons were just that, that they could magically guide themselves to wherever we wanted. We thought stealth bombers actually were invisible.

In short, we believed the hype and the hype was never presented to us more beautifully than in the Gulf war. I watched every minute of the Gulf war because I was pregnant and waiting to go into labour. The Scuds and the fireworks and the arcade games shown to us by the American military made quite a show. Saddam was the perfect baddie of the video nasty. Slobba is shaping up in a sub-Saddam sort of way. Yet when I see Tony Blair doing his best to be warlike and steadfast, like Churchill or Thatcher, I recognise the confusion on his face.

He is of a generation that knows nothing of war. Nothing at all. Our fantasies of war were produced at a time when we feared nuclear war. War, when it came, would be simple: it would mean total annihilation. It would be the end of the world - there was something almost comforting about Mutually Assured Destruction. In the sublime light of a nuclear bomb, everything would be gone.

Sometimes we worried about it, even campaigned against it. I went to Greenham to pull down the fence. War was male and we were female. War was death and we were life. War could never have been spoken of as "humanitarian". We would have laughed at the very idea. I went on CND marches that were so civilised we were told by stewards not to rise to the bait of the warmongers who taunted us. The rallies were so peaceful I found them boring. CND seemed to be against nuclear war and for . . . nothing but global niceness.

Little by little, however, we succumbed to the war machine. We shared its dream of efficiency. All those kids playing computer games were being trained in hand-eye co-ordination, the stuff of future fighter pilots. This was not a good thing, we thought, as we bought another Gameboy. While our children zapped monsters of all kinds with one flick of the wrist, we read novels about the first world war. A terrible, terrible mess of blood and gas, of blindness, of shell-shock, of lice-infested hunger, of hand-to-hand fighting. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. The old lie. We nodded sagely, for that war was history. A modern war would never be like that.

Yet here is one in front of us. And it is not as we imagined. If we do send in ground troops they will have to slog up mountains and hide out in forests. They will have to see the enemy not on a screen but up close. We have little stomach for this old-fashioned kind of battle. We have almost no relation to those who would fight it. I don't know anyone in the army, do you? I don't know anyone who might be killed clobbering Slobba. I know only that it won't be me, it won't be any of my family.

Kosovo is two hours away, as we keep being told. It's in Europe. It is so very near. The media continue to muddle up their ability to beam pictures into our living-rooms with our ability to act upon those pictures. If we view the world in flight times, as journalists are wont to do, then nowhere is too far away - Rwanda, China, East Timor. The truth is that people don't think like that. Time-space compression, that intriguing feature of modernity, does not mean that we feel any closer to these places. We are an incredible distance from the mass of humanity in misery on the borders of Kosovo because we have no way to understand their experience. We can only gawp at it. We must help - but let's not confuse our desire to help with any actual comprehension of what is going on.

It is possible to help without knowing what ultimately should be done; it is possible to feed people without having been starving; it is possible to argue for a political settlement but also to watch the war and do nothing to stop it.

What technology has brought us is not our fantasy of surgical strikes with no casualties but merely the capacity to involve us at a distance through incessant reporting. Poets brought home the first world war. Now we have intrepid reporters vying to bring us the worst possible news. This is the modernisation of war. We bear witness, second hand, to the suffering and, when we have had enough, we switch channels because sometimes even that is too much to ask us to do.