Whereas Shuttlecock employs a novel within the novel to bring the war to the reader, Out of This World relies on pictures taken by Harry Beech, photojournalist. Harry has published two collections of his photographs, "Aftermaths" and "Decade," both chronicling the armed conflicts of the world. Swift makes it quite clear that the war devastates those involved, destroying not just individuals but entire cultures. As an example of this reckless destruction Harry describes how the medieval city of Nuremberg had been reduced to rubble. The city has been rebuilt with "painstaking" attention to detail but as Harry points out, "It is not real, of course." (p.103) History itself is in this way erased by war.
In The Sweet Shop Owner, Shuttlecock, and Waterland war is experienced second hand, either through the experiences of one's father or through peers, but none of the main characters are forced to fight. Harry Beech is the single exception, though he too manages to avoid the actual fighting to become an official photographer -- a "detached" observer -- and the perfect narrator of the dismal events that he witnesses. What is interesting is that there are actually very few battle depictions, but they are unnecessary in light of the tone assumed in the descriptions of the aftermath of the war, such as Harry's time spent at the Nuremberg War Trials as a photographer. The most frightening thing of all, says Harry, is that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not villains or monsters but "dull, nondescript, headphoned men, thin and pale from months in prison, with the faces of people in waiting rooms or people co-opted into some tedious, routine task." (p.101)
Harry's relationship with war is the most personal of any character Swift has written. This is in large part because of Harry's father, Robert Beech who was awarded the Victoria Cross for losing an arm in World War I. Robert Beech is also the chairman of the family run Beech Munitions Corporation. The irony of his family's profession is not lost on Harry, who is on his way to Belfast when his father is killed by terrorists who are hinted to be from the IRA.
Harry is not the only character in Out of This World to experience war. Joe, Sophie, and Anna do as well. Their war, which is fought in Greece,is more a series of coups than an actual war. Anna lived through the devastation of Greece in World War II, while Anna and Joe witness the incongruous mixture of tourists and tanks around the Parthenon during the post-war instability. Describing the atmosphere in Greece "just a week after the coup," Joe points out that it felt like "only some strange diversion -- nothing essentially had changed." (p.159) And in recounting a business party he attended: "What I do remember about that party is the soldiers. The soldiers at the front gates, the parked jeeps, and the soldiers visible across the lawns. . ." (p.160) People in Greece try to ignore the presence of the military, as if it were all part of normal life, nothing out of the ordinary. Harry would attribute this attitude to the press. Watching this type of activity on television every night has hardened the tourists. They are on vacation, and nothing, not even a small coup, can interrupt their package tour.
War disrupts the lives of Swift's characters and forms one of the themes that recur in his writing. One of the primary struggles facing his characters is the resurrection and restructuring of lives shattered by war. This is portrayed in especially poignant terms in Out of This World by Harry's pictures, each of which is a vivid recollection of a tragic past.