Joni Dahlstrom
December 11, 2009

Sci Fi warfare isn’t coming to our future, it is here. And there will be consequences for every human on the planet. A new battlefield has been created, one in which the odds are tipped decidedly in favor of technological prowess over and above humanity.

From the military perspective, drone warfare is really cool, make that really really cool.

Witness the recent announcement that yet another Al Qaida Number Three Man, the fifth Number Three, has been eliminated in Pakistan by a drone attack. Eliminate is an interesting word. In military operations, it is impolitic and impolite to use words like kill and murder against enemy forces, thus we don’t kill people, but eliminate or take out Al Qaida. People don’t die, they are merely deadly enemy combatants removed from the gaming field. There is no war here, no human cost, no violation of due process, violation of allied air space, just a surgical strike upon a target. In the words of Officer Barbrady, “Move along, nothing to see here.”

From the military perspective, drone warfare is really cool, make that really really cool. Human assets no longer need to be deployed at great personal risk to conduct surveillance or attacks. For the side that owns the drones, warfare might be expensive, but it is quite risk-free. This profoundly changes the risk reward ratio for warfare. There is no need to consider the value of information or destruction of a target weighed against real lives of soldiers.

But more importantly, gone is the need to consider psychological blow-back or mutiny from one’s own forces. Within the joystick world, a US soldier need never get up front and personal with blood and guts on the ground. They need not be present for the mayhem and loss which follows the attack. They not only don’t risk even slight injury, they don’t even have to stick around to hear the screams of the dying.

[efoods]This brings me to a disturbing conclusion. Throughout most of history, war for all of its brutality consisted of battles between and among men, real men, fighting men. From the Iliad onward it was a place where courage, ingenuity, and grit prevailed. Thus one did not bomb innocents, those who were not uniformed participants on the battlefield. All soldiers were cognizant of the horrors they participated in. It was recognized as honorable to face down the enemy, defend oneself and one’s country, confront the evil, and prevail. While brutal, warfare was still regarded as battles amongst men, thus honor was required. Over time, wars took place on a larger scale, but as Americans we still believed that defense was the only proper use of force and honor required standards of conduct.

Thus as it was commonly regarded to be cowardly and inhuman to shoot a man in the back, attacking an unarmed man far from the battlefield wasn’t war, but murder. In law courts, which might be regarded as war without lethal weapons, the accused is given the right to confront his accuser. To kill the unarmed, unsuspecting, and those who do not present immediate threat to life and liberty was simply unacceptable. A platoon of the enemy surrounded and outgunned, always retained the right of surrender and proper treatment.

Which raises the question, how does drone warfare fit into the American world view? As a military planner, it is delightful to be able to spy and kill without risking men. But, picture it from the point of an innocent Afghan or Pakistani, who has nothing to do with Al Qaida or the war on terror. They now live in constant fear, not of a knock on the door, but silent sudden death from the sky. Picture the potential for this technology to be used against anyone, anywhere at any time. Picture the impossibility of any defense or escape or surrender against the man behind the joystick.

The final limitation of war has always been the cost of human capital. There are limits to what human soldiers can and will endure, limits to the actions they will take, all wars ultimately end when the soldiers themselves declare they have had enough of the blood letting. Drone warfare changes that equation, probably in a way we will soon regret.

It is only a matter of time, before the drone is used against us.

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