Saturday, November 26, 2011

War and Efficiency: Unintended Consequences?

A Facebook friend posted a link to a news story about the use of drones (unmanned aircraft) in warfare, War By Remote Control: Drones Make It Easy.

Warfare used to be a bloody, up close affair. Men killed other men. Death was instantaneous for many and serious wounds eventually resulted in death for most others. 

Now, war is too much like a video game. We have improved our methods of killing; invented weapons that can do maximum damage to other human beings from a great physical distance and left us able to distance ourselves emotionally from an enemy that is a blip on a screen. We can kill people whose faces we never see; we no longer have to wait until we see the whites of their eyes to fire on them. There is no sense of connection that the enemy breathes, loves, and lives just as we do, nothing to make us question war itself.  We've made it so much easier to kill and so much easier to wash our hands of that killing. Ironic that in a nation that prides itself on being Christian, we've collectively become Pontius Pilate.

For today's Americans, who haven't had a modern war on American soil, war is a distant entity, brought home only when the wounded men and women, now saved due to advances in modern medicine, return to their families. The rest of us feel momentary sympathy for the wounded vets who return missing body parts and who are emotionally battered and damaged, but we forget them pretty soon. When we lie down in our beds, there are no drones flying  in the dark over our heads.

Vietnam was the last war (technically a police action) that we had to fully feel and experience. The media was filled with Vietnam. We knew that the average age of the soldiers in Vietnam was 19. We knew how many died each day. We saw their flag draped coffins on the evening news. A lot of us didn't like war and we protested against it. We flashed peace symbols, sang protest songs, and marched in solidarity against  not just the Vietnam War, but any war.

We have lost the urgency to prevent war or to put an end to existing wars. Our collective conscience has become as removed from the horrors of war as the remote mechanisms that we use to fight wars. War should be messy and painful. It should make us lose sleep at night. War must be atrocious enough to repulse us, to make us be willing to go to any means necessary to put an end to warfare. The automation of efficient killing makes it far easier to engage in warfare and that's the problem.

7 comments:

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

For the last several wars, my biggest complaint was that we did not get the nation to get skin in the game... I think that would have made a difference in many ways.

Beth said...

In yet another case of life imitating "Star Trek" (geek alert, people), I am reminded of the episode in which two nations waged war by computer models, sending however many of their own people into killing chambers. They had decided that it was much more civilized that way.

Of course, Captain Kirk went all righteous on their ass (and deservedly so), destroying the killing chambers so that they had to remember just how bad war really is.

Even 40 years later, there is a valuable lesson there. War cannot be Sanitized for your Protection. It's ugly, it's messy, it smells, and people die. We would be wise to remember that.

Lisa :-] said...

Yes, I am a liberal, but there is one issue I have felt strongly about for a long time. This nation has created a "warrior class" with its all-volunteer military. It is too easy for most of us to push war into the backs of our minds, because our children, our neighbors, our grandkids are not required to participate if they do not chose to do so. It's really easy to mouth platitudes like "Support our troops" when it is not YOUR kid getting blown up by an IED in Afghanistan.

We protested the Viet Nam war because our brothers, classmates and neighbors were sent haflway across the world to get their asses shot off without much choice in the matter. Due to the draft, EVERYBODY was involved in the war...not just the families of young men who "chose" to enlist (and some would say many of those who sign up now don't really have a lot of other choices, but that's a different rant.)

Bring back the draft. Watch how quickly this nation loses its taste for war.

Jono said...

Beth beat me to the Star Trek analogy, but that is what has happened. It is too easy to not care when you don't see the death and destruction that goes on. Vietnam was the last time we got to see the horror every evening on the news. if everyone understood the ugliness they might try harder to stop it.

LdeG said...

I don't know - where I am, many of the people whose kids are getting blown up and coming back damaged are also the ones vehemently supporting our troops.

I'm not sure how much the depersonalization of war has contributed. Our wars now are actually more limited than Korea or Vietnam. And looking back through deep history, people have always perfectly capable of dehumanizing the face-to-face enemy, not to mention the neighbors burned at the stake because of their differing religious beliefs (Protestants burning Protestants, even) and Africans enslaved.

As long as many of us believe on some level that it is our right, and even a sign of God's favor, to take what we can and protect what we think of as ours, we will find ways to distance ourselves from the consequences to others, and there will be war.

I was appalled awhile back to have a very publicly Christian high school friend respond to a quote from MLK Jr. on non-violent coexistence who responded "Get the radical Islamist, Russia, the Taliban and the Sunnis to agree and I am all for that
Oh...I forgot to mention the Chinese, the Serbs and the others who want to kill us...."

Nance said...

How did I miss this post?!

I say, reinstate the draft with no deferments; keep the infantry; fight only with weapons the enemy has available to them and THEN let's see how quick we are to jump into war again.

(Okay, that might be overkill, but, hey...)

Nance said...

Mr. Mature adds: And Cabinet members and all of congress should be embedded with troops for two weeks early in the battle in the hottest spot. "After all, Washington led his troops."