For years now a debate has raged within the US government concerning the use of military drones: unmanned, remote-controlled aerial vehicles with long-range missile capabilities.
Opposing arguments vary, from those based on moral grounds to pragmatic criticisms, with experts saying that “surgical killings” are good for taking out key personalities but have little effect on the long-term viability of terrorist organizations.
From a diplomatic perspective the drones are highly detrimental to Pakistani/US relations. As tribesmen value bravery above all else and see the drones as a symbol of American cowardice.
But at this point, protesting the drones on the basis of their relevance and immorality has become moot: In early August a drone got a confirmed kill on one Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud had a $5 million bounty on his head before being sniped by joystick with a Hellfire missile.
In the West we are gradually becoming pro-drone and anti-flesh. Just like our nonalcoholic beer and “I can’t believe its not butter,” we want our war sans casualties – conflicts fought through computers so as to not get a drop of blood on our soft, Palmolive hands. The rationale is somewhat altruistic, albeit selfish: fewer troops will die, fewer mothers will cry, and the horrors of war will become a thing of the past.
The US military predicts that in less than 40 years they’ll have autonomous drone units that can make all their own decisions, completely eliminating the need for human guidance and observance.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, citizens and politicians were constantly embroiled in a battle over what was moral, what was acceptable and what was necessary. Guantanamo Bay, rendition flights and torture all served as benchmarks for Westerners to gauge their moral pulse against. Each new assault on what we considered to be our humanity deserved to be challenged and inspired fierce debate.
But when we remove the humans from the equation – when war becomes literally inhuman – what’s left to debate? War crimes will become guiltless: a mere twisting of knobs. Slowly, with each OS update, innocent casualties will be curbed to an acceptable level. The Marine will be replaced by the computer programmer – a meek nerd so far from the action as to be absolved completely of its consequences.
With robots off fighting our wars for us, we’ll have nothing left to do but quietly sip our lattes and listen to our iPods. While somewhere, far off in the distance, a drone may or may not be dropping 50kg units of hellfire on some yet-to-be-named combatants. It’s not even post moral … it’s a Zen algorithm that melts steel.
This is a strange indicator of our retreat into the virtual when you consider that our so-called enemies are willing to sacrifice everything, their own bodies and very existence for a chance to kill one or two of our soldiers. We see their tactics as irrational, and they see us perhaps as we already are: machines.– Douglas Haddow