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Robots Are Being Primed for War
Perhaps the contemporary crop of war strategists grew up watching one too many times Terminator movies. Perhaps it was just unavoidable. Because, at least by its iconography, war is beginning to resemble more and more those cyborg pictures you used to see not long ago a dime a dozen at your local multiplex.
Gone are the Jacksons’ future that was supposed to be, with its friendly rolling maids and servants, doing house chores and helping little Timmy with his homework. A boring and bourgeois future that, frankly, no one will ever miss.
Still, the alternative is not quite as realistic and if your toaster one day becomes a transformer and chases you around the house, well, consider yourself warned. We bet you never read the manual of these things, anyway.
Welcome to the spying drones of today’s warfare, which double as merciless soldiers and will never undergo expensive therapy for their post-traumatic disorders, even after wiping out a whole village full of children and their grandparents.
Such remorseless warrior will never be held accountable for destroying a hospital with our enemy dictator du jour inside. Oops. Blame the operator, some overworked and emotionally damaged guy, sitting in a windowless bunker in Ohioor Virginia. And that may be the good news.
In fact, military defense hawks seem so in awe of the lethal firepower, and apparent efficiency hunting bad guys, of these drones, that many multimillion dollars are already in the pipeline to build more and smaller versions of them.
Field commanders are happy because they do save lives every time they go to work. Strategists concur their use is a necessity of modern warfare. Lobbyists direct the politicians’ focus to the savings of having a robot army. And investors salivate anticipating big returns.
So how come instead of winning and shortening and reducing our war involvement, the U.S. seems to increase everything about it, from troops to tours overseas, from the number of countries deemed a security threat to increased military spending and its burden on the national budget.
The media has a undeniable role in the escalation in military spending too. We can’t assume they are related but every time a drone strike causes civilian casualties, there seems to be a wave of front-page, prime-time reports on the wonders of the unmanned technology of war.
But there’s hardly a need to tread on the explosive minefield of real intent versus propaganda that plagues the debate over the U.S.’s war strategy. So far, what “The Beast of Kandahar,” the bat-winged stealth drone that monitored Osama bin Laden’s last movements, and others like it, have proved to be best at is exactly that: monitoring. And, of course, individual assassination of enemies.
They have fared way less efficiently covering larger, mountainous areas, as it’s been often on display in Afghanistan and Pakistan with disastrous misfires that don’t seem to be that discriminative as military hawks would like it, and usually kill almost as many civilians as enemy combatants.
Mistakes will happen, some will be always eager to point it out, followed by something along the lines of the economy of death: an operation is considered successful according to several factors, including but almost never prioritized or limited by the number of its casualties.
No one will deny either that the increased use of sophisticated software and high-tech devices, packaged in ever smaller, radar-invisible flying machines is only in its infancy, to use an inappropriate term, and will definitely grow exponentially. No wonder potential troop prospects are regularly lured into serving the nation through free video-game courses, available at any army recruiting center, and never too far from college campuses.
If you’re familiar with any 12-year old these days, for example, you already know that most of them have already mastered the art of pressing triggers and wiping zombies from their screen with gusto. Give it a few years, and such a skill may become second-nature and the “only” difference is that they may be wiping out flesh and blood, instead of HD pixels.
The problem with this tragic oversimplification of warfare is well known: one thing is to train pressing buttons. Another is to be under fire and see your comrades fall right in front of you, ridden with bullets.
The realities of the war. i.e., the smell, the dismemberment, the unrecoverable loss could never transpire through screens and consoles. The difference between a skilled video game player and a flesh and blood soldier is exactly that, flesh and blood.
Moreover, those who believe the use of high-tech machinery is a unique development of modern warfare delude themselves and do so at their own risk. We’re still fighting an old-fashioned, costly, unjustifiable war, no matter how you cut it.
We can’t win a war without understanding our enemies. We’re bound to fail, even when we wind up in the winnable side, when we land on the war theater knowing so little about our own motivations.
It turns out that the expression “winning the hearts and minds” is way older than we originally thought, dating back to great wars of conquest of Alexander the Great, Gengis Khan and Attila the Hun.
Perhaps that’s why history recorded their feats, even though they, and many others just like them, were in their own way, ruthless and cruel and tended to show no mercy towards their enemies. History recorded even their sobriquets for a reason.
Even before “history is told by the victors” became the mantra of choice of conquerors of all stripes, those who were defeated contributed almost equally to the legend of their conqueror.
It may be puzzling to us but when the defeated wrote songs about their losses and included references to the despots that vanquished them, they were not just inscribing their own names and history in the vessel of the future the winners were carrying on to the future.
By singing the praises of their enemy, they were also showing how their hearts and minds had been won over way before the first drop of blood reached the parched lands of their defeat.
So we shouldn’t be easily fooled by technology doing its thing to the service of our wars, nor should we believe that this is the way war is being fought in our times.
For as long as we’re trying to subjugate enemies we don’t care to know much about, we’re bound to fail just like others did, thousands of years ago. No matter how precise our modern devices are in the art of killing. No matter how many generations we’re bankrupting to sustain our mighty.
Wars in the future may as well be fought by high-tech machines. But first, we need to reach that future, and if we’d ever learn what ancient armies of the antiquity knew about the art of war, we may not need to fight new ones in the future.
On the other hand, our presumption of power may as well blind us, and lead us to believe our shinning flying machines and our unmanned rocket beasts are guiding us to victory, even when they will not.
It won’t matter, it won’t make any difference. We’ll still be collecting our dead as if their fight meant less than the money spent in their uniforms.