Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Drone Wars

In the very first “Star Wars” movie back in the mid-70’s, Obi-Wan Kenobi makes a reference to “the Clone Wars”. Although he didn’t elaborate on what the Clone Wars were – and regardless of how silly it actually played out when George Lucas finally got around to putting it on the silver screen decades later – it was easy to surmise from his comment that the Clone Wars were a bad time.

Clones and drones aren’t the same thing, but are they really so different? One is biological, the other is mechanical. Other than that, both are carbon copies of a set design, and both presumably exist for a single purpose.

Drones are becoming more and more commonplace in modern warfare, with increasing capabilities and deadlier payloads. Conventional wisdom (at least for those who have drones available to use at their pleasure – namely us) seems to be that they are a good thing: Destroy your target without incurring any personal risk to yourself.

Sounds nice. But have we really thought this through?

Below is an article by Tom Engelhardt that questions our current love affair with drone warfare.

The Folly Of A `Drone War'

As I read this piece, a couple of things caught my attention. The first was this:

“Everything, in fact, will be almost infinitely upgradeable, since we’re still in the robotics equivalent of the age of the "horseless carriage," as Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution assures us. (Just hold your hats, for instance, when the first nano-drones make it onto the scene! They will, according to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, be able to “fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window.”)”

I’ve been hearing about “nano-drones” for some time, and although the technology may or may not be there yet to do what Engelhardt describes above, it’s certainly not a stretch to believe that if we can’t do it today, it won’t be long before we can.

What would a man living 2,000 years ago think if he saw something like that in a vision? How would he describe something he couldn’t possibly understand? Would it possibly sound like this:

Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.

The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.
- Revelation 9:3-10

Interesting. In and of itself, it means nothing; just pure speculation.
But it is interesting.

Moving beyond possible Biblical connections, Engelhardt goes on to say:

“So why am I not excited -- other than the fact that the drones are also killing civilians in disputed but significant numbers in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, creating enemies and animosity wherever they strike, and turning us into a nation of 24/7 assassins beyond the law or accountability of any sort? Thought of another way, the drones put wings on the original Bush-era Guantanamo principle -- that Americans have the inalienable right to act as global judge, jury, and executioner, and in doing so are beyond the reach of any court or law.

Whatever the short-term gains from introducing drone warfare in these last years, we are now locked into the 24/7 assassination trade -- with our own set of non-suicide bombers on the job into eternity. This may pass for sanity in Washington, but it’s surely helping to pave the road to hell.

Haven’t any of these folks ever seen a sci-fi film? Are none of them Terminator fans? Are they sure they want to open the way to unlimited robot war, keeping in mind that, if this is the latest game in town, it won’t remain mainly an American one for long. And just wait until the first Iranian drone takes out the first Baluchi guerrilla supported by American funds somewhere in Pakistan. Then let's see just what we think about the right of any nation to summarily execute its enemies -- and anyone else in the vicinity -- by drone.”

Think closely about these two statements in the above:
“ . . . that Americans have the inalienable right to act as global judge, jury, and executioner, and in doing so are beyond the reach of any court or law.”
“ . . . the right of any nation to summarily execute its enemies -- and anyone else in the vicinity -- by drone.

Judge, jury, and executioner. Not just of your enemies, but anyone else you choose.

Surely, however, not your own people. It would never come to that. Would it?

. . . the AG was squeezing harder and harder. Already they were starting to fly patrols out west using UAV’s equipped with thermal scanners, computer recognition systems, and Vulcan III cannons. They had decimated our ranks in the desert regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, and as the AG’s grip got tighter , they were becoming bolder about their methods and less concerned with who might see them. There was a war going on, you know.
- excerpt from What So Proudly We Hailed

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