Paul P. Mealing

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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Be afraid, be very afraid

This video was attached to the following email:

Drone Controllers

For non-pilots, these controllers are in Nevada and are each flying a drone thousands of miles away in the combat zone in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their left hand is on the throttle controlling the drone's engine.

Note all the buttons which perform various tasks without removing the hand from the throttle.

The right hand is flying the plane.

Welcome to the new world order. This is modern warfare.

Today's headline: 'Missiles fired from Nevada controlled drone aircraft kill Taliban leader'

Watch how it's done. Turn the speakers on & watch in full screen.


I don’t know if this is a simulation or the real thing, but I commented on the deployment of military drones in a post I wrote last November, titled: We have to win the war against stupidity first.

If it’s the real thing then it makes me and anyone else who watches it something of a voyeur. I refuse to watch videoed assassinations because it feeds their purpose, but is this any different?

There are a lot of pertinent issues here, not least the implication that this is how wars will be fought in the future, but let’s start with the most obvious one: how is this perceived by non-Western eyes?

Let’s reverse the scenario: how would people in the West respond if this technology was adopted by Iran or North Korea or even Russia or China? At present I believe that only America and Israel actually deploy it. Is this a case of might is right? Those with the best military technology are axiomatically those with the moral prerogative to use it. Because that’s how it appears.

We routinely accuse suicide bombing as an act of cowardice, but is this perceived as any less cowardly by those who are on the receiving end?

Someone once pointed out, in reference to the deployment of U-boats by the Germans in WWI (but it actually applies to all military conflicts), if one’s opponent has a technological advantage then one’s only chance of success is to break the rules – in other words, play dirty. This is why suicide bombing is the weapon of choice by people who believe they are being invaded by a technologically superior force, especially when the superiority is indisputably dominant.

And there are other issues: the scenario is reminiscent of Milgram’s experiment, which demonstrated how easy it is to inflict mortal injuries on a complete stranger who is sight unseen. The couple in the video are so relaxed and detached from the life-and-death consequences of their actions that it makes me wonder if it’s not just a training session.

In the 1960s I can still remember reading a MAD magazine that satirically showed 2 chess opponents facing each other off with ballistic missile launchers instead of chess pieces and consequently destroying each other, the chess board and the room in which they were playing. It was a commentary on the cold war mentality of the time and the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could render the planet virtually uninhabitable without any army taking the field.

We no longer see that as a threat, but the idea of waging war without committing ground troops (which is theoretically the same scenario we have in the video) has strong political appeal despite the obvious moral issues that it raises.

There are 2 fundamental issues, one of which was addressed in my post last November. Firstly, the entire operation is dependent on ‘intelligence’ that the ‘target’ is the enemy. In Vietnam, the CIA used ‘assassination squads’ made up of local tribesmen to target specific enemies. Barry Petersen, an Australian seconded to the CIA in that conflict, fell out with his superiors when he refused to use Montagnard tribesmen, loyal to him, as assassination squads, despite their commendable military record (Frank Walker, The Tiger Man of Vietnam). His reasoning was that they would be used to settle personal vendettas, creating distrust and secondary enmity that would not help win the war. In a tribal environment, like Afghanistan and Iraq, this type of abuse of ‘intelligence’ can also occur.

But it’s the psychological component of this type of warfare that makes it most unpalatable, at least, to me. Unfortunately, intervention by Western military units have shown extraordinary lack of cultural sensitivity in the countries they become involved in. This was true in Vietnam, in Iraq, and, I suspect, Afghanistan. Sometimes military leaders on the ground recognise this when their political leaders don’t. America, in particular, doesn’t have a good record in this area.

If ones insists on waging a war without face to face involvement then the consequences will be dire for everyone concerned. The psychological impact on the civilians of a country being attacked by robotic planes can not be overstated. It will foster hate, resentment and a stubborn will to reek vengeance. All you have to do is put yourself in their shoes.


J. Hamlyn said...

Speechless. It reminds me of the footage recently made available from Wikileaks:

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi J.

I couldn't watch the link without signing up, but I think I've seen it before: the Reuters journalist who was shot.

I saw an interview (on Australian TV) of the soldier who tried to save the child (who was shot up in the van) and was reprimanded by his immediate superior when he sought counseling after the event. He was told "to get the sand out of your vagina and suck it up."

Says a lot about the culture in the military.

Regards, Paul.

Eli said...

I had the same thought about the Milgram experiment. There are even a few songs I know that make the same point about becoming further and further removed from the psychological (and political: remember, no soldiers means no dead soldiers) consequences. It's more than a little disturbing.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Eli,

Yes, I agree. It is 'disturbing' if this is seen as a trend to military interventions in the future. I can actually see merit in military intervention, when, for example, a group of people are facing genocide. But becoming a faceless enemy is arguably the worst way to go about it.

Regards, Paul.