Are drones changing the nature of warfare?

June 8, 2015 12:40 pm

“A life for a life”, an eye for an eye, everything is so black and white in Prince Harry’s world, well in his military world. The good guys kill the bad guys, just like in the movies, or in the video games. I’m sure his military leaders would be proud; he has mastered the art of acting first, thinking later, or not thinking at all.

The soldier’s ability to divide the world into simple binaries, good vs evil, right vs wrong makes it easier to wage war. There are no grey areas. But what about when the wrong people are killed? Captain Wales did not seem to acknowledge the possibility that some of the targets he had hit in his Apache helicopter could have been civilians, or simply the wrong targets. In fact, he did not appear to have any opinion on the war in Afghanistan, which means he is doing an excellent job. There is no danger of this prince questioning the actions of the establishment or the morality of his own actions. He is the perfect soldier, one who just does.

drones

However, in the future, that job will no longer be necessary as technological advancements change the nature of warfare. Harry’s attitude is that of somebody who has been trained to think like a machine. This is no longer a requirement because the machines now do the jobs that soldiers used to do. Waging war is being taken out of the hands of soldiers and into the hands of unmanned drones. Drone strikes take away the need to even think about the nature of the action being conducted. They allow for distance, physically and mentally. Somebody can push a button from thousands of miles away and obliterate whole villages. This disconnect removes a sense of responsibility on behalf of the person who presses the button. They are not in a plane physically dropping bombs, they are pressing a button and the machine is dropping the bombs.

Apparently President Obama signs off every drone attack that takes place. If this is the case, you would think that there would be more of an idea of how many civilians are killed, yet official figures on civilian deaths are unavailable. Surely if they are able to identify Al-Qaeda members, they are able to count the bodies of ‘collateral damage’? According to CNN, there may have been up to 890 civilian deaths due to drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, including 176 children. By not really knowing how many civilians are killed, they can convince themselves that the collateral damage is low, and the drones are justified.

The ‘War on Terror’ has changed the nature of warfare. It justifies bombing an ever increasing amount of countries. The vague terminology of ‘War on Terror’ allows illegal methods to be used because of the exceptional nature of this particular war. What is also important in the case of American drone attacks is that they are carried out by the CIA. These attacks are CIA attacks on people on the ground, not military against military; they are not being used in the context of war, where the ‘enemy’ is armed. Not only are drone strikes inhumane, they are a sinister sign of the direction warfare is heading; the technological advancement that means the country with the biggest defence budget and the biggest weapon is able to obliterate whole villages in countries that have no chance of defending themselves. All without a second thought. The rules have changed and are being consistently bent to satisfy the needs of the dominant power.

I can imagine that the most traumatic thing for a soldier to see is the deaths of civilians, because this blurs the boundaries, it makes them question what they are fighting for. The use of machines that do the job with just a touch of a button, particularly with the touch of a button thousands of miles away relinquishes the need to ask those kind of questions because soldiers are simply not confronted with the reality.

Modern warfare has turned war into something that is not real, it is something virtual, like a computer game, which brings us back to Harry, who likens his ability to fly Apachi helicopters to his skill on the Playstation. It is something that can be turned into a joke. On YouTube, there is a video of Obama joking about using unmanned drones on the Jonas brothers if they attempt to date his daughters. The president feels so detached from the consequences of actions carried out under his authority that he can joke about it.

Making war less subjective may be better for soldiers and better for politicians, but it is not better for those on the other side caught in the crossfire and it is certainly not better for society.

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