FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Drones Come Home to Roost

by MICHAEL SCHWALBE

The age when war was limited to a clearly defined battlefield is long past. In modern wars, civilian populations are bombed, targeted for genocide +and terrorism, and made to suffer by wreckage of infrastructure. The dogs of war, once loosed, respect no fences.

We can expect things to get worse. New remote combat technologies — drones and robots controlled by operators far from any delimited battlefield — will bring violence home in ways that will destroy the feelings of safety and security Americans once took for granted.

Militarists who tout these technologies claim that they will mean fewer dead soldiers. This is likely to be true, at least for the side that holds a technological edge. When neither side has better killing tools, the death toll will even out and resume ratcheting upward.

Militarists see other advantages to remote combat: less popular opposition to war if there are fewer body bags coming home; an easier job of teaching recruits to kill if “combat” is as familiar and bloodless as a video game; and more discord among the ranks of enemy leaders because drone strikes often rely on tips from insiders who are trying to eliminate rivals.

The forces driving the development and use of remote combat technologies are partly military and mainly economic. These are enormously profitable technologies for which there will be unlimited demand as nations strive to keep up with each other in a new high-tech arms race. This will be an arms maker’s fantasy come true.

As always, ordinary citizens will pay the bill, and not only with tax dollars. We will pay with more fear, fatalism, and isolation. The feel of daily life will change.

The eventual equalization of technological capability will mean the use of drones and robots to strike at targets in the United States. There will be no need to hijack planes or plant car bombs. Drones, some as small as a suitcase, will be launchable from offshore or just outside U.S. borders. These killing machines will be nearly impossible to stop, as is the case with the drones the U.S. now uses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

But the problem is not just technological equalization and blowback. The problem is that remote combat technologies have changed the rules of engagement. Stealth assassination anywhere at any time, collateral deaths, and explicit targeting of militarily-employed civilians are the new norms.

When U.S. military and political leaders tell us that a Taliban or al Qaeda leader has been taken out by a drone attack, they would have us believe this will seriously weaken the opposing force — so much so that the deaths of nearby friends and family members are an acceptable, if officially regrettable, cost.

Whether this kind of remote killing truly weakens an opposing force is a matter of dispute. What seems clear, however, is that such attacks strengthen the resolve to pay us back in kind. It’s not hard to understand why.

Drone attacks often strike people in their homes, away from active battle zones. Which is why these attacks have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, mainly women and children. What better fuel for revenge? As others have noted, for every alleged Taliban or al Qaeda leader killed by a drone attack, ten recruits are created. Americans too, we can imagine survivors thinking, must learn what it feels like to see their loved ones killed by assassination machines. They must experience this in times and places where they thought they were safe.

This retaliation, when it comes, will be justified as necessary, given that Americans have chosen to wage war with killing machines operated from their homeland. The person who flies a drone from a base in the U.S. will be seen as a combatant, hence a legitimate target — and not only while at work but at any time, preferably when most vulnerable. Perhaps while standing next to you at your daughter’s soccer game.

University-based researchers who devote their talents to inventing new remote combat technologies — like the shapeshifting ChemBot developed at the University of Chicago — will also become targets. Technicians in a laboratory, students in a classroom, and anyone else nearby will become collateral damage. War will come to campus in a way it never has.

“Ironic” is too weak a word to describe the situation toward which the inventors and deployers of remote combat technologies are taking us. We will be told that we must use sophisticated machines to kill at a distance to keep violence at bay, even as the inevitable diffusion of this technology brings violence closer to home.

We will be told that we are fighting to preserve the rule of law against the forces of lawless terrorism, even as presidents and their minions assume the prerogative to carry out remote assassinations as they deem fit, with no judicial oversight or public accountability.

We will be told to be grateful that remote combat technologies make it possible to limit war, even as we exhaust our treasury to pay for it, even as our society becomes more militarized, and even as we experience more fear of dying in conflicts that seem to have no end.

Most Americans have not yet learned a lesson well known to partisans of anti-imperialist struggles: from the standpoint of political and economic elites striving for global dominance, no one who might someday oppose them is innocent, and the deaths of the innocent are not important, except when such deaths become ideological liabilities.

The inevitable use of drones and robots against us will perhaps force Americans to learn this lesson. When violence arrives at our door, we should ask, Who invited it? The answer is not simplemindedly “us.” The answer is, Those who have purported to lead and protect us, while profiting from the invention and use of ever more powerful killing technologies.

When that day of awakening comes, Americans might begin to see that what we needed is not just a new set of leaders but a new society, a society that is radically democratic and in which human monsters cannot create mechanical ones to keep the rest of us under control.

MICHAEL SCHWALBE is a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at MLSchwalbe@nc.rr.com.

 

 

Michael Schwalbe is a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at MLSchwalbe@nc.rr.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail