In the Age of Robotic Weapons


The U.S. war in Afghanistan is testing so much futuristic detect and destroy weaponry that it can be called the most advanced all-seeing invasion in military history. From blanket satellite surveillance to soldiers’ infra-red vision to the remotely guided photographing, killer drones to the latest fused ground-based imagery and electronic signal intercepts, the age of robotic land, sea, and air weaponry is at hand.

U.S. and NATO soldiers and contractors greatly outnumber the Taliban, whose sandals and weapons are from the past century. Still, with the most sophisticated arsenals ever deployed, why are U.S. generals saying that less than 30,000 Taliban fighters, for almost a decade, have fought the U.S. led forces to a draw?

Perhaps one answer can be drawn from a ceremony that could be happening in various places in that tormented country. That is, a Jirga of elders awarding a young fighter the Jirga medal of honor for courage on the battlefield, which often happens to be their village or valley.

The chief elder rose to address a wise circle of villagers. “Today we are presenting our beloved Mursi with the revered Jirga medal of honor for courage beyond the call of duty in rescuing seven of his brother defenders from almost certain destruction. The invaders had surrounded our young brothers at night in the great Helmand gully with their snipers, grenade-launchers and helicopter gunships.

It looked like the end. Until Mursi started a very smoky fire and diverted the enemy with a firebomb that startled several donkeys into braying loudly. In the few seconds absorbed by diverting the foreigners who directed their firepower in that direction, Mursi led his brothers, two of them wounded, through a large rock crevice and down an incline that was hidden from view and into a cave covered with bush. For some reason, the occupiers’ night vision equipment was not working, thanks be to Allah.

The next morning, the enemy had gone away, provably to start another deadly attack elsewhere on our people. Before the Jirga awards you this ancient symbol of resistance, Mursi, in the form of a sculptured shield made of a rare wood, will you say a few words to your tribe?”

Mursi, a thin as a rail twenty year old youth, rose.

“I accept this great honor on behalf of my brothers who escaped with their lives that terrible night in Helmand. I was very scared. The enemy has everything and we have nothing. They have planes, helicopters, artillery, many soldiers with equipment that resists bullets, sees in the dark and provides them with food, water and medicine. We only have our old rifles, some grenades and explosives. They can see us all the way from America on screens sitting in cool rooms where they can press buttons and wipe us out without our seeing or hearing anything coming at us. We are all so terrified. Especially the children.

We wonder why they are doing this to us? We never threatened them. They threaten everyone with their bases, ships, planes and missiles. I hear that the foreign soldiers ask themselves why are they here, what are they doing here and for what? But they are paid well to be here, destroying our country year after year, though they boast about building some bridges and digging some water wells. No thank you.”

“Go back to your families, you will never win because we are fighting to repel you invaders from our ancient tribal lands, our homes,. Fighting to expel the invaders is stronger and more righteous than your weapons and all your military wealth. Even if many of us lose our lives, we will prevail one day. For we will have heaven and they will have hell.”

A long knowing silence followed. A rooster crowed in the distance. The chief elder then slowly handed the medal to their brave hero.

Can the most militarily powerful country in the world, many of whose people and soldiers are opposed or have serious doubts about why we are continuing to pursue these senseless undeclared wars of aggression that create more hatred and enemies, look with empathy at what those people, whom we are pummeling, are going through? Will the Pentagon, which doesn’t estimate civilian casualties, let its officials speak publically about the millions of such casualties—deceased, injured and sick—that have afflicted innocent Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis?

Will our current crop of political candidates for Congress and the Presidency ever reflect on the wise words of our past Generals—Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall and earlier Smedley Butler—about the folly and gore, not the glory of war?

The eighteenth century words of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, rings so true. He wrote:

“And would some Power the small gift give us.
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us…”

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.


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