“Automaton—person who behaves like a robot…”

—Oxford Desk Dictionary

Once unchained—like a voracious predator–the U.S. War Machine is monomaniacal, hyper-focused, relentless in its purpose.  Like those robots designed to repair and rebuild themselves, but on a vastly greater scale, the Machine becomes self-driven and self-perpetuating, a mindless Juggernaut of  “Apache” helicopter-gunships, “Hellfire” missiles, incendiary munitions.  Once set in motion—under the cloak of NATO or some other “coalition”—the Machine immediately goes into hyper-drive: thousands of air “sorties,” “operations,” night raids, bombings, burnings, “surgical” strikes (by very blunt, bloody instruments).  A deranged Colossus, wheeling and staggering and lumbering about, crushing villages, pulverizing “targets,” burning children—all rationalized, in delusional terms, as mere “collateral damage.” 

Once it invades, the Machine seeks-and-destroys the enemy.  And who is the enemy?  Those who resist (“insurgents”?), those who may resist, those who may be secretly planning to resist, those who may be harboring someone who may be planning to resist.  Root them out, “cleanse” the defined battleground of all those who would stand in the way of…what?  Total occupation?  Total “pacification”?  Total submission.  “Transition” to “friendly” regimes which streamline privatization and capital investment through dispossessing the people from their own resources and public infrastructure. 

A positive-feedback-loop of escalating madness: invasion and attack meet with “resistance,” which must be further crushed with more strikes and “surges” and “sorties.”  To guarantee “victory”–or at least the “success” of the however-ill-defined “mission”—all those still alive to resist must be hunted down and destroyed.  Yet the loop is further amplified because those killed had friends and sons and comrades who will not forget their deaths.  Thus, new pockets of “insurgency” appear, new episodes of violent resistance (e.g., IEDs)–once again re-activating this lurching Machine into attack-mode—into a nightmare of destroyed villages, senseless killings en masse, and hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes and flee, destination (and ultimate fate) unknown. 

The Predator-Drone, uncanny and unpredictable, appearing suddenly and striking with deadly firepower, terrorizes and incinerates innocent people in places like Afghanistan and Yemen.  Yet somewhere, somehow, real people are “at the controls,” real people trained to act like automatons of death, real people ultimately accountable, to themselves and to humanity, for their moral failure and criminal transgressions.

William Manson formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

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