Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling alive when facing death

This post was not triggered by an article I read somewhere or anything like that but it is something that I've been thinking about for a long time.

Military research divisions all over the world are always constantly looking for that next breakthrough in unmanned combat, surveillance, infiltration, whatever else is needed in war. The main benefit for such advances in technology is that lives would be spared in the form of not having to send them out to perform tasks that can be done with machinery. In effect you would remove a large portion of the human element from war. And that is what bothers me.

Don't get me wrong I'm not advocating for putting people in harm's way but at the same time I wonder about what would happen if the time came when wars were won or lost at the press of a few buttons. Imagine our president deciding that a terrorist organization is major threat and needs to be taken out. Instead of the way it is today when the cost (American soldiers) is weighed against the benefit (eliminating the terrorist organization) the organization could be wiped out by a smart weapon that can be fired from 3000 miles away. This has the benefit of not being a blanket kill all "dumb weapon" like the bombs that were dropped in Japan during WWII meaning that you kill enemy targets and enemy targets only (thanks to the unmanned drone you launched to gather recon instead of sending in a covert unit which would have put lives at risk). Pretty easy to commit to war when all you have to do to kill the bad guys is press a few button ain't it? But stop and think for a moment what the president is doing.

An evil organization rises. Press button to kill them. Another one rises. Press a button to kill them. And so on and so on until one days the president comes across an organization that MIGHT have terrorist ties. The president's drones can't confirm or deny terrorist activity but since its now so easy and "its better to kill them now than to take a chance that they are evil" the button is pushed again. And again and again and again. After a while the threshold of what a terrorist organization drops. And drops and drops and drops. Next thing you know damn near anyone can be killed at the literal press of a button.

On one hand I don't want to see people get killed defending our country but on the other I don't want the pursuit of fighting the enemy with little cost in human lives to lead to the casual choice of killing anyone that might look like a threat. Call me what you will but I think that having humans on the battle field keeps us mindful of the costs of war. Sure we bear in mind the territory, or crops, or whatever it is we are fighting for but I think the possible loss of human life is a limiter that keeps many leaders from going too far in their efforts. Removing that limiter could be disastrous.

I know you're wondering where the hell this came from. Honestly I was at work today and I started thinking about the Metal Gear Solid series of video games today. One of the themes of the series is the advance of technology and discussion of how the human factor is being removed from battle from the perspective of battle worn veterans.