Endless robo war

As people probably know, Rand Paul recently filibustered on the Senate floor, raising hash over the possibility that military drones could be used against citizens in the United States. (Some might say he “droned about drones.”) The possibility of such a thing occurring seems unlikely, though not impossible. (As Attorney General Eric Holder concedes, extenuating circumstances – like preventing another 9/11 attack – could allow drone use.)

But I’m glad Paul is bringing attention to drones; I’ve found myself disturbed by their use though I have a hard time ascertaining why. Certainly, when one hears of a drone strike in Pakistan or Afghanistan that takes out a terrorist but also several innocent victims it’s not good news. However, that’s not a problem specific to drones – the same thing has happened via plane-launched missiles or bombs or even in close combat. That’s the issue of collateral damage which – while disturbing – is hardly new.

Maybe what worries me about drones is that it seems they could be the first step towards a robotic military, a military where the fighting by “our” side is done only by machines, with no risk to our soldiers or civilians. You might say, “Wil, what’s the matter of that? We’ve been striving for years to protect our troops. A robo army would be the culmination of that dream and spare so many mothers and fathers from the shock hearing the worst news imaginable.”

But, I wonder, does having a robo-army make it easier to go to war? Does having a flesh and blood army ensure that we have “skin in the game” so to speak, preventing us from too easily making the decision to go to war. (You could reasonably argue that it was the U.S.’s infallible belief in the overwhelming superiority of its military that partly led to the disaster of Iraq.)

I’m reminded of course, by an old Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon.” In this episode the Enterprise crew discover a world populated by two warring nations. Instead of using actual weapons, these cultures play computerized war games that track virtual warfare. Upon the completion of the “attacks”, citizens on either side who have been determined to have been killed are sent to death chambers where they are disintegrated. These aliens argue that this kind of warfare protects them from the chaos and destruction of “real” war. Captain Kirk disagrees; he is convinced that the ease of this form of war has made the aliens too complacent to end their battles (which have been going on for eons.) Kirk angrily destroys the computer system that allow the process. His alien host is shocked. “Do you realize what you have done?” he asks Kirk.

Kirk’s reply is one of the most memorable bits of dialogue from the show’s run:

4 Responses to “Endless robo war”


  1. John Saleeby

    That was a bad ass “Star Trek” episode.

    But fuckin’ A right people should have been freaking out when the god damn Attorney General says that the god damn President has the right to kill United States citizens. Fuck that noise. “extenuating circumstances”? That cock sucker Holder should have been fired.

  2. John Saleeby

    I’m SERIOUS!

  3. Wil

    I think they ordered a drone strike on you John.

  4. John Saleeby

    They don’t have the balls!

    Unbearable excitement! I parked outside my apartment just now when one of the little black kids dropped the leash their new puppy was on and it ran off into the field behind the building! Hundreds of little black kids going berserk! I was the only adult on the scene! “Aw, he’ll come back! He’s just messin’ around!” The word spread like wild fire “HE’LL COME BACK!!! HE’S JUST MESSIN’ AROUND!!!” About two minutes later the dog got bored being all alone out there in the middle of nowhere and came back to be quickly taken back into custody. I am a Respected Member of the Community!