The romance of remote warfare

The U.S. Air Force now recruits more pilots for drones than fighter and bomber pilots combined, says Air Force Maj. Gen. James Poss who helps oversee the Air Force’s surveillance programs.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Poss alludes to the fact that in the early years of remote warfare, piloting drones did not appeal to military recruits who saw themselves instead becoming battle-tested warriors. But as the commercial above makes clear, the Air Force is now working hard to incorporate Predators and their pilots into the combat ethos.

Unlike a person that deploys to combat, our remotely piloted aircraft force never leave combat and that’s got unique psychological stresses — you really don’t get a break. And even more jarring is you do leave your ground control station and drive home and you have to mow the lawn… The difference [with being a fighter pilot] is: you never leave the combat zone.

You sit in a reclining chair in an air-conditioned operations room in an air force base in Nevada, yet you never leave the combat zone. Why? Because combat is a state of mind?

The Pentagon always prefers sterile language — language that obscures the reality of war. Yet remote warfare really begs the question as to whether “combat” in which one combatant’s death is near certain while his opponent’s life is in no danger, is really combat at all.

In combat, each side is battling the other. Com- means together — not thousands of miles apart.

Remote extrajudicial execution would be a more accurate description for strikes that in their frequency have become “the cannon fire of this war” — though the Air Force might find it difficult recruiting executioners.

For the military, there appear to be no limits on their effort to promote the value of soldiers who can shoot without ever getting shot and can go overseas without ever leaving home.

We’ve got a predator pilot that hasn’t left the skies of South-West Asia for nine years… This captain has been sitting at Creech Air Force Base [in Nevada] flying over South-West Asia, eight to ten hours a day, five to six days a week, 52 weeks a year for the past nine years… If you want to go and talk to a world expert on Iraq or Afghanistan, maybe you don’t need to go to Iraq and Afghanistan — maybe you need to go talk to that young captain down at Creech, because they’ve been staring at that ground for the past nine years.

Thus we have a picture of the future of the U.S. military’s approach to (not) facing its adversaries: that it can learn all it needs to know through electronic imagery and it kill everyone it needs to kill without shedding a drop of blood or sweat. This will be America’s ignoble and blunt efficiency.

This vision of killing-without-combat resonates with the image of UC Davis police Lt. John Pike as he casually pepper-sprays student demonstrators. In each case the willingness to inflict suffering is directly related to the assailant’s own sense of impunity — his ability to fire without being fired upon.

There is nothing noble or brave in this approach to violence.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, as the Battle of Agincourt is about to commence, the king addresses his men — “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — heavily outnumbered by the French and facing the risk of imminent slaughter.

Henry — a king who fights with his men and doesn’t simply issue commands — declares:

… he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

To the extent that there is a noble dimension to warfare it is this: that those willing to kill are also willing to die. Those taking the lives of others do so knowing that just as easily they could lose their own.

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One thought on “The romance of remote warfare

  1. Norman

    Wow. Taking the face the out of killing, just a big RPG game to the young men who are involved. It’s obvious that the old men don’t have the skills to play. No wonder the country is falling apart.

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