The Rise of the Machines

Why Increasingly “Perfect” Weapons Help Perpetuate our Wars and Endanger Our Nation
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of The Fight for the High Ground: the U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003-2004, and is the winner of numerous military writing awards. 

AT THE START of 2004, when I was the commander of a military intelligence company in Baghdad, my company received five of the first Raven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) deployed to Iraq.1 The Raven UAV is a small, hand-launched reconnaissance plane that has probably never figured prominently in any discussion about the ethics of waging war via remote-controlled robots. This drone is not armed, nor can it range more than a few miles from its controller. It looks more like a large toy plane than a weapon of war.

To my troops, I seemed quite enthused about this capability. Not all of this excitement was for show. I actually did find the technology and the fact that my troops were among the first to employ these drones in Iraq to be excit- ing. I had fully bought into the fantasy that such technology would make my country safe from terrorist attack and invincible in war.

I also felt, however, a sense of unease. One thing I worried about was so- called “collateral damage.” I knew that, because of the small, gray viewing screens that came with these drones as well as their limited loiter time, it might prove too easy to misinterpret the situation on the ground and relay false information to combat troops with big guns. I suspected that, if we did contribute to civilian deaths, my troops and I would not handle it well. But at the same time, I worried that we might cope quite well. Since we were physically removed from the action, maybe such an event would not affect us much. Would it look and feel, I wondered, like sitting at home, a can of Coke in hand, watching a war movie? Would we feel no more than a passing pang that the show that day had been a particularly hard one to watch? And, if that is how we felt, what would that say about us?...


No comments:

Post a Comment