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Machines of War

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by Eric Vincent

When many of us think of robotic warfare, we imagine Skynet from The Terminator or the machines from The Matrix. While these films may have been the mere dreams of science fiction authors, our future may be headed in that very direction. Military drones have become a widely used tool in the Global War on Terrorism and the U.S. War in Afghanistan in particular. General Atomics, the major manufacturer of armed drones in the U.S., “has produced some 700 aircraft to date” and production continues each month (“Predator/Gray Eagle”). Although the use of drones has been marketed to the public as a surgical method of eliminating high-threat targets with minimal risk to friendly troops and civilians, the reality is drastically different. During the Obama administration, “attempts to kill 41 men [by drone strikes] resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people” and many of these collateral deaths were women and children (Ackerman). These killings were unnecessary and are not congruent with our ultimate goal of peace.

Military use of robotics is not a new practice. However, in the last decade, we have witnessed a massive increase in development and deployment of drones, which are used for both surveillance and attack. Broadly defined, military robots can be traced back as far as 1898 when the famous inventor Nikola Tesla presented a radio controlled motorboat to the US Navy for use in military operations. World War II was the first major source of innovation for military robotics, producing weapons like the Soviet radio controlled teletanks and German Goliath tracked mines. Unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV’s first emerged into the military scene in the 1960’s, exclusively for use in reconnaissance. It wasn’t until the turn of the century, after the September 11 attacks, that UAV’s developed into a widespread weapon of modern warfare (Singer). The military UAV’s used today, commonly referred to as drones, are all actively controlled by human pilots, often thousands of miles away. However, Northrop Grumman has been recently testing a new prototype for an automated drone that does not require a human pilot (Chivers). These automated drones could be the next step in military robotics, an unnerving proposition for the future of humanity.

Admittedly there are some arguments for the benefits of drone warfare, primarily in protecting the safety of our own troops, but there are many more drawbacks. Even the drone operators, while physically safe thousands of miles from combat, still suffer from the stresses of war. The pilots are understaffed and overworked, clocking as many as eighty hours in a week, leading to fatigue, family problems, and even PTSD in some cases (Martin). But these pilots experience only a small negative impact from drone warfare. It is the innocent civilians who live in fear of these airborne killing machines and suffer from the aftermath of their destruction who are truly the victims. As I illustrated earlier, drone strikes affect many more civilians in addition to the intended targets, often leaving people crippled or dead. Families are left to pick up the charred remains of their loved ones after the attacks. Children are left orphaned and forced to work on the streets to survive. Entire populations of towns live in terror of the unmistakable sound of drones as they fly overhead, unsure when or where an attack may occur (Cole, Dobbing, & Hailwood).

William Ury describes what he refers to as the power paradox, stating: “the harder you make it for them to say no, the harder you make it for them to say yes” (131). In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, with many of its regions scarred by terrorist acts, drone strikes, and a resulting unstable societal structure, it’s hard for many of the locals to let go of resentment toward U.S. troops. It is this very emotion that feeds back into terrorist groups like ISIS. The U.S. is a powerful nation aware of its own might, but instead of using our strength for peaceful resolutions, we regularly abuse it by using violence to solve conflicts. As David Barash notes, while it is important to be against war, “we also need to be in favor of something – something positive and affirming: namely, peace” (146). Whether it is the result of a flawed collective mentality or simply driven by the military-industrial complex, the U.S. needs to reevaluate its policies on conflict resolution. We need to stop celebrating death and create a distinct separation between the words “war” and “hero.” The value of peace and human life has been lost in the eyes of our governmental doctrines as we continue to initiate wars in the vague name of freedom.

In order for the U.S. to shift toward becoming a more peaceful nation, we can look to organizations like the United Nations (UN) and various non-governmental organizations for guidance on concepts like peacebuilding. Linda Fasulo notes the UN definition of peacebuilding as “helping nations promote peace before, during, or after a conflict” (Barash 108). In other words, we must choose to promote peace by way of our actions. I think Dr. Martin Luther King made a profoundly undeniable point when he said:

Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love. (King)

We have seen the results our violent attacks in places like Afghanistan. We know what happens when we wage war against our enemies there; we leave a wake of death and destruction behind us. The very people who we intended to help in the beginning are now the same ones suffering as a direct result our actions. Let us instead try something different by learning to love our enemies, building a foundation of peace instead of our machines of war.

Peace may seem like a lofty goal; however, we must realize it is not something that can happen overnight. Our country was founded on the blood of a violent revolution. As a result, war has become engrained in many of our ways of thinking. Still, there are things we can do as individuals in order to promote a general global shift toward peace instead of war. There are hundreds of organizations that seek to improve peace and social justice at many levels. These groups are widespread and varied, operating in the community, state, national, and international arenas. Over the course of the last few months, I have had the privilege of working with one such organization called Voices for Creative Non-Violence (VCNV). In the U.S., they organize marches and protests against drones and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Not only do they promote an agenda of peace at the national level, they also take action to help foreign countries directly affected by the injustices of war. During the Iraq war, VCNV broke sanctions multiple times to deliver food and medical supplies to sick and starving Iraqi civilians. Working with their sister organization in Afghanistan known as the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), VCNV has brought food, blankets, education, and jobs to people in need. They have witnessed firsthand the hardships of people in war-torn regions and have thereby gained a better understanding of the true repercussions of our drone strikes and occupation there. Although I have not experienced these things on the same level as my fellow volunteers, it is through their stories and the stories of the people who live in Afghanistan that I have also gained a new perspective and sympathy for who I now see as my fellow human beings.

It is appalling to think about how we view so many of the casualties of war as mere numbers. “Numbers can be numbing” (Barash 65). However, each and every one of those numbers was once a person with thoughts, dreams, and potential. Each one had a name and a family. As the U.S. continues its present push toward unmanned and eventually autonomous drones, killing becomes cheaper and easier, human lives are reduced to a few pixels on a computer screen, and peaceful resolution becomes a more cumbersome alternative. We need to think at a planetary level about what this means for our future generations. We must understand that violence never solves a conflict, but instead imposes a hierarchy of oppression which fuels resentment and distrust. It is only through peaceful methods and mutual respect for our fellow human beings that we may work together to resolve our conflicts and foster a global sense of shared humanity. As we begin to shift our mentalities toward non-violent resolutions and away from terror, governmental resources and policies will follow suit. Slowly, we will be able to dismantle our machines of war, and in their place, plant the seeds of peace.


Works Cited

Ackerman, Spencer. “41 Men Targeted but 1,147 People Killed: US Drone Strikes – the Facts on the Ground.” The Guardian. N.p., 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Barash, David P. Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Chivers, Tom. “Should Future Wars Be Fought by Killer Robots?” The Telegraph. N.p., 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Cole, Chris, Mary Dobbing, and Amy Hailwood. Convenient Killing • Armed Drones and the ‘Playstation’ Mentality. Oxford: Fellowship of Reconciliation, 2010. Print.

King, Martin Luther. “Loving Your Enemies.” Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery. 17 Nov. 1957. Speech.

Martin, Rachel. “Report: High Levels Of ‘Burnout’ In U.S. Drone Pilots.” NPR. N.p., 18 Dec. 2011. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

“Predator/Gray Eagle Series Surpasses Three Million Flight Hours.” General Atomics News Media. N.p., 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

Singer, Peter W. “Drones Don’t Die - A History of Military Robotics.” History Net. N.p., 5 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

Ury, William. Getting past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation. New York: Bantam, 1993. Print.