High Tech War is Still War: A Review
March 28, 2015
This review is from: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Hardcover)
I have wondered why Americans are or seem to be unaware of just how militaristic a nation we have become, even as we are encouraged to celebrate those who, as the saying has it, "serve to keep us free." Our warriors appear everywhere but, strangely, they are not seen as "warriors." Rather, they are seen almost as "civil servants," whom we are expected to "thank for [their] service." In the midst of so much warfare, this is quite an interesting state of affairs.
Andrew Cockburn's "Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins" can help explain this phenomenon. The shape of warfare, or at least the shape of warfare as described by the current establishment, has changed. It is or it no longer seems to be about "guts and glory," and it can even seem to be almost "bloodless." The "warrior" almost disappears from our wars as the way we wage war becomes more and more "technological." Where we once had soldiers fighting in units and as units, we now have "special forces" conducting "raids" in the dead of night, not taking on enemy forces organized as units but rather finding and killing "high value targets," as the jargon has it. Sometimes and increasingly, we don't even need to confront these "targets" directly, as we can or think we can take them out with drones so our "killers" are thousands of miles away from those being killed. It is hard, in these circumstances, to think of these people as either "soldiers" or "killers."
The great plus of Cockburn's book is that it reminds us that this is all more illusion than reality. That is, beneath the appearance of "precision war-making," the existence of allegedly "smart bombs," as well as the existence of the "all-seeing eye in the sky," war remains pretty much what it has always been: The obscene use of deadly force to impose one nation's will on others deemed to be "enemies." Why obscene? Not because wars are always unjust, because they aren't always unjust. Rather, obscene because wars always result in the slaughter of those who we label "civilians" but who should be labeled "innocent human beings." Why obscene? Because killing other human beings always leads to "dis-eased souls," even or perhaps especially when the killing is made to seem like a video game. Why obscene? Because what is called "victory" is always tainted by the sins of those celebrating victory, because victory in war is always accompanied by, even made possible by defiling that which makes us human.
Cockburn's final paragraph captures the obscenity as well as can be done: "As David Deptula promised that 'with a more intense campaign' victory would come quickly, enemy leaders switched off their cell phones and faded from view. Pentagon officials demanded more spending. Wall Street analysts hailed the prospect of 'sure-bet paydays' for drone builders and other weapons makers. The system rolled on autonomously - one big robot mowing the grass, forever."