Thinking About War

I don’t like to think about war. I am ever grateful that I have never been involved in a war. And, I don’t understand most wars, which so often seem to punish the winners as much as the losers.

Moving beyond war, I don’t like to think about conflict, or at least about physical conflict. Whether it’s a fight in an alley or a schoolyard, a domestic brawl, or even a scrum at a hockey game, I find it counterproductive, upsetting and a general sign of human degradation.

Having said this, people being what they are, I have to think about war, and other forms of conflict, quite a bit. They surround us, in geography and in time. War has touched our ancestors, it has touched our friends and relatives and it may touch us tomorrow or next week.

At one point, combat was very personal. Hand to hand, as they say. Soldier against soldier, or soldier against unarmed civilian, you could see who you were fighting, or who was attacking you.

In the 20th century, this began to change. Long range weaponry, tanks and armor, rockets, airplanes, gases, bombs (whether falling from the sky, lobbed through the air, or planted under the brush) – this was all new and, as the century went on (putting aside the hopefully aberrational use of atomic weapons in the 1940s), things got more and more complicated. As the century ended, we were using drones to drop bombs, we were seeing poisons sent through the mails, we saw civilian aircraft crashing into buildings. War was getting more dangerous, even less predictable and, in most instances (excepting the growth of suicide bombing) more impersonal.

What will the 21st century be like. I see no current reason for optimism that we have seen the worst of warfare during the 20th. And, without thinking much about how war will be conducted, I just assumed that the problems we have today will just continue through tomorrow.

That is, until I read a fascinating article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (page A12) entitled: Israeli Robots Remake Battlefield.

Israeli Lt. Col. Oren Benrebbi says: “We’re trying to get to unmanned vehicles for each platoon in the field. We can do more and more missions without putting a soldier at risk.”

Think about that. Not only the unmanned drones we see today in Afghanistan, or the anti-missle defenses that a number of armies now employ. Not only the United States and Israel.

According to the article, over 40 countries are now engaged in the development of “military-robotics programs”. The United States has 19,000 unmanned air and land vehicles. Last year, more U.S. military personnel were trained to operate unmanned vehicles, than to fly manned aircraft.

In Israel, borders are now patrolled by unmanned land vehicles – the Guardium. If there is another war with Lebanon, unmanned bulldozers will precede ground troops, and six wheeled unmanned vehicles will carry military gear to the battlefield. Unmanned, armed ships patrol coast lines, and unmanned aircraft and defensive vehicles are being developed in Israel so that they can be operated, not by highly trained, specialized, sophisticated personnel, but by “an average 18 year old recruit with just a few months’ traning…”

What does this mean for the future? How easy destruction will be. I can foresee wars where destruction is wide-spread, civilian populations decimated, and the armies themselves being held out of harm’s way, awaiting the culminating battles guaranteed to destroy both sides.

What are we coming to? How did we get this way? What kind of divine plan can this be part of?

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