The story is funny, but I think in positing a past where previous wars were mostly the same except fought with drone strikes it ignores one of the main objections to drone strikes -- that if everyone did it, there would not be discrete wars in the first place; instead there would just be something more like continuing series of drone strikes everywhere. As we've seen, WWI failed to be the war to end all wars; but every conventional war has at least been a war to end war temporarily.
Can't... stop... laughing! XD
The best posts can't be replied to.
People might need a different sort of psychology to be willing to surrender in the face of a modest number of drone strikes, but the piece is a good solid remember of the way the costs of war get mysteriously dropped out of most people's bookkeeping.
Nice. I've had some variants on that conversation. Friend objecting that we should hold nations responsible for what happens on their territory instead of violating sovereignty with drone strikes. After a few rounds I asked "So we should kill 18-year-old conscripts instead of the terrorists intending to attack us?" "Um . . ."
Fictional precedent for that kind of war:http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?58302
The "total war" expansion of assassination was going after the best of the enemy even if they didn't hold political office yet.
The practical problem with assassination-only warfare is probably that we'd wind up selecting leaders for pure physical courage rather than competence (whether this is better or worse than what we're currently selecting for is a separate issue).
That was a great story.
I saw references to the idea that war would be "too horrible to continue" dating all the way back to 15th century (siege cannon) and early 20th (airships dropping bombs on cities). It's interesting to see that Guernica 1937 was considered an outrage but Dresden and Tokio 1945 were routine.
Edited at 2012-10-28 04:48 am (UTC)
That's a very interesting point. I'm still not sure, but I am rethinking the upsides of drone warfare.
Oh, so as not to come across as someone who posts empty "me too" comments, let me contribute a tangentially related but almost irrelevant titbit: the author of this book
reckons the Romans had small, man-portable, personal catapults that fulfilled the same role as rifles (although the case seems pretty sketchy, and this slinging forum
reckons they were just using slings). So maybe some Roman Leuis Harvius Oswald could have assassinated the Emperor as he rode an open-topped chariot past Dealius Plaza.
It's so weird that assassination of enemy leaders is considered a big ethical dilemma, whereas invading a whole country and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process (as long as you didn't mean to) is accepted as just one of those things.
This kind of assumes wars are about leaders. Like general RIPPER is totally right about the way you have to fight say science fiction enemies that don't have centralized command structures or where there is always a replacement commander or he is really well protected by all available human and material resource. You have to slog through them one punch at the time incinerating them. Y'know like the Borg and stuff. Or an armed flash mob organized via like a network of computers they wear n' stuff.
Also I have an idea all the Joint Chiefs of Staff might like, maybe we could build drones that still keep fighting after the President is dead! That way we'll be impervious to surgical drone strikes and win all wars forever! Yay! What could possibly go wrong with this plan?
Back to the real world: I should note to clear up a common misconception, enlisted minorities didn't actually disproportionately die as combatants in previous American wars. They actually die less than enlisted poor white farmer boys.
Edited at 2012-10-28 11:10 am (UTC)
This is awesome and hilarious!
I think, in such a world, everybody would be constantly carrying out drone strikes on everybody else and consequently living in fear. Whether that is better than the present... maybe.
2012-10-28 01:57 pm (UTC)
Funny, but, there is a wider issue here.
This kind of reverse exploration of the drone problem is inventive, and introduces well the up-sides of avoiding the human cost of warfare, but it doesn't do a good job of addressing the very serious problems that today's drone warfare presents, and also doesn't address different aspects of war present in drone vs. traditional military mobilization, or their motivations.
The problem with warfare is that it can either be in the interest of societies (countries or groups of people), or in the interest of those commanding military (politicians, governments). When a ruling party or government promises domestic security to its populace, it must be given the ability to effect and command a military, but also has the ability to declare war in the public interest event at times when 1) war could have been avoided or 2) was done in the interest of themselves or a sponsoring minority, even at the expense of their constituents.
General Ripper is absolutely right when he says that traditional forms of military offense (foot soldiers) are much more publicized. They have to be. There's no way you can move thousands of soldiers into a country, begin a military action, and get away with hiding it from the world or your populace. Drone strikes on the other hand, allow for this much more nuanced control over the potential exposure of your military actions, while at the same time allowing you still to iteratively and effectively extend whatever agenda your military action is hoping to accomplish.
I would argue that without the burden of exposure and public response, politicians and military leaders cannot be easily held accountable for their actions, which is a very scary thought to me.
It is the exposure of the human cost of war that gives humanity a chance to live long periods of time when warfare becomes unquestionable.
2012-10-28 08:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Funny, but, there is a wider issue here.
So, aside from scary thoughts, do you think that replacing foot soldiers with drone strikes will actually result in more or less death? (feel free to use relative weights of your choice for civilians, poor kids, and politicians).
It sounds like any argument for using soldiers over drones could also be used to justify beskerer units over disciplined, armored soldiers.
"Literally hundreds of people died in World War I before the British were finally able to kill Kaiser Wilhelm with a carefully-aimed zeppelin."
Ah, yes: in exactly the same way that killing Saddam Hussein meant the total collapse of Iraqi resistance and American troops were able to withdraw almost immediately thereafter and there is no longer any insurgency or violence, terror campaigns, bombings, refugees...Mission Accomplished!
Oh, it didn't work quite like that?
Well, how about when Osama bin-Laden was finally tracked down and executed? Heh, that cut off the snake's head and meant al-Qaeda was totally unable to function without its leader!
Er... okay, Afghanistan! Totally pacified when the Taliban were driven out in 2002 and a democratic government established in 2004. Until the Taliban started surging from bases in Pakistan in 2006 and, um, well, coalition forces are talking about withdrawal this time for sure in 2014!
Arthur Conan Doyle had his first Sherlock Holmes story published in 1887, when he was able to introduce the character of an ex-army doctor who had been invalided home from the wars in Afghanistan in 1880. When the BBC modern-day "Sherlock" was being mooted, the creators weren't sure how they'd manage the character of Dr. Watson - until it was once again perfectly feasible to have a character in 2009 be an ex-army doctor invalided home from the wars in Afghanistan.
Drone warfare may be surgically-precise in its strikes and kill fewer civilians than conventional warfare, but I am old and cynical enough to think that killing off leaders in small groups at a time isn't going to be enough. Suppose the American Joint Chiefs of Staff were all assassinated at one meeting - would that mean the collapse of the American armed forces?
You've had four assassinations of American Presidents in office. These did not lead to the immediate collapse of the government and the inability of the state to function.
Winning wars still means killing vast numbers of people, destroying infrastructure, and civilian suffering to the point that the state cannot function anymore.
I agree. The premise of the story is impossible: it's really unlikely that a world would ever evolve naturally with only assassination-style warfare. It wouldn't work and people would very quickly come up with the normal type.
I was using this world only as a means of examining our intuition that the normal mode of warfare is more moral than drone warfare, not as a suggestion that we could stop the normal kind of warfare and then we would end up with this world.
There's a quote I once read, by some guy with a magazine column:
"Wars do not end when they are won, but when those who want to fight to the death find their wish has been granted."
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