Two Digressions, Including a Political Moment

December 18, 2009 at 5:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Warning: What I’m about to say has nothing to do with bipolar disorder, and may be offensive to some. This is one of four posts that I spent a good deal of time writing and have my doubts about publishing. I’m including it here because I’m not always all about being bipolar, and neither are you. So enjoy, and feel free to leave comments.

For awhile now I’ve felt a general disquiet about the Air Force flying so many drones in the current wars. The advantages are obvious: fewer troops placed at risk and more information gathered at a greatly reduced expense, for example. At the same time, it does concern me that we appear to be fighting wars in which we have less and less at stake besides money and expensive equipment. Let me explain.

It’s hard to think how to make this point here without sounding like I want troops to be placed in harm’s way — far from it. I’ve advocated withdrawing from both wars from the beginning. Like my discussion of the Fort Hood shooter, this point is difficult to make and to understand, but important to changing the debate about certain issues — in this case, when and how we should go to war.

When we send troops, they, at least, are confronted with the reality of the war we’re fighting. Their lives and bodies are on the line, and their families are deprived of the daily presence of a loved one and all too aware that a relative, friend, spouse or child is running a very real chance of injury or death. When this happens, the President and the public care a good deal more about the outcome of a war beyond whether we won or lost, and whether or not we withdrew with our honor intact. In fact, we should care a good deal more than we do. I really admire the support that my company gives to deployed troops and their families, and to wounded troops when they return. We could do a lot more, but we certainly are much more involved in supporting the troops than many organizations. My point is this: the average citizen needs to know much more about the human and financial cost of war.

At the same time, I have always been struck by how little we, as a country, seem to care abut civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The press rarely provides even rough estimates of civilian casualties, and our leaders rarely speak of the death, injury, rape, and privation that innocent Iraqis and Afghans suffer.

The widespread use of drones makes me uncomfortable precisely because it reduces our stake, and ensures that much of the killing is done from a distance. From what I’ve read in defense industry publications, drone pilots typically never leave the U.S. — they have no contact with the country and culture upon which they spy, and upon which they may call down attacks. From a distance, it’s easy to preserve the illusion that war is black and white, that it’s easy to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” (yes, the latter phrase is commonly used in the defense industry), and that civilian deaths are few and inconsequential. I can easily foresee a future in which we fight wars almost exclusively by remote control. That, combined with our tendency to postpone paying the staggering cost of war, could make war a popular pastime, a sort of sport — in some ways, this vision has already become a reality.

So I’m torn. On the one hand, the lives of troops are precious to me, and I think we should preserve them whenever possible, and risk them only when potential gain is great. Nothing horrifies me more than accounts of the sanguinary battles of World War I and WWII, in which all sides used troops as cannon fodder and civilians were routinely slaughtered remotely.

That’s why the idea of a drone war terrifies me. Already, past Presidents have committed our troops all too lightly and cynically. What will the future look like if we can reduce the possibility of American casualties dramatically?

All of this is by way of introduction to a disturbing article from today’s Wall Street Journal. Apparently it’s easy and cheap to intercept signals from some of the drones we use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many captured insurgents have been caught carrying computer video that intercepted from Predator drones. This simply underscores my point that war is always more risky and difficult than we’re willing to acknowledge, and it undermines the idea that drones are a relatively cheap, risk-free way of fighting a war.

Jeez. I didn’t think I’d spend so much time on that digression. It’s a delicate topic, though, and I want to make my position as clear as possible.

As if that weren’t enough material irrelevant to being bipolar, here’s an excellent gift guide from the blog Zen Habits, which I always seem to be pushing in this space. This list is comprised of ebooks and hard copy books, and there are some excellent suggestions here. Plus, I think Leo’s tone of grouchy impatience with the project is funny. Boy, Christmas does tend to bring out the worst in all of us.

I’m not just saying it when I wish love to all, you know. I mean it.

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