Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Taste of Armageddon

The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank. – Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the Starship Enterprise

On Stardate 3192.1, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encountered two warring planets fighting the interplanetary equivalent of the Hatfield and the McCoys feud (not Dr. McCoy).  These futuristic enemies did not settle their differences with muskets and pistols however.  In order to save costs, the planets had agreed not to use real bombs during their assaults, which tend to be messy and loud.  Instead, the two planets would launch virtual attacks and the leaders of the two factions would then voluntarily vaporize those citizens and combatants who were deemed to have been killed in the simulation.  No fuss, no muss.  War goes on without the inconvenience of rebuilding and the visceral repulsion to bloodshed and dismemberment.

Captain Kirk witnesses this madness and chastises the leadership of Eminiar VII for making war too antiseptic, too neat:

Death... destruction, disease, horror, that's what war is all about, Councilman.  That's what makes it a thing to be avoided.  You've made it neat and simple, so neat and simple that you have no reason to stop it.

Here is an excerpt from Kirk’s monologue brilliantly reenacted by Seth MacFarlane:

It is fair to ask whether or not President Obama’s expansion of the unmanned predator drone program is leading us to a similar place of permanent virtual wars.  While the general population in the U.S. sits comfortably behind their keyboards and remote controls, our fighting soldiers are sitting behind their keyboards and remote controls and playing judge and jury overseas.  It spares us the inconvenience of rebuilding and the visceral repulsion to bloodshed and dismemberment. 

Obama’s expansion of the drone program, while not without its successes, has made war easier for us to stomach.  Should war be easier for us to stomach?  His expansion of the program has also given birth to an expanded definition of a combatant.  Apparently, an enemy combatant is now defined as someone “we kill, either on purpose or accidently.”  Sounds overly broad, but the program is cost-effective and during these trying times of high deficits, surely this is as important a consideration as the lives of a few suspected terrorists and those who are standing near to them.

The expansion of the drone concept is not saved just for deployment in foreign countries.  It is closer to coming to the homeland than you might think.  On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said he supports the use of unmanned drones over the United States to assist law enforcement.  In his words, the use of these drones over Virginia would be “the right thing to do.” 
“I think it’s great; I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive, cuts down on manpower and also more safe, that’s why we use it on the battlefield,” McDonnell said on radio station WTOP.

Yes, this is why we are using drones over the battlefield.  It’s more productive (i.e. kills more efficiently), it cuts down on manpower (i.e. no activist judges or juries to release people we KNOW are guilty), and it is more safe (i.e. except for an uptick in carpal tunnel syndrome at home).  Somewhere, George Orwell just threw up a little bit in his mouth.

Of course, the governor added that we would need to pay close attention to the protection of civil liberties, like privacy, which is ironic coming from the guy who supported invasive transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking legal abortions in his state.  One thing I can safely say after reading about the military use of the drone program.  The program appears to be specifically designed to eliminate civil liberties and privacy, not protect those rights.  A domestic drone program would naturally accomplish the same mission.  What would the Founders say? 

Killing bad guys who are intent on harming innocent people is good.  The real question becomes identifying the bad and sparing the good.  I believe that we would all be better served in the long run if such a program had more transparency and those who made these life and death decisions had some accountability for their decisions.

Eventually, once the inhabitants of Eminiar VII and Vendikar experience a taste of real warfare, they quickly negotiate for peace.  It must then be true that War is Peace.  The MADD theory is cost-inefficient, but at least on Star Trek and in the Cold War, it worked. 
Maybe reining death from above by warriors without risk from planes without pilots is a bit too safe and a bit too easy.  Doesn’t it bother you just a little?  I think it should.

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