February 21, 2017

Horse 2230 - Ever More Efficient Ways Of Killing Humans

I remember my Year 9 and 10 history teacher Mr Menkes telling the class that he thought that if it wasn't for the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, that we wouldn't have had jumbo jets because technology wouldn't have been developed as quickly. I have no idea how to verify that claim because it isn't as if I can run the experiment of history and not include the deaths of probably as many as three hundred million people, but the point is still worth thinking about. Much of the story of technology, arguably since forever, has had a lot to do with mankind developing ever more efficient ways of killing other elements of mankind.

For the vast majority of the history of warfare, the ability to do damage to another human being only extended as far as one's own arms or as far as one could fire an arrow. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Incas, Omeks, Babylonians, Persians and all of the barbarians that they were afraid of, mostly exacted terror at the end of the sword. There were things like catapults and trébuchets but they were few and far between. The use of chariots and horses often brought fear to the battlefield and the Romans were most likely bewildered when Hannibal sacked Rome after taking elephants through the Alps. Maybe they put skis on them. I don't know.

The introduction of canon really changed the face of warfare. Suddenly, ships could be used to greater effect and castle and city walls could be more effectively broken down. The musket and rifle rendered the sword utterly useless despite the fixing of bayonets to the end of rifles as late as the First World War.
Gunpowder and greater use of projectile warfare increased the reach of one's ability to exact harm on fellow humans but it still required that you actually had to see the enemy in order to destroy them. Although we don't know exactly who said during the American Revolutionary War to not fire "until you see the whites of their eyes", we do know that it wasn't because of some romantic notion of honour on the battlefield but rather the practical consideration of the range of the rifles and the desire not to waste ammunition.

Mechanised warfare which is mostly a twentieth century invention, did bring about the ability to destroy thousands of people at once and it became apparent that once you removed the physical sight of the people who you were going to kill, that care and consideration of them, was also removed. You can think of the Blitz on London, the thousand bomber raids on Dresden or the bringing of nuclear fire from the sky on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly, that destroying people, their homes and their families, not only became easier but far less morally repugnant to the people who pushed the button to open the bomb bay doors. I have heard members of the crew from the Enola Gay who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima (always "the" bomb with the definite article) and they express a sense of duty modern than anything else.

I guess that this is the reason why I found this video so disturbing:
Link: https://youtu.be/3XKiUtruQiY

What this is, is a swarm of 103 Perdix drones being dropped out the back of three F/A-18 Super Hornets. If all of these were armed, which I imagine could be a distinct possibility in the not too distant future, then if they were all dropped out of an Unmanned Airborne Vehicle, then what this means is that the equivalent of a legion of troops could be deployed from literally the other side of the world; to zero human cost of the force who deployed them. Forget the enemy being at the end of the sword or needing to be so close that the person pulling the trigger needs to see their enemy face to face, the distance between protagonists can now be half the world away.

If you want to talk about dehumanising the enemy, then surely this is the ultimate in doing that. Someone in an operations centre could be sitting in an office chair, killing hundreds if not thousands of people before having a break at half past ten and walking to the lunch room for a cup of coffee. To them, the enemy who they will never meet in person, are just targets to be destroyed. At the end of the day, they could clock off and go home to their own family in the suburbs, in total knowledge that the state has absolved them of all wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the robotic drone swarm, ten thousand miles away, people's mothers, brothers, sisters and fathers could all be dead. It's not hard to imagine an orphaned child standing in their house, with their entire family lying dead aground them and all because of someone in a dorky looking polo shirt in an air-conditioned office; who they will never ever know.

The use of chlorine gas and mustard gas during the First World War, drifting across the battlefield and sinking into the trenches, proved to be so utterly heinous that soon after the war it was decided that chemical warfare should be outlawed by the conventions of war; decided upon by men in suits in Geneva, far removed from the actual carnage. It was so horrible that the First World War has been nicknamed "the chemist's war" by some historians.
During the Second World War, even German scientists thought that Hitler shouldn't have access to nuclear capabilities but that doesn't mean that the Allies have some moral pedestal upon which to stand because Truman did have the audacity to turn people to vapour and have them melt in the heat of nuclear fire.
There hasn't yet been much of a moral outcry against the use of drone strikes in places like  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen but I suspect that's because it hasn't yet entered the public consciousness. The video above shows that it will be possible shortly to deploy thousands of unfeeling robots to destroy people, where other people are too cowardly to go.

I don't know if it's necessarily true that if the Second World War, Korean War or Vietnam War didn't happen that we wouldn't have had the jumbo jet as early as we did. I do know that the same technology responsible for remotely delivering bombs on London would eventually depositing a dozen men on the moon but even that was in response to two world leaders realising that they had the power to destroy more people more efficiently than ever before. In 1969, man landed on the moon, the 747 took its first flight; as did Concorde and yet at the same time, there were still steam trains in use in Britain.
It seems to me that at every step of developing ever more efficient ways of killing each other, we've also invented less human ways of doing so. Drones bother me because they are the least human way yet developed of destroying people and with them, the operators will surely follow.

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