Gun control is on many minds this week, but let’s not talk about guns. Let’s talk about drones. (With a reported 300 million guns in private hands in America already, it’s probably too late for gun control anyhow.) Drones are to nation-states what assault rifles are to psychotic mass murderers. Worse yet, the way things are going, it’s only a matter of time until alpha insurgencies like Hezbollah and the Zetas have their own fleets of armed or kamikaze drones.
The sound-bite anti-gun-control argument is, of course, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The counterargument is, “Yeah, but guns sure make it a whole lot easier.” The same applies to drone warfare. It’s suddenly so much easier to pull the trigger, and you’re not putting any of your own people at risk. And so more people die.
But surely sober, thoughtful, serious people make these decisions, you may say, aided by the fabled disposition matrix. If so, there are a few points you need to keep in mind:
- If you think drone warfare is going to stay limited to the relatively checked-and-balanced trigger fingers of the U.S. military, you are living in one of the more astoundingly deluded dreamlands of recent times. China has its own deadly military drones already — oh, and it’s selling them to pretty much all comers.
- If you think drone warfare of tomorrow will be as tame and limited as today’s, again, you’re dreaming. We’ve moved on from the Altair of military drone technology to maybe the Apple II. Imagine what the metaphorical ultrabooks will look like.
- Most of all, if something is easier, it will be done more often, with less consideration. That’s basic, fundamental human nature. That’s why Amazon patented one-click shopping. Conversely, the more obstacles and inconveniences you put in the way, the less inclined people will be to go down that road — or at least, the bigger the reward at the end of it has to be. And that’s why military drones scare me even before they get into the hands of people who don’t much care about innocent lives.
We’re already seeing evidence that drone warfare slowly leads to less consideration for civilian lives: the (apparently deliberate) use of the “double tap” strategy, wherein a first missile is followed a few minutes later by another. From a strictly tactical point of view, this probably does kill more of the bad guys…but it also tends to kill rescuers and first responders.
Meanwhile, only 2 percent of the victims of the American drone war — a body count that now far exceeds the number who died in the World Trade Center — were “high-level militants” and hundreds upon hundreds were civilians.
And again, this is only the beginning. That’s what scares me most. Drone wars may seem to those who wage them to be bloodless and clinical — but there’s every reason to believe that they’ll ultimately be far worse and far bloodier than even many of the horrors of the 20th century.
Image: Hunter-killer, The Terminator.