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P.W. Singer on Robotics and War


On Saturday, an apparent double agent for Al Qaeda killed seven CIA officers in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. On Sunday, a U.S. drone flattened a militant hideout in neighboring Pakistan’s Al Qaeda stronghold.

It looked like a blow-for-blow exchange. But the U.S. blows came by remote control. By robotic warfare.

P.W. Singer says robots — on the ground, in the air — are taking the United States into undeclared war. Remote control war. War with very new parameters and implications. He’s with us today.

This hour, On Point: P.W. Singer on the relentless march of robots into war.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


P.W. Singer joins us from Washington. He’s senior fellow and director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.” His previous books include “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry” and “Children at War.” He served as coordinator for Barack Obama’s defense policy task force during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Read an excerpt from “Wired for War” at Singer’s website.

More links:

On our Notes & Updates blog, we take a look at several videos of U.S. drones and war-bots, like the MQ-9 Reaper, shown here:

Read the post and see more videos.

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  • Todd

    Yup. In a world full of cowards, who don’t have the cojones to stand for anything—much less to fight for it—this is how they wage war.

  • http://aledadigginsart.com Aleda Diggins

    I have heard there are cases of PTSD in those who remotely fly and control the weapons that are deployed by drones. This strikes me as a sane human response.

    Any technology that makes warfare more palatable is something humanity should probably be very wary of.

  • Shira

    How do the Israelis do it? And they do it without all this expensive and invasive technology. Also, your guest says that the method of this scanner is to detect between human material and other material. What will they do with body rings and piercings which could or could not be mistaken for dangeous substances?

  • Agnostic

    I have been reading the following all over the net. Can you discuss the veracity of these numbers. “Of the 44 predator strikes carried out by US drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the past 12 months, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of over 700 innocent civilians.”

    If these numbers are credible I would ask, are these costs that would be acceptable if these were our civilians? And what is the distinction between the consequences of these drones from other tools of terrorism?

  • John

    Robotic technologies are not new. Torpedos,and bomb-site guided munitions were used frequently since WWII, and of course, Germany bombed London with drones. It is mainly the level of precision and remotely-acquired real-time sensing and intelligence that has advanced. US doctrine requires all “kill” and pull the trigger decisions to be human-made, and I do not foresee this changing. The reall scary part is that these technologies will untimately end up in terrorist hands, and then we will see the brave new world from another very ugly perspective. Their doctrines can be imagined – and will be much less restrained and more indiscriminant that ours.


  • Elena

    Your guest mentioned science-fiction. “A Taste of Armegeddon” a Star Trek episode, featured an inter-planetary war conducted by computers. No bombings, no blood, just computers telling each other which sector of the planet had been attacked. Residents reported to extermination booths, willingly. Without the horror and human involvement the war continued for centuries. Are we headed towards that?

  • John

    I have the approximate numbers on the reliability of the predator strikes. The intended target has been hit over 90% of the time, but the intelligence on which the decision was made to hit the target is less than 90% reliabile, resulting in about 80% of these weapons striking a valid target. While a target may be “valid”, it does not mean that there will not be collateral damage. A terrorist goes down with his relatives and neighbors, including children – is this level of collateral loss of life acceptable? This is the question that should be focused on. These are the most precise weapons in history, but the quality of intelligence/targeting and collateral doctrines should the focus of the debate.

  • Todd

    Tom, you’re letting Singer get away with addressing only the perspective of the remote drone operator. What about the perspective of the innocent lives that are being remotely decimated, along with the few intended targets that this cowardly method has managed to kill.

    If you’re not willing to spill your own blood for a cause, then you can not justify spilling the blood of others for it.

  • Dee

    The Terminator series of movies and book tells us a lot about the endgame of this kind of at-a-distance robotic war. Facing a real live enemy is far, far different than facing living, breathing human beings. Perhaps we would not be exponentially increasing the number of our enemies if we were not killing their avatars on a computer screen.

  • Philip

    So here’s a scary thought… though maybe it’s a bit cold-war-ish: How easy would it be to use a drone for the delivery of nuclear weapons?

    I mean, think about it. It can go slower and and lower, follow terrain near-undetectably, arguably better than a cruise missile; it doesn’t put a pilot at risk; it doesn’t necessitate a big fat ICBM or something…

    What do you think?

  • abhijit

    Given time, any new Weapons eventually becomes part of the enemies arsenal.(Eg# Nuclear, chemical PETE, etc). So what happens when the enemies start using unmanned robots to hit US remotely ?

    As a species this is a downward spiral into destroying ourself.


  • Lowell

    2 Shows back to back both covering the risk averse mentality of the US. We want to fly but we want to be 100% safe! We want to win wars, but w/out casualties! Bring on the Drones, better command & control than the suicide bomber, far lees collateral damage!

  • cory

    Imagine that one of the guests at your wedding is considered an enemy target by a nation that your country is at peace with, or even an ally. A drone fires a missile and kills this individual as well as many other guests. This could happen to you if you lived in western Pakistan. I’m not a “peacenik”, but something about this just doesn’t seem right.

    If we can remove casualties as a consequence of war, how easy will it be for us to engage in them more often? We have long been able to kill at a distance (cruise missile, ballistic missile), but we are about to transition into machines doing the targeting and making life and death decisions.

  • Todd

    Hey Singer, as long as a letter has to be sent to a dead soldier’s family, then maybe we’ll be more inclined to think twice before waging an unjust war.

    THIS TECHNOLOGY ONLY MAKES WAR TOO EASY! And you can’t deny that!

  • Robert Ross

    During a trip to Hungary, just after the bombing of Kosovo, I attended a reception at a university. My reception among the professors attending was cool at best. When I asked a friendly professor why everyone was so cool to me, he said, “Because you are an American. They believe Americans are indiscriminately violent.” Why, I asked, do they believe that?

    “You might not know the largest minority population in Kosovo are Hungarians. When you bombed Kosovo, although we might agree with the outcome, we did not agree with the strategy. It was cowardly. If you want to fight, fight. It you want to drop bombs without any risk, that’s not the way to fight with honor.”

    These were intellectuals. They interpreted our avoiding casualties while indiscriminately slaughtering those on the ground to be an act of cowardice. Regardless of how many American lives attack drones might save, the message they send is we aren’t willing to risk our own lives for a cause we claim we believe in.

  • Lowell

    -Through the history of warfare the objective of technology has driven towards creating space between the enemy and the soldier. In the early days of warfare, previous to the rifle and artillery, swords lances, and bows and arrows were used. Engagements were very personal, and brutal. Only recently in comparison to the history of man have we been able to distance ourselves from the enemy by using rifles. The American Revolution saw a change in tactics due to advances in the accuracy of the musket. However, until recently there has been no way to accurately engage the enemy without risking the lives of our soldiers. We have either had to carry the sword, the rifle, fly the plane, or be aboard the ship or sub. Many errors were made due to the amount of fear each individual felt during the encounter – The result being higher civilian casualties, and greater numbers of fratricide. If a robust machine is used to fight our wars, could it not now be more humane by applying lethal and non-lethal force where needed. The Machine could essentially detect humans anywhere, move faster than a human could, and make decisions faster than a human could. In essence, in a gun fight, the enemy would be shot after he showed intent, but before he fired a round. I believe that would be intimidating. Perhaps there are a few individuals that would be foolish enough to engage the machine. But ultimately if an enemy could not win, he would be forced to surrender.
    Another valid point which I believe you have made is the next evolution in warfare – Unmanned systems against unmanned systems, where capabilities in speed, processing power, and sensing are the advantages that will determine winners in engagements.
    My final point is that this revolution is global and it provides the ability to strike remotely. We must remember that Hitler did exist. He was brilliant, cruel, and charismatic and believed in world domination. There will be future leaders that are as aggressive as he was. As a nation, and as a global super power looked upon by much of the world as responsible for their security, we cannot afford to be at the trailing edge.

  • Bill

    There are plenty of TV shows now that show drones and their operators.

    It’s another way to shape the public’s perception of how the US fights wars.

    So funny that most Americans just think it’s about entertaining them.

  • http://asinapicture.blogspot.com/ Murl Aldridge

    Boots on the ground mean innocent people killed as well. Remember the incident in Hadditha? IEDs and suicide bombers used by our enemies kill innocents. So protestation by the taliban are not a right versus wrong issue it is a us versus them issue. War is crime against humanity, if one then the other.

  • Wanda in Grafton, MA

    I am extremely concerned that the use of drones will make “war” antiseptic, and therefore more palatable. Also, we may become more eager to use it, given the remoteness of the human controlling the drone, and its human target. A scientific psychological study years ago essentially proved that the more physically removed the victim is from the perpetrator of the “attack”, the more likely the perpetrator is to use increasingly more force, inflict more pain, etc. Is Mr. Singer aware of this study and its implications for the use of drones?

  • Todd

    Yes, this kind of revolutionary war technology does present a lot of moral questions Mr. Singe. And, with the help of Mr. Ashbrook, you’ve managed to avoid addressing ANY of them!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Cut to the chase: Technology is not going away. Period.

    Therefore, you adjust to the new technology. You do not become Luddites and call for earlier days. Forget it. The genie is out of bottle and isn’t going back into the bottle.

  • http://www.jhna.com John Northrop

    This broadcast grossly overrepresents two key points. First – the attacks into “Pakistan” i.e the Northwest Frontier are tantamount to waging war into Pakistan. Technically yes. Figuratively no. There are no government services, controls, influences of any sort in this lawless, tribal region. One could view incursions into the NW Frontier no more a violation of Pakistani sovereignty than any orther action in Afghanistan. Much, much more importantthe roles that drones play in this war is important – but in the grand scheme of warfare is absolutely trivial – when compare to the day to day interaction of thousands of soldiers and marines across the planet. The majority of this intellectual theory pertains to airman, in Nevada, which constiture less than 1/4 of 1% of what is happening. I don’t laugh at PTSD – it is a serious condition – but I do laugh at drone operators in Nevada being compare to say, an Infantryman in Sadr City or Mosul. This is only mildly intellectually interesting.

  • Philip

    Wasn’t it Patton who said [paraphrase] that the object of war isn’t to die for your country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his?

    Doesn’t drone warfare contribute to that philosophical end?

  • cory

    To the ex-marine who called in,

    Then why not nukes or chemical/biological weapons, if we have to do “everything possible” to help our troops?

  • Arturo

    I do not think that Mullah Omar, or anyone of his pals, is morally fit to talk about courage in combat. These are the same men who pick up kids from the madrasas and pack them with explosives. I have no qualms if the US armed forces use as many drones against them. The fox is just whining because the grapes are too high for his dirty bloody paws to grap.

  • Mari

    The mundane, workaday, endless and automated American “war” against the rest of the world can result in only two endings:

    1) The robots win. That means all humans lose, per the “no guts, no glory” mandate.

    2) The (ultimately) self-replicating robots lose. That means the Earth becomes uninhabitable for all life, forever.

    Both plots play out like interminably bad sci-fi movies. Has anybody given any thoughts to creative ways of making peace in the engineering laboratory? Might be the best idea, yet, even though it’s probably not so much fun for the guys who must stand by and remotely monitor the scene.

  • Tod Borkersen

    How do you surrender to a drone?

  • Wayne Abercrombie

    While there are certainly acts of courage in war (just signing up to go to war is one), the romantic ideals of war as courageous act seems more rooted in the 1940s and 50s movies. The nobility of war — as opposed to finding intelligent solutions — is highly debatable. It leads to the idea that violence really solves problems. Witness Iraq and, especially Afghanistan.

    Robotics and drones are simply safer ways to inflict violence, a descendent of the gun and the catapult.the “man thing” of “mine is bigger than yours.”

    If women ran things, would we rush to show how strong we were, or would we first try to show how smart we were?

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Wayne – Women are very violent creatures. Drop the sexist arguments.

  • Paul

    This is Paul from Charlottesville, Virginia.

    I was the team lead for a team in two DARPA Grand Challenges and created two autonomous ground vehicles, i.e. robot cars. Part of the challenge’s motivation was from congressional mandates and the Future Combat System program.

    The Future Combat Systems program represented one of the most significant programs to robotize the US military force.

    What information do you have for why the Future Combat Systems program was canceled in June 2009?

    And what do see as the ramifications of that cancellation w.r.t. our readiness relative to other countries?

  • Christopher Goodman

    War is only justifiable if unavoidable. We don’t fight to be honorable – we should be honorable, but honor isn’t the purpose. Especially relating to Al Quaeda, this is not a war of choice. Care must be used for avoiding civilian casualties, but targeted assassination by drone is considerably more honorable than IEDs or suicide bombing.

  • Mike Rock

    How outrageous this show is. How come no one on Onpoint ever questions the morality of what the muslim extremists are doing. No one ever questions the world wide chaos that these primitives are perpetrating. If the muslim extremists had the technology they would use it against us. Onpoint, its producers, and host apparently would be just fine with that. I suspect that no one at Onpoint has ever been shot at by the enemy. I suspect that no one at Onpint has ever been in combat. There are evil people in the world. Shiria law is nothing to praise. Good luck with your liberalism. We will continue to fight so that you have the freedom to live. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The order of the text is no accident.

  • Mari

    “If women ran things, would we rush to show how strong we were, or would we first try to show how smart we were?” – Posted by Wayne Abercrombie

    “Women are very violent creatures. Drop the sexist arguments.”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness,

    Thanks, Wayne. Please ignore “imploded consciousness”.
    Most women do not want our sons and daughters to be thrown into the maw of the war-beast. We will only resort to violence when our backs are against the wall and our kid’s lives are being threatened. Even then, we’ll think first, use language to dispel the threat and come out swinging only if it’s absolutely necessary.
    Turning this discussion into a male versus female thing is stupid. Yes, I’m a woman and I have thought about it. Turning my other cheek, now…..

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Mari – You are a sexist. You turn this in to a man versus woman thing and then state it is stupid to do such. Woman are violent creatures. All violence is not so-called ‘physical violence.’ Going to war is not mere physical violence, it is an intellectual and emotional decision. Women are surely capable of violence, hating, revenge, irrationality, bitching, carping, gossiping, power struggles, etc. All the violent acts of life, including the intellectual and emotional decision to go to war.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Apparently, Mari thinks that Hillary Clinton could never bring her poor dear heart to the decision to go to war. She’d be thinking of puffy pink things, instead.

  • cory

    There is a good reason civilian officials control the military. We need to go deeper than “does it kill the enemy” when we make decisions about new weapons and technologies.

    Never having been in combat doesn’t preclude one from having an understanding of morals and ethics. In fact, it may be an advantage.

  • Mari

    Hilarious stuff, E.C. If you actually knew me you would not be so hasty to lump me in with all those pre-conceived stereotypes.

    The subject at hand is drone warfare. It’s not my field of expertise, yet I have formed some educated opinions about it. That doesn’t make me a warrior or even remotely war-like (pardon the pun).

    I don’t know if you are a male or a female, honestly, but attitudes like those displayed in your two previous comments are not particularly insightful or kind regarding half the population of the globe. Thanks for a good laugh on a gray day.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    If you’re at war, then you’ve decided it is a just war.

    If you are at war, then:

    Achieve your objectives.
    Kill the enemy.
    Don’t kill civilians.
    Don’t yourself die.

    War is not some game where we have American soldiers die to satisfy your antiquated, movie-induced notions of a romantic and sexy war.

  • Todd

    “How do you surrender to a drone?”
    Posted by Tod Borkersen

    An excellent point! And one that captures the blatant inhumanity of such technology.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Mari – As if you do not know already, Wayne made the sexists argument. I criticized it. That is the subject you addressed yourself to. You defended his sexist argument. Now you pretend that I made a sexist argument and speak of ‘half the population.’

    Pseudo-stupidity. You only pretend to be so confused.

  • Agnostic

    If anyone thinks that this tactic is going to lead to achieving our objectives they are smoking something. Tom sees this as saving American lives, Pakistanis and Afghans see it as killing innocent Pakistani lives. That alone does not bode well for our strategic interest in the region.

    According to official Pakistani numbers released and read by their public more than 700 innocent civilians were killed to take out five Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets. There are also reports that a senior Taliban commander said a suicide bomb attack that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was an act of retaliation against the US drone attacks.

    If in fact, the Pakistani number of five take outs is correct and it came at the expense of 700 innocent civilians and seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan, it is debatable if we are in fact net saving more lives than we are expending for these type of kills.

    I believe this type of warfare ups the ante and will aid the opposition more than deter it. It is stirring a hornet’s nest.

  • Todd

    “War is not some game where we have American soldiers die to satisfy your antiquated, movie-induced notions of a romantic and sexy war.”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    Uh, not quite. The only difference with war now is that it’s become some game where innocent civilians die to satisfy your modern X-Box-induced notions of a romantic and sexy war.

    Technology my change, but human nature remains the same.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Technology ain’t going a way.

    The enemy will soon enough get the technology.

    The only thing to do now is to improve the technology, so innocent civilians do not die.

    There is no going back to Kansas, Dorothy.

  • Todd

    “Technology ain’t going a way…There is no going back to Kansas, Dorothy.”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    On the contrary. Technology will go away—and Dorothy along with it—when it finally achieves the capability to destroy everything, including itself.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    We agree! Technology will be the end of all.

    On the human race tombstone, I write the epitaph: [b]The Species That Was Too Smart For Its Own Good[/b]

  • Todd

    We agree! Technology will be the end of all.

    On the human race tombstone, I write the epitaph: [b]The Species That Was Too Smart For Its Own Good[/b]
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    Indeed, it seems we do agree! However, I would amend that epitaph to read: “The Species That Lacked The Wisdom To Realize Its Own Good.”

    See you at the wake!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Ha! I’ll be there.

    In the meantime, between now and the end, the wisest thing to do is stay ahead of the technology curve while we can. We will not be the superpower forever and for all America’s flaws, technology is still safer in our hands then it will be later in others’ hands.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • Brett

    “‘If you’re not willing to spill your own blood for a cause, then you can not justify spilling the blood of others for it.’” -Todd

    Man, I’m finding myself agreeing with you twice in one day!?!?! :-) It’s probably just a case on your part of the blind hog finding an acorn…

    …The talk on the show about the benefit of not having to send letters to the parents of dead troops, or the “nature of war” “changing” to no longer include a soldier having to develop a mindset of being killed sounded ridiculous…I guess a soldier can now devote mental energies completely to killing rather than dividing those mental processes into killing and being killed.

    Some of the callers who had been in the military talked about drones giving a soldier an advantage, and that concerns over ethics/morality are purely academic, etc. These are very narrow views. The former doesn’t take into consideration that an enemy could build drones/re-program US drones, etc., to use against the soldier with the “advantage.” The “advantage” argument is almost the same as when nuclear bombs were first being developed. The latter disregards the need to keep ethics/morality constantly in focus with regard to war.

    To borrow some shamelessly sentimental imagery (usually Akilez devotes this image to advocate war in Afghanistan): who is going to send a letter to the mother of that boy in Pakistan who was killed by a drone while trying to fly his kite on a Pakistani hillside? And are we going to reduce al-Qaeda indoctrination of youth by bombing civilians? 1) No one is going to send a letter to that poor kite-flying boy’s mother! 2) That poor kite-flying boy’s brother will then probably be more likely to listen to what al-Qaeda has to say!

  • Brett

    E.C. (from 1:51pm),
    You’ve succeeded in misinterpreting Dylan Thomas. Your use of his poem is a complete bastardization. Go back to playing Dungeons and Dragons!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Brett – Nonsense.

    The interpretation works just fine and fits in with the line of argument discussed. Technology may well be destructive and lead to the destruction of mankind. Yet, in the choice between embracing technology or being a Luddite, clearly the genie is out of the bottle and technology must be embraced because it ain’t going away. Our enemies will have our technology soon enough (drones and more). The answer is to improve and continue to develop our technology and its deployment (eg.reduce/eliminate civilian casualties, be able to recognize a surrendering soldier). The answer is to face with strength (“rage against the dying light”) the dangers of the world and the destructiveness of the human species. Not to approach everything with weakness.

    Weakness is not life-loving, more often than not it is destructive. It is rather sickening that you wish that drones be outlawed and your American next door neighbor’s blood be split rather than spared. That is the choice. Face it. A true pacifist would want the least casualties possibles and, therefore, support drones. To assume, a priori, that the answer to peace is to destroy the advancement of all weapons is nonsense. Why not take away all guns from police officers with the same excuse?

    And if you think warfare should be only entered into when both sides are equally armed, I suppose you are ready to send an equal portion of your tax dollars to fund enemy armies, send them half our generals, give them half our technology. Yet, another example of American’s sickening obsession with and misappropriation of the concept of “equality.” De Tocqueville was right.

    No, poets are not all pacifists to the point of self-destruction and Dylan would “rage” to keep American soldiers alive.

    This is a matter for grown-ups. Go back to la-la land and childhood fairytales. Let the adults deal with the serious issues that overwhelm your reason.

  • Christopher Goodman

    In 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran (with at minimum the tacit approval of the US) in order to settle a “border dispute” (take land), although other justifications for the invasion were also given. The Iranians, being decisively out armed, but also being very patriotic, rose to the challenge. In addition to every weapon and warrior being used by Iran for its defense, boys were armed with copies of the Koran and sent into battle. If they lived, they would pick up and use the weapons of the fallen. Eight years later the war ended with more than a million Iranian casualties – more than twice the Iraqi losses. But the Iranians kept their sovereignty and their borders.
    Was it worth it? Or should Iran simply have surrendered or somehow appeased Iraq? Were the Iranians justified in expanding the war when it turned to their advantage? Would better technology have deterred the attack, or ended the war faster?
    I think there is a macabre honor involved in the Iranians’ defense, but it was a defense of necessity in response to an unnecessary (and thus immoral) invasion. Although the Iranians were no angels, the responsibility for that war and its casualties lies with Iraq (specifically Hussein). The war might not have been avoided, but Iran’s casualties would have been fewer had they been better prepared in technology and armament. And although I blame Hussein for that war, Iran should have accepted the first truce that respected their borders and sovereignty – but technology had less influence on that decision.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “‘If you’re not willing to spill your own blood for a cause, then you can not justify spilling the blood of others for it.’”

    Really? If a guy with a gun shows up at my door tonight, I am not willing to spill my own blood. I am willing to stop him from murdering me and spill his blood, if that is what it takes. And I have enough regard for my fellow American that I am willing to arm the police officer arriving on the scene with whatever tools keep his blood in his body and him alive.

    You sound like jihadists and extremists with these romantic, fairytale notions of a “cause.”

  • I got yer twitter…

    My only question Mr Bush, Mr Clinton, Mr Bush, Mr Obama is: when are we going to get tough?

  • Expanded Consciousness

    You know, what drone technology actually does is make all soldiers, de facto officers and generals. War has always had the chosen few not behind enemy lines, making the decisions safe at headquarters or in the capital, and the grunts, the expendable ‘great unwashed’ to send into harm’s way. What this technology does is quite egalitarian. Now all Americans in the armed forces can be out of harm’s way. Those opposed to this new flatter army are really old-school elitists, that have no problem being ‘armchair generals,’ safe at home in front of CNN.

  • Todd

    ““‘If you’re not willing to spill your own blood for a cause, then you can not justify spilling the blood of others for it.’”
    posted by Todd

    Really? If a guy with a gun shows up at my door tonight, I am not willing to spill my own blood. I am willing to stop him from murdering me and spill his blood, if that is what it takes. And I have enough regard for my fellow American that I am willing to arm the police officer arriving on the scene with whatever tools keep his blood in his body and him alive.

    You sound like jihadists and extremists with these romantic, fairytale notions of a “cause.””
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    @ EC:
    Your analogy fails on two levels. First, from the limited description you provide in your scenario, one could assume that it’s a cop that has shown up at your door tonight—armed with a gun, that perhaps you have, indirectly, helped provide. Second, if an armed antagonist did indeed appear at your door tonight, it is not war; rather, it is self-defense. Unlike war, self-defense is not normally a premeditated action; it is a justified reaction for the sake of one’s own preservation. However, like war, even lethal self-defense is justified only when no other option exists.

    If my belief in ideas/causes worth the courage of spilling my own blood makes me an extremist, then I stand guilty as accused, and make no apologies. If it were not for such “extremists,” you would today—in all likelihood—be paying tribute to the Queen and speaking with a Cockney accent. Stand for something, or fall for anything.

  • Bob Meyers

    The unmanned aircraft may seem like a big change, but the increase in power projection to get the war fighter away from the fight has been going on for a long time. My father flew out of Africa in WWII, living in tents. During Korea he flew out of Okinawa, and he too was home for dinner after a bombing run.

  • Brett

    First of all, in any decent literary circle, the jingoistic, “military might” interpretation of Thomas’ poem would be very much considered a bastardization. It is an apt word for how “uniquely” you’ve “interpreted” Thomas’ poem, especially considering Thomas wrote it for his dying father. He was imploring his father in a way to not give in to death, to live…I believe poems should be interpreted any way the reader gets them, that the nature (and true strength) of poetry is in its effect on the reader, but militaristic build up or a pro modern-day arms race as an interpretation of Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” as an idea is a bit ridiculous.

    As far as the pro-drones argument is concerned, you’re using the same points that were used during the Cold War to promote the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Many of the scientists who were first working on nuclear weapons were pacifists who thought their efforts would end all wars. What actually transpired was an arms race and threats to this world that had never been seen or heard of prior.

    “‘…the answer to peace is to destroy the advancement of all weapons is nonsense.’”

    Conversely, it could be said, E.C., that the answer to peace is not the build up of weapons, either! You are imagining my position as an absolute one that espouses a world view of complete peace and understanding among nations where no conflicts exist. That’s a straw man tactic. Besides, your characterization of a mindset as being a “‘weakness’” because it wishes to at least question the morality and ethics of drones is absurd.

    “‘You know, what drone technology actually does is make all soldiers, de facto officers and generals…’”

    As a response to that statement, I would say that what makes any strategy in the military function effectively is proper chain of command. When that breaks down in any way, historically, there has been atrocity.

    The reality of what you propose does not serve to lessen organized terrorism but puts forth acts that enflame and incite people who are ripe for indoctrination into terroristic activity to further develop anti-American ideology. The use of drones in Pakistan is undermining the very solution it purports to encourage.

    Albert Einstein once said, “‘a country can not simultaneously prepare and prevent war.’” William Tecumseh Sherman once said of war, “‘every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.’” Robert E. Lee once observed, “‘if it [war] were not so terrible, we should grow too fond of it…’”

  • Joey

    While there are many philosophical elements to this discussion one must keep in mind that we are currently referring to the aerial element of war. The difference between the perspective available to a manned aviator and the person guiding an un-manned drone is minimal. Neither is able to differentiate as though they were on the ground and the latter may be of clearer mind.

    If we replace manned jets and helicopters with drones many lives and funds may be saved. When coupled with counter-insurgency and post-war assistance, that we would potentially have more funds to contribute to with the money saved, we may be able to do much more on all sides at lower cost of life and treasure. Once we replace the person on the ground with an automaton then we have crossed another threshold, but that is tangential to the discussion at hand. We are not going to limit aerial war, so why not limit the casualties and cost involved?

  • Todd

    “We are not going to limit aerial war, so why not limit the casualties and cost involved?”
    Posted by Joey

    Whose casualties, and whose cost? Perhaps we should begin an immediate campaign to educate the innocent civilian population of Afghanistan about these marvelous limits of which you speak. I’m sure it will be of great comfort to the survivors of the innocent Afghanis who have been killed by the use of drones. Focusing on the fact that these are instruments of aerial warfare—whether manned or un-manned—doesn’t even have a tangential bearing with respect to the moral issue raised by the killing of innocent civilians. Aerial warfare doesn’t carry a special exemption from the rules of engagement.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    The main worry seems to be, what if technology makes it easier to go to war?

    What if technology makes it harder to go to war? What if technology reduces the number of human casualties in war? What if wars between countries are fought robot against robot with no human casualties?

    What if robots could have prevented a Hitler from ever getting started?

    The main goal is to value human life. Taking human casualties out of war to whatever extent possible is thus a good thing.

    Times change. Roll with it.

  • Posey

    Robotic warfare has several advantage for civilian deaths.

    1. Far more accurate delivery of weapons on targets compared to manned systems which have much longer stand-off ranges.

    2. Far lesser need for defensive fire. If a manned helo-copter is being fired on, it will destory the source of the fire, and perhaps many innocences around the preceived source of threat.

    3. Much longer linger times, and thus the operator can afford to wait to be sure.

    4. Never a need to send in a large armed force to save a downed pilot, and thus no need to punish the area with many times as much hostile fire from both sides in the operation.

    5. Unmanned vehicles cost much, much less, carry more and can stay in the air much longer than the manned versions that can do the same thing.

    Though, of course the fact that this Robotic tech saving American Soldiers lives and whole bunch of money is by far the most important issue.

    BTW Future Combat Systems(FCS) program was not cancelled at all, though some interm vehicles planned under it were cancelled since they did not incorporate all the things learned in the current 2(3)wars. FCS is very much alive and the development goes on.

    BTW2 The Israelis make very extensive use of the highest technology available to them, and definitely lead the Americans in robotic and FCS type technology use.

    BTW3: If you want Americans to care about the price of war, have a income adjusted war tax, and I promise you America will care. Other than an universal draft, nothing else will have as much effect, and there is no way that a draft that really effected the sons and daughters of the rich and powerfull would ever happen. Only so many Senator’s kids can desert the Ala National Guard you know!!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “If you want Americans to care about the price of war, have a income adjusted war tax, and I promise you America will care”

    Indeed, it is sane for the ‘price of war’ to be in monetary terms and not to be the spilling of blood. How barbaric are the armchair generals on here who demand the spilling of blood out of another American’s body (not their own) inorder to gain the alleged good of the American public feeling the pain of war. The love of pain is clear here.

  • Todd

    “How barbaric are the armchair generals on here who demand the spilling of blood out of another American’s body (not their own) inorder to gain the alleged good of the American public feeling the pain of war. The love of pain is clear here.”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    @ EC:
    Not quite. No demand for the spilling of blood has been made, at least not in the absence of a just cause. For, it’s not the love of pain itself that has been clarified, but rather the love of LIFE that pain has a way of bringing to the fore. Pain has its necessary purpose. Without it, how would a body know when to seek aid when it is injured, in order to be healed and preserve the life loved?

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Ha! We owe all murderers in prison a debt of gratitude. They brought pain to the fore, oh how we love life so much more now. Let’s not stop the murderers.

    Let’s not stop the bloodshed with technology.
    We won’t love life.
    And there will be more bloodshed.

    What circular non-logic!

  • Todd

    “…What circular non-logic!”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    @ EC:
    “Non-logical”? Ironic, perhaps; but not illogical—like your hyperbolic response.

    Life isn’t always logical. Wisdom cannot be gained but through suffering. But, I wouldn’t expect a fool to understand wisdom.

  • Brett

    Your using too much simple, black and white reasoning in attempting to bolster your position. In characterizing the opposing viewpoint, you are really just using straw man maneuvers, and they have little basis in genuine idea exchanges.

    “‘Let’s not stop the bloodshed with technology’” as your characterization of the opposing viewpoint is ridiculous and implies we CAN stop bloodshed with technology.

    You speak, naively, or potentially are sounding glib, as if technology has a good track record of ending bloodshed in the proposition of war. I don’t say end ["ALL"] pursuit of technology development with regard to war machines (in case that would be your rebuttal in trying to pigeonhole an opposing viewpoint), but let’s not hold any illusions toward the power of technology!

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Then according to your ‘logic,’ there has been no wisdom in human progress, since progress has reduced human suffering. Just because some wisdom can be found through suffering, does not mean all wisdom is found through suffering or that suffering is wisest and should dictate a course of action.

    The noble warrior is a reluctant warrior, not one thirst to shed his own or his own countrymen’s blood.

    Technology reducing our casualty numbers is a good. It will not lead us into unjust wars because we will not feel the ‘pain of war.’ That scare tactic of yours does not stand up to scrutiny.

    Sorry if that makes war less sexy for the armchair generals out there. Instead of dreaming of exploding guns and Americans’ heads being blown off, go rent some porn or something if you need catharsis.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    We can stop bloodshed with technology.

    That is a given in this discussion. No one in this debate is in denial of that fact.

  • Brett

    Again, E.C., your using too many absolute statements in your overly simplistic characterizations of others’ ideas; it becomes tiresome. You are also holding a very absolute position on your end, which indicates more reactiveness than thought.

    “‘…no wisdom in human progress’”

    Who here said that?

    “‘The noble warrior is a reluctant warrior, not one [who] thirst[s] to shed his own or his own countrymen’s blood.”

    Simple platitudes don’t bolster your position. Besides, no one was talking about a “‘thirst for blood.’” You COULD use “‘the noble warrior’” stuff and the “‘thirst for blood’” in your Dungeons and Dragons games, though :-)

    “‘Technology reducing our casualty numbers is a good.’”

    Yeah, no ethics/morality ever needs to be applied to civilian casualties in other countries…

    “‘It will not lead us into unjust wars because we will not feel the ‘pain of war.’ That scare tactic of yours does not stand up to scrutiny.’”

    Again, that is a gross, oversimplification of my position. Also, no thinking person would consider you’ve held anything up to scrutiny.

    “‘Sorry if that makes war less sexy for the armchair generals out there. Instead of dreaming of exploding guns and Americans’ heads being blown off, go rent some porn or something if you need catharsis.’”

    This statement is in the realm of auditory/visual hallucination on your part.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Technology will reduce to nil civilian casualties.

  • Todd

    “Then according to your ‘logic,’ there has been no wisdom in human progress, since progress has reduced human suffering.”
    Posted by Expanded Consciousness

    @ EC:
    Your above statement bolsters my argument. If it were not for suffering, humans would not seek to make progress towards reducing it. The wisdom of true human progress is measured by the good it brings forth. Technology cuts both ways, depending upon the intent of those who wield it. One edge brings wisdom, the other folly. If technology makes war, and killing one another easier, then progress is cutting with the edge of folly. Technology will not “reduce to nil civilian casualties”; rather, it will only make them easier to dehumanize and kill without remorse.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    There is no escaping technology. Technology did not commence with Bill Gates. Humans are by nature technology-making creatures. We can’t escape it. This has been so since the first time we picked up a rock and used it in a creative way.
    So, it is erroneous to talk about technology-making as something separate from our nature. It is human nature itself that contains the wisdom and folly.

    Thus, the answer is not to be Luddites and reject technology. The answer is to develop technology first before our enemies do (and they will, eventually). Hoping to help the cause of peace by willfully choosing weakness (less technological development) is narrow-minded short-term thinking and puts future generations of Americans at great risk.

    You can show up at high noon as a Luddite with no gun in hand, but the other guy is not going to follow suit. Arguing that America should cease developing its war technology does not mean our enemies will. You are not choosing Luddite peace for the whole human species, you are only choosing a suicidal course for America. Our economic might is dwindling. We are going to need our technological might more than ever in the 21st century, if we want to have any hope of making it to the 22nd century.

    Yes, technology is suicidal for the human species in the long run. That has always been true and perhaps nothing will stop that. That does not mean that America should choose weakness and allow itself to be destroyed based on your naive idealism that you can solve this human nature – technology problem.

    The real question for the future is what can be done about human nature itself. You are wrong to assume that humans will always control technology and be free to choose how it is deployed. Technology is going to be so powerful that technology is going to have to be in control of itself or is going to have to alter and dominate human nature. Neuroscience technology will someday dominate, control and reprogram the brain and human nature.

    Freedom + technology = disaster for the species. Enjoy your freedom and human nature for now.

    Most importantly, do not martyr America by laying its guns down first and allowing the guy in the black hat to gun us down at High Noon. America still wears the white hat. America – and the world – is safest when we have more gun than our enemies.

    Your argument is the equivalent of someone who wants to rid America of guns and proposes that we take them away from the police first and leave them in the hands of the criminals.

    Uh … thanks for all the suggestions, but no thanks.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Of course, technology will reduce to nil civilian casualties. Lasers cut better than surgeons. Computers fly planes and pilots fall asleep. Technology will be able to see through walls and ID the surroundings and the status of all humans in the area with far more accuracy then some poor soldier who is stressed, sleep-deprived, using amphetamines to stay awake and deal with the insanity of war.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    In short, let’s be realistic. It is safer to develop the technology. If we do not someone else will and they will someday stand before us as America’s enemy.

  • Brett

    Your jingoism/imperialism/ believing the US should be the police officers of the world and all other countries are akin to criminals, is narrow and lacks intelligence.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Brett – Your relativism/believing all countries are equal is narrow and lacks intelligence.

    Ooooh, the policeman argument. The US could become isolationists and never get involved, even if another Holocaust is occurring and we should still develop technology because it is better if we have more power than some present or future enemy.

    But you are right. There are no dangers in the world. America should become pacifists and refuse to develop any more technology. Our new way will set an example for all the world. Everyone the globe over will lay down their arms and rocks. Brett will lead us all into singing ‘Kumbaya’ together and the world will rejoice in one gigantic, orgasmic group hug.

    Nice rant above, as you skirt addressing any issue I raised. The intelligent thing to do.

  • Brett

    Treating technology as something that will reach perfection, never be abused and create utopia reveals your ignorance toward history. Your overuse of the word “Luddite” alone is enough to make you sound reductionist. You must be very young, and if you expect to have your “issues” “addressed,” you should make your arguments less overly simplistic and absolute. Most of your comment from 4:41pm on Jan. 10th either contradicted itself or engaged in hyperbole.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Vote right now:

    To fund the development of war technology and ethics committees to oversee their deployment and use


    To abandon the development of war technology.

    Place your vote!

    You do not get to just sit on the sidelines, honking hysterically.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    “Treating technology as something that will reach perfection, never be abused and create utopia.”

    You are talking to yourself, since I never said such.

    I’ve never contracted myself. The slightest complexity is beyond you. There is nothing so immature as your avoidance of reality.

    “In short, let’s be realistic. It is safer to develop the technology. If we do not someone else will and they will someday stand before us as America’s enemy.”

    Address the above! Be an adult! Face it squarely!

  • Brett

    “The slightest complexity is beyond you.” -E.C.

    Hardly, as I basically said before, it’s your lack of “complexity” or lack of nuanced statements to support your opinions that is the problem. Your mention of ethics panels to accompany any war technology development is the first practical statement you’ve made and suggests a reasonable solution to the problem of weighing ethics against technology.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    You have been talking to yourself the whole time. We have internal and international rules governing the use of our current war weaponry. No one in here is arguing for the development and deployment of future computerized war weaponry without guidelines.

    Does anyone one have a match? We have a straw man in here.

    Now again.

    Vote right now:

    To fund the development of war technology and ethics committees to oversee their deployment and use


    To abandon the development of war technology.

    Place your vote!

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

Aug 20, 2014
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This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 19, 2014
Lara Russo, left, Cally Guasti, center, and Reese Werkhoven sit on a couch in their apartment in New Paltz, N.Y. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  While their roommate story of $40,800 found in a couch made the news, other, weirder stories of unusual roommates are far more common. (AP)

From college dorms and summer camps to RVs and retirement hotels, what it’s like to share a room. True stories of roommates.

Aug 19, 2014
Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

“War zones” in America. Local police departments with military grade equipment – how much is too much, and what it would take to de-militarize America’s police force.

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