March 18, 2013

"Warfare, unlike philosophy, could never be conducted from an armchair. Until now."

"For the first time in history, some soldiers have this in common with philosophers: they can do their jobs sitting down. They now have what I’ve always enjoyed, namely 'leisure,' in the Hobbesian sense of the word, meaning they are not constantly afraid of being killed. Hobbes thought that there are certain not-so-obvious perks to leisure (not being killed is the obvious one). For one, you get to think. This is what he means when he says that 'leisure is the mother of philosophy.' I tend to agree with Hobbes: only those who enjoy a certain amount of leisure can be philosophers."

Writes philosopher John Kaag
, who, we're told, has a forthcoming book called "Drone Warfare." Better hurry, there's also another book called "Drone Warfare, coming out in April. That one is written by CODEPINK and Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin, has a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, and a subtitle "Killing by Remote Control."

55 comments:

TosaGuy said...

DOD is also creating the Distinguished Warfare Medal for such people. It will be higher in order of precedence that the Bronze Star, which can only be earned by being in a combat zone.

This is a symptom of the growing rot that is in our higher military establishment.

AEH said...

This seems a bit like "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. We are in a time where it is dangerous to have wars conducted by blood-thirsty people specifically because there is a much smaller chance that the perpetuated violence will return the favor to the wager.

Expat(ish) said...

You lost me at "Ehrenreich" - what a sour puss.

Should be an interesting book, but at the end of the day, you will still need guys with guns who wear boots and can carry their gear.

The other stuff is just gravy.

I will also note that only a small percentage of soldiers ever see combat these days, so if an even smaller percent (drone pilots) can avoid it even more, I don't see that it's a game changer for most enlisted people.

-XC

MadisonMan said...

It requires a lot of bravery to push a button, doesn't it?

john said...

When leaders led.

chickelit said...

This may just be the early stage of drone warfare. What happens when there's a drone-armed enemy and they have remote control dogfights? Then you got some ineffectual guy sitting in an armchair somewhere.

When tanks were first introduced in WW I it was as if the Brits had an unfair advantage. It didn't last.

Ann Althouse said...

"You lost me at "Ehrenreich" - what a sour puss."

Ridiculous! That's the other book I'm warning you away from!

Shouting Thomas said...

And, yet, we're getting our asses kicked in Afghanistan by a bunch of inbred goat herders.

How can that be?

I'm looking forward to reading William Dalrymple's history of the First Afghan War (1839-42), in which the British got their asses kick by the same inbred goat herders.

We've got gay marriage for the troops, and drones that kill at a distance. Wonder what in the fuck those goat herders got that we don't?

Mitchell the Bat said...

Soon enough people will come around to my idea of conducting warfare by computer simulation.

Now's the time to invest in disintegration chambers for the people identified as casualties.

Get in on the ground floor.

The ground zero floor, that is.

Henry said...

I've just finished reading Karl Marlantes' What it is Like to Go to War. Marlantes argues forcefully for a warrior philosophy that treats immersion into conflict and return to civil society as profound moral events in which soldiers are given time and support to make the transitions.

Drone warfare complicates this by not only removing the temporal and geographic transitions between the two states (something that jet travel initiated for Vietnam War combatants like Marlantes), but by stealing from those soldiers the respect they deserve for what they are doing. TosaGuy and MadisonMan point to the problem, but they have it exactly wrong.

It should take a lot of bravery to kill someone, whether face to face or removed. The warrior piloting drones needs the same moral preparation and awareness as the marine in the firefight.

Mitchell the Bat said...

It should come as a comfort to someone about to be obliterated that the paunchy, middle-aged man at the controls wears glasses, smokes a pipe, and has elbow patches on his tweed blazer.

Hagar said...

Drones, having been invented, are here to stay, but the use of them has to be brought out into daylight.

Old RPM Daddy said...

@Mitch: "Soon enough people will come around to my idea of conducting warfare by computer simulation." I watched Star Trek too. I think Captain Kirk viewed your idea as a bad thing.

But I'm not sure what we're talking about is all that revolutionary. I think you could argue that killing from a distance using drones has its antecedents in the ancient past, starting with rocks, spears, arrows, bullets, B-52s, or anything else that separated the attacker from his target. And as Chickelit pointed out above, the enemy always finds a way to counter the advantage.

EDH said...

How about conducting Freudian drone warfare from a toilet seat?

Bombs away!

edutcher said...

They start from a specious premise, namely, war at leisure.

Saw someplace where the drone pilots have a high stress rate.

Shouting Thomas said...

And, yet, we're getting our asses kicked in Afghanistan by a bunch of inbred goat herders.

How can that be?


Look who's CinC.

Mitchell the Bat said...

It should come as a comfort to someone about to be obliterated that the paunchy, middle-aged man at the controls wears glasses, smokes a pipe, and has elbow patches on his tweed blazer.

Actually, it's probably a 20 year old kid in fatigues.

Or, if we're talking USAF, a pilot qualified to fly combat jets.

Darrell said...

If terrorists ever got drones, the Lefties here would beg the terorists to go to computer simulated war to proect the infastructure and tax base. Obama wouldn't hesitate to sign to orders requiring you to show up at an extermination center to match the death toll in the computer game.

Larry J said...

Drones (actually, they're RPVs or UAVs but that's splitting hairs) come in all sizes. Some of them such as the Raven and Puma are backpack portable. These are carried by units as small as infantry squads and Special Operations forces (as shown in the movie "Act of Valor"). They don't carry any weapons (yet) but they allow units to see what's around the next corner. They're electric powered and look like radio contolled model airplanes (which they are) but they have some interesting capabilities. The Army also operates larger UAVs including the Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle (kind of a Predator on steroids). Some of the bigger UAVs are armed. There's also the Switchblade, which is a small single-use UAV/cruise missile that can be launched by an individual soldier and flown into a target. Most Army UAVs are operated by relatively short ranged data links which means the operators are in-theater.

The Air Force also operates several types of UAVs ranging from the Predator through the Reaper to the RQ-170 and Global Hawk. General Atomics (builder of the Predator, Gray Eagle and Reaper) has also built a UAV called the Avenger but I don't know for sure if it's operational yet. The GA UAVs can be armed and can be operated via satellite links from thousands of miles away.

TosaGuy said...

"It should take a lot of bravery to kill someone, whether face to face or removed. The warrior piloting drones needs the same moral preparation and awareness as the marine in the firefight."

I don't disagree with that fact that drone pilots need some tools to cope with what they do psychologically.

However, they don't have to worry about being killed or worrying about the getting the people they lead killed.

I led over 200 infantry missions in Iraq. The greatest personal issue I had to cope with was the persistent, gnawing fear of what if one of my mistakes gets one of my guys hurt or killed. Fortunately, we all came home.

edutcher said...

For examples, consider this and here.

bpm4532 said...

We've got to do something to provide jobs for the video game generation.

Bruce Hayden said...

This seems a bit like "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.

This is one of the reasons that I like SciFi. For those who haven't read the series, humans are engaged in a war to the death with a hive intelligence, complete with queens. We have instantaneous communications across space, but physical travel takes longer. Turns out kids have faster reflexes, etc., and so a generation of kids are trained in Battle School on what appear to be video games. Turns out that ultimately they are really fighting the hive race in those video "games", and ultimately destroy their home planet, after winning a space battle. Then, Ender, the smartest one of the kids, who led the team that won the war, grows up and faces the guilt of destroying a race.

So, we are now at the point where guys sit in comfortable chairs in Arizona, flying drones in Afghanistan, etc. They go home at night (or during the day), have normal lives, but may be killing people while on duty half way around the world from the affects of their actions. And, it is looking like some of them are getting PTSD as a result of their service.

One of the better stories about the drone driving is that apparently a lot of the rustics in Afghanistan, tribal areas of Pakistan, etc. don't quite get the idea of night vision and drones. And (in deference to our sister from the state), there is a saying down south of her in Colorado, that Wyoming is where the men are men, and the sheep are nervous. Well, it appears that there are a lot of nervous sheep in Afghanistan. Appears to maybe be a lesser known part of their culture, and maybe how the males who are shut out of the marriage market by Islamic polygamy cope. This supposedly provides endless amusement for the drone drivers and their partners often back here in the states.

BDNYC said...

This is the problem with drones. Some gamer can sit in an air-conditioned trailer in the continental US and press buttons to kill people half a world away. No fear of immediate and personal reprisal. No need to even break a sweat or put down his iced tea.

There is something immoral about that. At least bomber pilots have to worry about SAMs.

Bruce Hayden said...

Or, if we're talking USAF, a pilot qualified to fly combat jets.

Except that they are finding that non-pilots apparently do a better job at flying drones than qualified pilots. And, at least for the bigger drones, the pilots I think still tend to be officers, probably because the AF still requires the pilots of their aircraft to be officers, and until recently, their drone pilots to be real pilots, so we are likely talking early to mid 20s instead

Richard Dolan said...

Academics often take themselves and their disciplines a bit too seriously, and can be in for a rude awakening when the larger public doesn't. This is a case in point.

The study of philosophy in general, and academic theories of ethics in particular, doesn't make you a better person, and certainly doesn't tell you how to live a better life, let alone how to run a just war. It does equip you to talk about such things in academic language, and to draw distinctions that may (or in context may not) be significant.

It's hard to imagine any military officer (let alone Obama, Hagel or their successors) being guided by such academic musings after having taken a few courses in the subject. Instead, whatever their take-away from the study of philosophy may be, it is likely to blur into more intuitive notions of right and wrong (often derived from religious beliefs rather than academic study), all viewed through the peculiar lens of politico/military theory and tactics.

But at least it gives the young ass't professor something to write about.

Peter said...

What's really needed are drone soldiers. Boots-on-tht-ground drones.

In any case, if these things all depend on satellites, how long will it be before someone gets serious about taking some of ours out?

In theory it should be far easier to destroy a satellite than to launch one (because you don't have to- or even want to- match velocities, you just want to throw some junk in the satellite's path).

If our military depends on satellites, how effective would it be if they were destroyed?

edutcher said...

Bruce Hayden said...

Or, if we're talking USAF, a pilot qualified to fly combat jets.

Except that they are finding that non-pilots apparently do a better job at flying drones than qualified pilots. And, at least for the bigger drones, the pilots I think still tend to be officers, probably because the AF still requires the pilots of their aircraft to be officers, and until recently, their drone pilots to be real pilots, so we are likely talking early to mid 20s instead


My reference to 20 year olds was to the Army.

You can be an E-4 (corporal).

Specifics, as such, here.

Mary Beth said...

We've got gay marriage for the troops, and drones that kill at a distance. Wonder what in the fuck those goat herders got that we don't?

3/18/13, 9:08 AM


Not having to follow the same rules as we do.

Chuck Currie said...

Shouting Thomas said: "We've got gay marriage for the troops, and drones that kill at a distance. Wonder what in the fuck those goat herders got that we don't?"

It's not what they have, but what they don't have - rules of engagement and lawyers deciding when they can be applied.

They kill without the worry of reprisal from their own side. Killing is what war is about. Hearts and minds never won a war. Ever.

Cheers

virgil xenophon said...

larry J@9:52

Satellite links are too slow as they are too high. What they actually do is lay down "chem trails" of al oxide and use tropospheric-backscatter to bounce radio waves off the much lower altitude sheet of chem trail from Vegas to Af, thus greatly reducing response time so as to better control the UAV/RPV.

JackOfVA said...

It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it.

Robert E. Lee.

JackOfVA said...

It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it.

Robert E. Lee.

virgil xenophon said...

@Larry J/

The snark amongst us old retired geezers is that the "operators" at Vegas manning their barco-jets should adopt the old Navy "Air-Sea Rescue" orange flight suits--the better to hide the Cheeto-dust stains, lol.

Colonel Angus said...

This is the problem with drones. Some gamer can sit in an air-conditioned trailer in the continental US and press buttons to kill people half a world away. No fear of immediate and personal reprisal. No need to even break a sweat or put down his iced tea.

There is something immoral about that. At least bomber pilots have to worry about SAMs.


This is probably one of the more idiotic comments I've read on this forum. I guess that's because I never thought the idea that keeping your troops safe from harm while wreaking destruction on the enemy was 'a problem'.

Henry said...

@TosaGuy -- Thank you for your service. It worries me that earned opinions like your own can get twisted into bilious snark like that produced by BDNYC. But I get where you're coming from.

Aridog said...

Chuck Currie said ...

Killing is what war is about. Hearts and minds never won a war.

Yes, it is...and equally important is the denial/destruction of resources with which to fight, and that includes killing of resource providers. Next, to win a war you must take and hold the land.

No drone will accomplish the latter.

EMD said...

"I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

William Tecumseh Sherman.

raf said...

This is the problem with drones. Some gamer can sit in an air-conditioned trailer in the continental US and press buttons to kill people half a world away. No fear of immediate and personal reprisal. No need to even break a sweat or put down his iced tea.

There is something immoral about that. At least bomber pilots have to worry about SAMs.


This is also the problem with rifles, machine guns, artillery ... compared to clubs, knives, and swords, which are obviously the only "moral" weapons.

Colonel Angus said...

This is also the problem with rifles, machine guns, artillery ... compared to clubs, knives, and swords, which are obviously the only "moral" weapons.

Indeed. French knights thought the longbow to be an immoral and cowardly weapon as well.

Aridog said...

The only "hearts & minds" effort I recall that had any real success, at the village level, was the USMC's Combined Action Program (CAP)...and it DID require the holding of territory and sharing of accommodations, food and danger....e.g., go native in most respects. Generally, it was designed to be a force multiplier where a squad of Marines would build up a platoon of indigenous militia and deny the enemy access.

IIRC the Army commands didn't like it, in fact, the old school Army guys didn't much like Special Forces either and their similar efforts in larger zones.

Compare to "strategic hamlets" which held neither ancestral ground nor sustained familial ties, and the big plan of the fortified hamlets was an unmitigated disaster. And why not...enclave warfare never wins a war either.

One thing Americans will always face in their efforts...everyone everywhere knows that one day we're leaving. The challenge is to mitigate that...and we suck at that in most of my lifetime.

Cedarford said...

TosaGuy said...
DOD is also creating the Distinguished Warfare Medal for such people. It will be higher in order of precedence that the Bronze Star, which can only be earned by being in a combat zone.

This is a symptom of the growing rot that is in our higher military establishment.

====================
No, your sort of military grumbling has gone on for millenia. The grumbling of close in troops that they are the real "Heroes" who deserve all the recognition - and not the tacticians, the armorers, the guardians building and manning the walls, the logistics people, intelligence gatherers, the ones involved in any long range warfare from arrows to or the support functions.
The "frontline grunts", who for thousands of years always resent the idea that anyone deserves more individual recognition than the "people in actual combat" fighting with knives, clubs, swords and rifles.

It is simple recognition of the facts. People in war not in the "heroes with boots on the ground" class can do performance that merits an award higher than a Bronze Star awarded to a grunt who had the misfortune to step on a land mine.

Remember that "hero" means more than just "close in combat". It means exceptional, far above the mean conduct and performance in military and non-military spheres that should single someone or some unit out for emulation and commendation&awards commensurate with the accomplishment.
Bravery in close in combat is only one criterion.

JL said...

It's not surprising the professor is having problems writing his book. The insinuation that today's button pushers face a more daunting task, that soldiers in a foxhole or in a bomber didn't have the leisure time to get philosophical about why they were fighting the war and killing the enemy, is unfair to foot-soldiers and bomber pilots.

Yes, the new technology makes killing more intimate- the soldier can see the results on a screen up close and personal. But will more philosophy classes about "just wars" really make killing easier to stomach for those who would find it unsettling? Will this "philosophy" training just become psychological screening and/or propaganda? And will this "new" ethical dilemma become non-existant as other countries develop the technology?

The piece ends with the statement that we are all responsible for the wars fought "in our name" , which is hardly earth-shattering. Anti-war folks have been shouting "not in our name" for quite some time. But the people who supported the Iraq war did so because they felt it was just, and those who support Obama's drone war do so because they feel it is just; (or at the very least, justified).

There will always be disagreements among people in a society over which wars are just wars. Writing philosophical books about the ethics of drone wars, and teaching it to military cadets will not resolve that dispute; and may in fact, lead to more contention. And philosophical theories in a classroom will probably not make it any easier on the soldiers who know that when they push that button, people will die.

But these things might make the intellectual class feel better; they must do something in response to the guilt they feel over their acceptance of their govt. killing people -- diverse people -- at the push of a button. (The cynic in me knows that if/when a Republican becomes CinC, there will be no more intellectuals philosophizing about "just wars", and drones will become symbols of pure evil.)

Hagar said...

OK, but you have to understand that if it is OK for our government to take out their guys with drones and this is considered miltary action, then it is also OK for their guys - whoever "they" might be - to take out our guys with drones, and that also must be considered military action carried out by military personnel.

Cedarford said...

Aridog - Next, to win a war you must take and hold the land.

That is very old thinking that doesn't jibe with strategic warfare going back to the 18th century, when the Royal Navy defeated enemy without Britain ever having to send "heroes with boots on the ground" to take and hold land.

Blockades have defeated enemy, 100% pure air campaigns have defeated the enemy. Sometimes civilian productivity, innovation, financial warfare, and political adroitness of leadership in war mattered more than the performance of ground pounders of fighter plane jocks.
And time and time again, "heroes who did take and hold the ground" have been whittled away and bled and treasure blown into attrition and defeat and withdrawal from an Occupation.

Colonel Angus said...

OK, but you have to understand that if it is OK for our government to take out their guys with drones and this is considered miltary action, then it is also OK for their guys -whoever "they" might be - to take out our guys with drones, and that also must be considered military action carried out by military personnel.

I guess I am having a hard time understanding the drone agnst. It's nothing more than a pilotless bomber which performs the same function as a bomber, probably with more precision.

Consider the insurgents use of IEDs which are nothing more than 'stationary drones' designed to detonate when a target comes along. I don't recall the cries of immorality and cowardice when these are deployed against our troops but rather another tactic we had to work to overcome.

Larry J said...

virgil xenophon said...
larry J@9:52

Satellite links are too slow as they are too high. What they actually do is lay down "chem trails" of al oxide and use tropospheric-backscatter to bounce radio waves off the much lower altitude sheet of chem trail from Vegas to Af, thus greatly reducing response time so as to better control the UAV/RPV


I do hope you're joking. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Hagar said...

Because you keep thinking about battlefield conditions.

But our government has been using miltary drones to take out "terrorists" who did not wear uniforms, and for many we only have some gov't official's word for it that the targeted individuals indeed were "terrorists."
Such action amounts to de facto recognition of the "terrorists" as legitimate military forces, and they are entitled to strike back in the same fashion.
That might be against the military base in Nevada, or wherever, that our drones are operated from, but it would also work for the officials - military or civil - that order our drone strikes, wherever they might be located.
And if our government does not have to furnish proof that our targets indeed are "terrorists," then neither do the "terrorists" have to justify their targets as legitimate military targets.

Larry J said...

Peter said...
What's really needed are drone soldiers. Boots-on-tht-ground drones.

In any case, if these things all depend on satellites, how long will it be before someone gets serious about taking some of ours out?

In theory it should be far easier to destroy a satellite than to launch one (because you don't have to- or even want to- match velocities, you just want to throw some junk in the satellite's path).

If our military depends on satellites, how effective would it be if they were destroyed?


If the goal is to destroy satellites, the the good part is that most of our military satellites are either in 12 hour semisynchronous (GPS) orbits or 24 hour geosynchronous orbits (communications satellite and others). The good part is that it still takes hours for an anti-satellite weapon to make it to
those altitudes. There may be things you can do that would make the ASAT's job harder.

Now, if the goal is to render them ineffective, you can use jamming but that's a different proposition. Some systems are easier to jam than others.

A lot of the reconnaissance satellites are in lower orbits. Those are the most vulnerable.

The military does practice "a day without space" as an exercise. Space systems do provide many force multipliers and we have to be able to function without them.

TosaGuy said...

Cedarford,

Not all BSMs are awarded for bravery and valor, those that are are awarded for those things are with the "V" device.

Most BSMs are awarded for meritorious service in a combat zone over an extended period of time. It is not handed out for stepping on a land mine -- that is a Purple Heart.

What the DWM recognizes is that everyone wants a fancy medal on their chest and will lobby DOD until they get one created for them. It is that side of the DOD -- the clean, corporate side where powerpoint presentations and knob polishing get one ahead.

Also, I like drones -- just like I like tanks, helicopters, artillery and air strikes. I like any weapon that takes out the enemy before I had to engage them.

Colonel Angus said...

And if our government does not have to furnish proof that our targets indeed are "terrorists," then neither do the "terrorists" have to justify their targets as legitimate military targets.

Well since the terrorists never did so in the first place, I'm at a loss as to the point of your comment.

I'll go on the assumption that our professionally trained military is making a diligent effort in trying to target actual bad guys and not innocents.

Aridog said...

Cedarford said...

Ref: Aridog - Next, to win a war you must take and hold the land.

That is very old thinking...

Your exceptions fascinate me. Naval battles are not fought over land. Blockades have never won a damn thing. Care to make a specific list of these grand 'strategic" exceptions you cite, where no boots hit the ground, where the end result was victory and a peace accord?

Oh, and fuck you fly boy for your "heros" shit...your fucking planes would be cratered without perimeter defense by boots on the ground stiffs, from ordnance to quartermaster to infantry.

Now bless your heart, heah.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

That's selective nonsense. The strategic, and to a lesser extent tactical, planning of wars were indeed directed from very plush armchairs. Whether it is mechanical drones, or biological soldiers, wars were conducted through delegation from comfortable armchairs.

Now, the phenomenon of conducting war from a beachfront estate in Hawaii, well, that is novel.

Jeff Teal said...

NN ever hear of Makalapa?It is very interesting to watch the interplay here and to compare it to my own life and family.One I was a cav scout and killing for me was practiced at a very close remove.On the other hand my father was a SAC Strategic Ops Officer,Flight Commander, and Combat Crew.So here is the revealed wisdom. It is all hard-and it takes hard people to do it.And then do it again after you realiize what you have done.So I don't have a problem with a new medal-just with its precedence.
IMHO this DWM should maybe rank just above the JCM.

Rich Rostrom said...

Shouting Thomas said...
And, yet, we're getting our asses kicked in Afghanistan by a bunch of inbred goat herders.

No, we're not. We kill 10 or 100 Taliban for every U.S. KIA. If you read about actual combat against Taliban forces, you'd know they lose almost every battle against Americans.

What we haven't done is prevent the Taliban from murdering and terrorizing other Afghans in some parts of the country.

How can that be?

Because of the sanctuary in Pakistan, which has never had good control over the border region, and is politically crippled.

I'm looking forward to reading William Dalrymple's history of the First Afghan War (1839-42), in which the British got their asses kick by the same inbred goat herders.

That was an actual defeat.

Aridog said...

Rich Rostrum said ....

If you read about actual combat against Taliban forces, you'd know they lose almost every battle against Americans.

Now just where and when have I heard that before?

It is true by the way, just wondering out loud, since one can win every battle and still lose a war. And it IS a loss when you fail to achieve the original objective. However the bobble heads in Washington & the Pentagon will move the goal posts enough to feel better.