“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men”.
These famous words were uttered by George S. Patton, a World War II -era general implying that the human element is something that always exists within the practice of arms. Very soon it is no longer the case and as a species and people we will be poorer for it.
The title itself paraphrases words often contributed to Joseph Stalin, and they are often vilified for the obvious implication of the disregard for the mass murder and collateral damage that wars eventually bring along. The sad truth, however, is that one death causes more impact than a million dead. We cannot relate nor encompass with a million dead but with one we have a name, a face and a story to relate to.
One of the great deterrents of war and conquest throughout history has been that of convenience and price. When the rewards of a conquest outshine the price of achieving it, the conquest becomes more feasible. Still, in most cases equal rewards may be reaped through trade and negotiations. Such is the great capitalism of life when we endeavor to bargain our way through it, sometimes giving in order to get — always hoping and planning to receive more than what we give away.
The price of a war may be calculated with a number of different ways, but the price of human lives has always been at the forefront (I hope). How many soldiers have to die for the conquest to succeed? How many civilian casualties are to be expected? And the most important question after the numbers have been crunched: is it worth it? During the Cold War nuclear arms’ race was on full throttle. Nations across the world endeavored to gain themselves a nuclear power, mostly to not bomb each other but rather to make the other side think twice about bombing them. Would the United States of America have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki if Japan had wielded the capacity to strike back with equal force? Maybe not. On the other hand, when the bombs fell Japan surrendered since they had no capacity to counter-strike with an equal blow of their own. The price of resistance was too great.
In the recent years the dynamic of the price of war has changed considerably. The powerful nations of our time are attempting to disregard the human element of the price of war. A new arms’ race is in the works: the drone race.
Drones are a convenient tool, aren’t they? You can sit on your couch and as if playing a video game, control an unmanned flying vehicle to a target area and launch whatever kind of ordinance you desire. No longer are you required to wonder if your soldiers come back alive. No longer are you required to wonder about whether it’s worth it. All you have to do is push a button and carnage ensues. You don’t even have to think about the collateral damage or civilian casualties; all you have to do is to shut down the screen (that already filters out much of the emotional impact already) and you can pretend in peace that nothing bad is happening. Out of sight, out of mind and see no evil.
The convenience of drones and the lack of emotional impact to taking human lives is already filtering to our language and how we relate to it. We no longer “kill” the enemy. We “neutralize” the “target”. Civilian deaths are no longer “casualties of war”. They are “collateral damage” of a “conflict”. The language we use to describe such a profound an event as taking a life directly impacts on how we feel about it.
With the advent of automated warfare equipment, we are crossing the threshold from caring about lives to caring about something else… like money. Why bother caring about some ragtag primitive in another country whose countrymen might plot our demise? We should not take any chances. Bomb them ALL! Isn’t that the prevailing attitude towards terrorism and terror groups? Victory by any means necessary? What happens when “any means necessary” include the complete disassociation with the value of a human life whether it’s one, a thousand or a million? Soldiers are trained to objectify one’s target and see them as non-human in order to be able to kill them. By increasing the methods with which to kill another human being, such methods that do not require a soldier to look at his enemy in the eye, we are lowering the threshold to kill indiscriminately.
The price of war is transforming, and NOT for the better. When we no longer have to consider the price of war in lives, the threshold to start an armed conflict decreases and the motivation to solve issues with words diminishes. In conjunction with making killing easy and effortless (both physically and mentally) we are creating an environment where the death of civilians is no longer an issue; it’s just business.
One death may be a tragedy, while a million neutralized as collateral damage becomes very quickly an incomprehensible number. The only way we can make sense of such a large amount of numbers is through math, aka. statistics.
Call it collateral damage, neutralizing or just plain old murder. A death is a death and you should have the decency to feel some remorse for it. If you do not, the future will consist of individuals who consider death and killing as a means to an end instead of an appalling event that it is — everyone else would already be “neutralized”, after all.