The Drones Of The Hive
Two recent interviews about war were absolutely fascinating. One was a radio interview of an American marathoner leaving in the London Olympics. He came to this country 25 years ago from Eritrea with his dad. When in a Florida seventh grade PE class, his teacher told him if he ran a good race he would give him an “A,” but If he ran a poor one he would give him an “F.” He won the race. He said it was the first time he realized that running might be a sport instead of survival. He had learned to run fast with his family to escape the soldiers and mercenaries who came to kill people in his African village.
The other was the TV program “Questions and Answers” by C-Span’s Brian Lamb, interviewing Antony Beevor, author of the 850-page book “The Second World War.” Beevor has written many books about segments of WW II. This book is an extensive review of the entire war. It’s going to be a must-read for me as soon as I can get it.
Beevor uses an Illinois citizen to make a point. A young Tibetan fighting for the Chinese in 1939 was captured by the Japanese near the Manchurian border and placed in a prisoner-of-war camp. The Japanese later decided to use him as cannon fodder in their war against Russia. In the Japan-Russo war, he was soon captured and assigned to a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp. Then the young Tibetan who looked Chinese was pulled out of prison and sent to the Eastern Front by the Russians to fight for Stalin against Hitler’s Germans. He was then captured by the Germans and sent back to a German prisoner-of-war camp in western Germany. Then Hitler decided to use prisoners of war against the Allied forces getting ever closer to Berlin. The young Tibetan was then captured by U.S. forces and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp across the Atlantic in Illinois, where he worked the fields for farmers for the duration. When the war was over, prisoners who had good records were often allowed to choose where they wanted to go when released. The young Tibetan chose to stay in Illinois in 1945. According to Beevor, he became a citizen and lived into his nineties in Illinois. I can’t wait to read the book.
Wars Have Changed
In 2010, while involved in two wars, we lost only 15 private citizens to terrorist attacks around the world. We lost 16 to falling TVs. Beevor related that in the seven years of conflict in WW II, he estimated there were 65 to 80 million military and civilian deaths among the principals. I used three Google sources and came up with 61 million. Russia led with over 25 million deaths, about 17 million of them civilians. China was next with 1.3 million military and over 11 million civilian. Germany had slightly over 7 million, half civilian. Poland was next with 6 million civilian and only 850,000 military. Japan, our main Pacific antagonist, had 1.5 million military with 300,000 civilian deaths, almost all civilians killed in a few seconds by our atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Great Britain lost 326,000 military and 62,000 civilian. We lost 295,000 military and only a few civilians.
On February 13, 1945, British and American bombers killed an estimated 25,000 German civilians in a raid on Dresden that took only 63 minutes. The Nazis put out the propaganda that we had killed over 500,000 in the raid, but German historians researched the raid after the war and agreed that “only” 25,000 were actually killed. Incidentally, American writer Kurt Vonnegut, author of “Slaughterhouse Five” and other anti-war novels, was an Allied prisoner of war in Dresden and was working in tunnels and bomb shelters beneath the city when the bombers hit. He and his fellow prisoners survived the raid and were assigned to collecting and burying the burned bodies of Germans killed in the raid.
Eugene Debs, American labor organizer and five-time Socialist candidate for the U.S. presidency, has summarized our wars from the working-class point of view: “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder and it is the working class who fights all the battles, the working class who makes the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely sheds their blood and furnishes their corpses, and it is they who have never had a voice—in either declaring the war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. They are continually talking about their patriotic duty. It is not their duty but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches.”
The New Weapons
Of The New Age
Drones are old hat. In 1980, Jewish engineer Abraham Karem pulled a Bill Gates and built a cigar-shaped drone aircraft in his garage in Los Angeles, trailered it to the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and flew it for 56 hours—by radio. Since that time, we have built over 30,000 of them. When the World Trade towers went down, the military had 200 drones. Today it has 7,500. The Air Force is currently testing the latest model, the Avenger, a $15 million model that can evade most radar because of new coatings and flies at nearly 500 miles per hour. This one is the first jet-powered drone and is capable of carrying 2,000-pound bombs.
But forget about drones for a while. We are developing new weapons that will satisfy the bloodlust of any warmonger. The Army is working on a gun that will shoot around corners. It is also developing a bullet the size of a 50 cal. that can be guided to target like a missile. It is also currently testing a hypersonic missile that will reach a target at over five times the speed of sound—over 4,000 miles per hour. New ways to kill always create new markets.
Back to drones for a few seconds. The Navy is testing the X-47B, a pilotless drone jet bomber that will be able to land on an aircraft carrier without direct human control. Landing on a carrier has always been an extremely hairy business. Onboard computers may eliminate that risk. The Air Force is having all kinds of problems with the pilot oxygen systems on their new F-22 fighter. All of them had to be grounded at one time. Remove the human pilot, turn them into drones, put in computers, and the oxygen problem goes away.
The use of drones has brought pods of lawyers out of oceanic depths to argue the morality of using drones in war. After all, since men have slapped leather in the streets of Tombstone or raised lances and battle axes in the battle-to-the-death jousts in King Richard’s time, we have had certain “chivalric” rules about war. Naturally, all the rules have been broken as soon as they gain some notoriety. Short daggers were made to stab into the armpits or groins of fully armored knights. You can’t protect everything.
There are a lot of lawyers today working on their 15 minutes of fame arguing whether the use of drones negates the Geneva Convention and all of the other treaties we have signed about the treatment of the military and civilians during armed conflict. Some rules have stuck. Mustard gas has not been used in war since WW I. However, every “civilized” nation has stocked or continues to stock nerve gas, microbes, poisons, and other viral stuff that will curl your toes in seconds. Mustard gas is so “duh.” Nuclear weapons have not been used since we demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think it’s only because leaders are selfish, paranoid old men who want to live longer than most. “There goes the capital city” is a good deterrent. Besides, who would love and adore them if everyone were dead?
Lawyers are always concerned about accountability. Some say that “lethal action should have a clear chain of accountability... A robot or drone cannot be held accountable... So should the commander and the politicians who authorized the use be accountable? What about the person who pushed the button?” Actually, about 180 people are involved with each drone mission. And then we have lawyers like George W. Bush’s “torture” lawyers who wrote there was no torture until there was a 50-50 chance the “torturee” would die of organ failure. That crew, including their torture-don Dick Cheney, should have all been waterboarded and had their groins electrified on the steps of the capitol at high noon.
Let’s Add Some
The Use Of Drones
We have developed detectors on drones that can discover wires and devices that explode Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and other places, the main killer of our troops. We now can discover over 60 percent of the IEDs before they are fired. But it is very difficult for our engineers to stay ahead of Taliban camel drivers with do-it-yourself skills. We have spent $18 billion trying to discover the secret of IEDs—and still have difficulty keeping up with home-schooled bombmakers.
The Pentagon tries to hide how many overseas bases we operate. People who are experts in this field say we have nearly 1,100 bases, over 400 in Afghanistan alone. The CIA and the State Department seem to agree that Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda has bases or bomb teams or “sleepers” in over 60 countries. Osama is certainly the leading contender for genius of the 21st century so far, because he spent only $400,000 to bring down the twin towers while we are approaching $1 trillion in trying to protect our troops from dying in killing fields we were suckered into in the first place. But that’s another story.
If we are to contain Al Qaeda in those 60 countries, shall we declare war on all of them and invade them from the bases we have around the world? Or should we use diplomacy and bribes to convince those countries to keep Al Qaeda “sleeping”? Let the peace and war lawyers argue about international morality. They’re just making noise.
The International Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger said recently that “the deployment of such [drone] systems would reflect ... a change in the conduct of hostilities.” Wha—? It’s OK to kill 25,000 German civilians by dropping tons of bombs indiscriminately on a city, but it’s not OK to kill a Yemen Al Qaeda leader and five cohorts with a very discriminating Hellfire missile? Please join the real world. Most Americans seem to recognize the real world. We can’t declare war and invade everybody, but we can suppress and kill enemy leaders using an extremely accurate weapon. We no longer have to destroy a village to “save” it. Over 80 percent of the American people believe in what President Obama is doing with drones.
It’s all “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” stuff anyway. Look at what our current crop of lawyers is doing to us. We spend about $3 trillion exchanging money with health care operators selling $10 Tylenol pills, $100,000 hip replacements, $5 tissues, $250,000-a-year drug programs for cancer, and $10,000-a-day hospital rooms. But heavens to Betsy, the Supreme Court is made up of lawyerly politicians who say that is not “commerce”! When did “commerce” cease meaning “the buying and selling of goods”? This is “angels on pin” stuff—dancing around the real subject.
The Supreme Court
Answers “How Many
Angels Can Dance On
The Head Of A Pin?”
Here’s the present Supreme Court discussing the question of dancing angels on pins:
Clarence Thomas: “When dancing in couples, do angels lead with their right wings?”
Sonia Sotomayor: “Do lesbian and gay couples dance together?”
Antonin Scalia: “Are they dancing to an original Revolutionary War tune?”
Stephen Breyer: “Does OSHA have jurisdiction over the pin? There are no guardrails!”
John Roberts: “Even if the angels paid to get into the dance, that’s not commerce!”
Samuel Alito: “Is it a union-made pin?”
Anthony Kennedy: “Are they dancing the twist, a waltz, or a polka?”
Elena Kagan: “What is the breakdown on the sex of the angels? Are there any transgenders?”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Were all angels regardless of sex invited to the dance?”
Correction: In last week’s column on Alaska I had a senior moment and renamed Mt. McKinley in Alaska Mt. Whitney—which happens to be in California. Corky and I have seen both. Reader Gary Brekke caught the error. Thank you! I’m getting old, but, like Hamlet, I hope I still “know a hawk from a handsaw.”