FF133 - Good Kill

Intro by John Roderick

Is war fair? I mean, is it supposed to be fair? Does it have to be fair? There has to be at least one measure of fairness at the outset of any war, or otherwise we wouldn't call it a war, we would call it a massacre. If two or more sides are going to have a go at it and it is worth pulling up a chair and putting the kettle on for it, then there have to be some steaks, some risks and some rules.

I am at war presently with the ants in my kitchen and even though I have overwhelming firepower and vastly superior technology and the entire nation behind me, they consistently maintain control of the battlefield, my kitchen, and they never falter in the face of overwhelming odds and they seem to have an inexhaustible resource of tiny men and materiel. Is it fair? Well, no, not to me, but I am losing!

When I say fairness, I don't mean to suggest that it hasn't always been 100% kosher to employ every weapon, tactic, resource and maneuver that you can muster that your adversary didn't expect and can't counter.

Imagine the guy who showed up with the first spear! The guy that first got speared was like: "Ouch! Not fair!", but he was winding up to brain somebody with a rock and the global watchdogs of the time, who were literally dogs, agreed that spears were new, but fair. Just because an army is bigger and better than you doesn't mean you can't still win and that the contest wasn't in the end fair.

History offers plenty of examples of outnumbered and under-equipped forces winning the day. The leveling effect of chance, weather, intelligence, cunning and error makes war unpredictable enough that fairness is the default in many ways. Also, as my dad said: "Cheaters never prosper!"

Throughout history, war technology advanced incrementally, changing the battlefield gradually without changing the nature of war too much. The spear became the crossbow and then the trebuchet and the blunderbuss and the howitzer and the panzer and the Red October, but through all the centuries they were just natural evolutions of the same "throw thing hard" technology.

There have been surprisingly few developments that changed the conduct of war in such a way that it forced a reckoning whether this new form of war was still fair or not. I am not talking about the stirrup, you nerds, you can put your hands down, but poison gas was a new and terrible weapon that appeared one day out of the blue and it turned out that the blue was a bigger cloud of poison gas that wafted over the trenches and choked young Hitler and ultimately wilted the carnations of the diplomats in Geneva so badly that they banned chemical and biological weapons in war.

"This is not 'throwing things hard'", they said, "this is something else!" 142 nations, although crucially not Syria nor the Seattle Police Department, affirmed somewhat mostly that poison gas was unfair and reaffirmed that even as canons reduced millions of young men to bone meal, there were still some rules, dammit!

For instance, here are some rules of war: You can cut a guy in half with a machine gun and burn him alive with white phosphorus and drown him and all his friends in the open ocean, but if he is already injured, you can't hurt him more and now you have to help him unless you really can't afford to help him right now and then you can kill him. That is at your discretion! You can drop massive bombs from Zeppelins, but you better not hit any prams. If you are Galtieri, you can take the Union Jack, but Maggie will take a cruiser with all hands to make you give it back (lyrics of Get your Filthy Hands Off my Desert by Pink Floyd).

There are

  • 6-10 soldiers in a Squad,
  • 3 Squads in a Platoon,
  • 4 Platoons in a Company,
  • 4 Companies in a Brigade,
  • 5 Brigades in a Flagon (glass vessel),
  • 4 Flagons in a Sarmizegetusa (Place in Romania), and
  • 5 Sarmizegetusas in a Fnord (transcibed as "Feyenoord").

See, fairness was restored! Of course, that all looked rather grim when Nuclear War was invented, another big game-changer. It is hard to pretend that it is illegal on one hand to bomb a hospital ship when hundreds of millions of people on the other hand are being melted into plasma. It was still illegal through that whole period to bomb a hospital ship, however!

This is all by way of introducing the latest entry in the still pretty small list of new technologies that have arrived on the scene and significantly changed the nature of war. In this case, the not so humble Predator / Reaper Drone. You know, they first fired a missile in combat only in 2002! Maybe on that day some folks out on a base somewhere cracked a Red Bull to celebrate, but it was only gradually that the news dribbled out to the rest of us, like:

"Oh, yeah, btw, we have these new remote control dildos that can drop full-on missiles, not like a practice missile or a smoke bomb or a bag of leaflets, but full-on Hellfire missiles, which are just what they sound like, right into the bathroom window of anywhere we want and they fly so high up no-one hears them coming, and, oh, they can fly for 12 hours on end, and, oh, also: We can fly them from anywhere, like, even Nevada or Geneva or a hospital ship (except doing it from a hospital ship would still be illegal), or frankly your mom's living room if you wanted to, and it is already operational and we didn't ask anyone if it was cool and I guess it is too late now, but it is pretty hard to argue with." — Signed: the Military Industrial Complex, Alexandria VA 22304

This seems like just another iteration of the old "throw thing hard", but it is not! It is something else. It is bigger than the stirrup, even, and yet: Even this crazy new thing that lets us fight war thousands of miles away, raining hellfire down from above the clouds and then home to the old ball and chain and nick@nite. Even this has not assured us victory or insulated us from consequence or spared us death and suffering. Fairness is a bitch! "3… 2… 1… Rifle, rifle, rifle!" On today's Friendly Fire: Good Kill.

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