Politicization and Technology in the Human to War Relationship



It is apparent that technology has changed the way war is conducted.  Just think of these real case scenarios within last two years.  Trained to kill from behind the screen, an American military officer directs the drone from thousands of miles away to hit Al Qaeda targets in the mountains of Pakistan.  Another drone falls in Iranian hands, giving its army the privilege to exploit newest technology possessed only by its enemy.  Within stated timeframe, protestors in Egypt use Facebook to organize and bring down the regime.  In turn, the government utilizes the same social tool to identify and trace organizers.  This does not in any way resemble traditional narrative of war where armies meet in the battlefield.  Yet, something fundamental about it remains unchanged – to use Clausewitz’s description of war, it continues to be an “…act of force to compel our enemy to do our will” (Clausewitz, 1976).  With Facebook, force is not used, only people are organized to go out and face the opposing force.  Nevertheless, when two opposing forces are faced against one another, there is a clash – a war.  Hence, based on this classical definition, it is fair to say that in essence war is war whether it is organized in a cave or through Facebook, or whether it is conducted with drones or spears.  Subsequently, with new technology humanity does not get removed from war.  Technology is only an additional tool in the relationship between humans and war.  The outcome this relationship produces is dependent on the level of politicization of the issue between opposing forces.

When in a war, technology is used by one of the two opposing forces, or both.  Subsequently, at one time or another there is a victim in which case there must also be a perpetrator.    Christian Caryl notes the fact that U.S. trains more Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators than traditional pilots to illustrate the shift which has taken place in modern warfare (Caryl, 2011).  As Caryl states, there are various machines and robots, for air and ground, being built and experimented on to become “the next thing” in war (Caryl, 2011). From perspective of the victims of this new technology, and those sympathetic to them, loss of life on their side is one powerful reason to fuel more hatred.  Caryl says as much when arguing that drone attacks have increased suicide bombings in Pakistan (Caryl, 2011).  Here, the U.S. force has been used against terrorists, and they have increased use of force (to the extent that their means and morals allow) in retaliation.  Is there a removal of the human from this new form of warfare then? In the receiving end it does not seem so.

What about the UAV operator?   Is (s)he really removed from the brutality of war? And if so, what effect does it have in the relationship between human and war?  Even if action is visible on the screen, that is not as real as being out there in the bushes shooting and getting shot at.  Hence, we are inclined to think that the person is in actuality removed from the feeling of killing, and can consequently conduct the action with more ease. But as Caryl notes, “…studies by the military have shown that UAV operators sometimes end up suffering the same degree of combat stress as other warfighters” (Caryl, 2011).  Regardless of the level of ease during the execution of soldier duties, to comprehend whether the removal we speak of is real the more important question should be, is the UAV operator conscious of the action?  Because since (s)he knows that (s)he is in fact killing what according to him/her is the enemy, no matter how easy or indirect the execution might be, that person will still feel responsible for having taken a life.  The reasoning which has given the okay to kill is therefore the factor determining relationship between human and war, not technology.

Therefore, we have gone almost full circle in trying to find the connecting point in this relationship between perpetrator, victim and technology and ended up with the subject of ethics as the answer.  Where does the “okay to kill” come from in this new form of warfare?  Is it different from the traditional “okay to kill”? If so, what is the difference?  Subject is treated by Derian, on “Virtous War” who argues that in this new surrounding cause of war becomes virtuous, with it the enemy becomes virtualized until all is left of him/her is a demon (Derian 2001).  This gives us the impression that we are talking about a video game with humans vs. demons.  It begs the question, modern technology and virtualization aside, has it not been the case in most, if not all, wars throughout history that own cause is deemed righteous and enemy is considered wicked?  Aside from romanticized versions of the past, when exactly has the enemy been recognized as virtuous while at war? If that had been the case, how come historical data speaks of wars where losers are enslaved?  Such was the case with the ancient Greeks themselves which in mythology brag about virtuous warriors, but other historical accounts – such as noted by Thucydides in “History of the Peloponnesian War” refer to nasty conflicts where whole populations are enslaved (Thucydides, 1954).  Furthermore, what about the atrocities and genocide such as the Holocaust, Rwanda, or the Balkans? To name just a few!  There must have been a serious level of dehumanization and demonization taking place in order to be able and justify annihilation of whole peoples identified as enemies.   By recognizing them as equally human and without believing in their own cause as righteous, it is doubtful that such atrocious crimes could have occurred.

The process of dehumanization and demonization of those defined as the enemy therefore seems to play a crucial role in the drive to use and justify the use of force.  This appears because of politicization of the issue between the opposing sides.  Carl Schmitt’s view of politicization is useful in understanding why.  According to Schmitt, “What makes an issue “political” is the particularly intense relationship that actors feel toward it.  In its fullest form this intensification yields an absolute divide between friend and enemy in relation to (any) given issue” (Williams, 2003).  Hence, Schmitt argues that political is “…the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point”.  (Williams, 2003). Under such hostile environment, anything that helps as a means to destroy the enemy will likely be used, including newest available technology.  For instance, terrorists use tactics that very much politicize their cause, in turn inviting more condemnation and a higher level of mobilization in the fight from their targets.  The U.S. State Department’s definition of terrorism as “politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatants targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” recognizes the importance that politicization can play in the formation of war (Devetak, 2005).  The definition is helpful as it gives us insight into how whether with constructed or real threats, each can reach a degree of intensity that justifies war which in normal situation would be considered as unjust.

In addition, what we get from this is that the fundamental definition of war as stated in the beginning holds true.  This is exemplified by the case where both the technologically advanced U.S. as well as suicidal terrorists act as forces opposed to one another, each trying to compel the other to do its will.  Again, applying Schmitt’s rationale in modern warfare, it can be said that once extreme politicization is reached where the enemy is identified as existential threat, it matters little whether one side can kill the other with more ease or not since it is the desired outcome to win over the enemy that becomes the objective.  Meaning, the operation whether conducted with drones or hands is in neither case done for the fun of it.  Those who end up participating in such mission, ultimately become victims, perpetrators or both!

Something similar is echoed by David Campbell in “Writing Security” when he states, “Nothing is a risk in itself; there is no risk in reality.  But on the other hand, anything can be a risk; it all depends on how one analyzes the danger, considers the event” (Campbell, 1992).  Campbell himself recognizes the fact that in addition to the subjectivity of risk and threat, there are also real dangers such as violence, disasters etc. Nevertheless, it is crucial to comprehend how the two get fused and what role interpretation plays in the process.  Campbell notes how something as unthreatening as a book can be considered a danger to national security and something as simple as different identity can be understood as a threat (Campbell, 1992).  The dilemma of whether a threat is a result of subjectivity or objectivity in itself emphasizes just how significant the whole process of human rationalization of an issue is in respect to war and war making.  It highlights that this turning point between the identification of something as existential threat or someone as an enemy will determine whether humans involved in this interplay will be engaged in warfare or not.

The battlefield has therefore taken a new shape.  It is now more asymmetric and because of technology also more virtual.  The fundamental meaning of war, however, has not changed. War continues to be use of force to subdue the enemy.  Based on this understanding, inquiries into whether humans are removed from war because of technology are well deserved.  Nonetheless, as we analyze further the relationship between humans and war from the perspective of ethics and causes, we recognize that technology is only an additional tool.  The more politicized an issue is and the graver the threat from the enemy considered, the higher the chances that people will utilize available technologies and strategies to bring down the enemy. Consequently, as we experience modern warfare, we should keep in mind that it is up to how threats are defined and rationalized that ultimately determines connection between war and humans.

Works Cited

Campbell, David. (1992). (Introduction and Chapter 3) (Pages, 1, 3, Writing security: United states foreign policy and the politics of identity. Retrieved from http://www.gpia.info/files/u116/David_Campbell_Writing_Security_introduction_and_chapter_3.pdf

Caryl, Christian. (2011, September 29). Predators and robots at war. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/sep/29/predators-and-robots-war/

Clausewitz, Carl Von. (1976). (Page, 75). On War. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Derian, James Der. (2001). Virtuous War. (Chapters 2 and 3) (Page   Retrieved from http://www.gpia.info/files/u116/Der_Derian_Virtuous_War.pdf

Devatak, Richard. (2005). (Page, 2) Violence, Order, and Terror. Retrieved from http://www.gpia.info/files/u116/Richard_Devetak__Violence_Order_and_Terror.pdf

Thucydides. (1954). History of the Peloponnesian War. New York: Penguin Group.

Williams, Michael C. (2003). Words, images, enemies: Securitization and international politics. International Studies Quarterly, (47), 511-531. Retrieved from http://www.gpia.info/files/u116/Michael_Williams_Words_Images_Enemies.pdf

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