Sam Smith – To understand why Obama and others in Washington have become so obsessed with drones, it’s important to remember that traditional warfare has been a total failure for nearly seven decades and that our “military experts” may finally be admitting it.
America’s only successful invasion in that period was Grenada with a population of 92,000 (The other possible claim, Panama, doesn’t count because we just exchanged drug dealing dictators).
The shift away from conventional warfare has been going on since Vietnam and, in fact, that struggle is not a bad marker for the end of a century of extraordinarily deadly conflict beginning with the Civil War. We are taught that mass war deaths are an inevitable fact of human history, but statistically that’s not the case, and bad as Iraq and Afghanistan have been, they experienced a marked drop in war fatalities compared to, say, Korea or either world wars.
Why was the previous century so deadly? I once asked a historian why neither side in the Civil War had used the guerrilla tactics of the Revolution that had worked so well. His response was that the generals on both sides had learned their skills at West Point and played by its rules.
Clearly, modernized military bureaucracy was one deadly factor but so was the explosion of military technology. Both relegated the human – including its bodies and brains – to a minor role in the action.
Yet in the end it proved a failure. Little things interrupted like the the end of the draft, an economy that demanded global customers more than global enemies, the soaring costs of weaponry, and the failure of West Point to figure out how to defeat those who refused to fight by its rules.
And now our leaders are trying to extricate themselves from two of the dumbest wars they ever fought.
The shift from huge divisions to small drones can be seen as a move from the military approach to war to that of the mobster – and from weapons of mass destruction or those of crass destruction. Think of America as seeking to control the world the way a Mafia boss would control a city and the dynamics of the change begin to become clear.
To be sure, this is less deadly, at least until you remember Dylan Thomas line about World War II air raids, “After the first death there is no other.” We have moved from being soldiers to being murderers.
In a way, 9/11 taught the lesson. If you can wreck the most powerful country in the world the way a few planes did on that occasion, who needs an invasion any more?
Of course, that’s the danger. We can kill cheaply and precisely. But so can they, whoever they are.
Which is why, if Obama and his ilk have their way, the new war will never end. There will always be another they.