The American way of bombing?
Derek Gregory, 27 October 2011

‘Signature targets’ are ghostly traces of the ‘target signatures’ that once animated the electronic battlefield. Commentators have often drawn comparisons between the wars in Vietnam and in Afghanistan, but if Vietnam was a ‘quagmire’ then the air wars over Afghanistan-Pakistan threaten to create a vortex. See the Closing Session of the Shock and Awe conference.

About the author: Derek Gregory is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He is completing a new book, The everywhere war.

The problems with remote-controlled warfare are legion. The human operator ‘is terribly remote from the consequences of his actions; he is likely to be sitting in an air-conditioned trailer, hundreds of miles from the area of battle.’ He evaluates ‘target signatures’ captured by various sensor systems that ‘no more represent human beings than the tokens in a board-type war game.’

The rise of this new ‘American way of bombing’, as it’s been called, has two particularly serious consequences. First, ‘through its isolation of the military actor from his target, automated warfare diminishes the inhibitions that could formerly be expected on the individual level in the exercise of warfare’. In short, killing is made casual. Secondly, once the risk of combat is transferred to the target, it becomes much easier for the state to go to war. Domestic audiences are disengaged from the violence waged in their name: ‘Remote-controlled warfare reduces the need for the public to confront the consequences of military action abroad.’

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