Death from the sky

One of the technologically fascinating but morally disturbing aspects of modern warfare is that the means of attack have taken on the character of a videogame.

Here’s a clip of an aerial attack on a group of hostile insurgents in a house during the Iraq War:

You see the precision of the attack and the calm manner in which it’s carried out. Air support is literally putting missiles in the windows it wants to put them in. Troop on the ground ask for help from the sky, and it’s there in a matter of minutes. From the air perspective, things blow up soundlessly. If the missile doesn’t go off? Fire another. Any motion detected among the insurgents? Then stick another missile in the front window.

But what is actually happening on the ground? Here’s a BBC clip showing what happens when there’s a case of mistaken identity. Ten years ago, the BBC crew was with a group of Kurdish allies in northern Iraq accompanied by Americans prepared to battle Saddam Hussein‘s army. Air support misidentified the allies as insurgents. (Warning: This is very graphic, so keep that in mind before you view the clip.)

Today, instead of troops on the ground and pilots in the air, an attack against enemies can be carried out with a drone aircraft guided by a soldier hundreds of miles away. War is done with pinpoint accuracy and is more efficient and more deadly. But it oddly has become more sterile when seen through the prism of a video screen.

And then a mistake is made. When that happens, we hear terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage.

Those words turn into Orwellian profanity, when you fully realize what has happened: People have been blown up, like in the “friendly fire” the BBC crew witnessed. And it isn’t a videogame, where you get a new life after you’re killed.

The worst thing you can do in war is to undermine the horror of what is really happening.