Gaza walled in and under siege

Gaza walled in and under siege
Largest open air prison in the world.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Are Drones a Technological Miracle or a Heartless Killer?

written by Zuzana Falťanová

As it was shown in the documentary movie “Digital Nation” the technology is everywhere around us and has wide usage in many branches like education or military where the technology serves as a treatment for PTSD or as a weapon where the unmanned predatory drones are navigated from the US to operate the military missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq.  Although the invention of the drones sounds like a technological miracle, it has many challenges since it raises ethical questions and provides a scary vision of future robotic warfare.

 The usage of drones has a long history according to the Lieutenant Colonel Richard P. Schwing from the US Air Force, initially the unmanned vehicle called “drone” was used just for a surveillance purpose and later the upgraded models, like MQ-1 Predator, can carry 114 Hellfire missiles with the laser guidance technology. Moreover, there are also non combatant versions of drones which provide search and rescue mission in the US. (USAWC Strategy research Project, 2007). The original aim of the drones has widened and the current versions are not only used as the main weapon against the war on terror, but also can be used as a means of rescue.

The drones benefit the rescue missions and doubtless the military operations too because the unmanned “planes” are smaller and allow easier maneuverability with the vehicle, therefore, these drones can be used in a terrain which is dangerous or unsafe for manned aircraft.  The drones lower the cost of the war since instead of the soldiers the drones are put on the battlefield whose navigators sit thousands miles away and after their shift the navigators can go home and spend the evening with their family. Thanks to the drones the war became easier to fight since the lives of the soldiers are saved and the drones’ pilot are not exposed to the atrocities of the battlefield. Being a drone pilot and going to a war means completely something else today than it was in the past since it reminds us more of playing a video game with the exception that the real humans are being killed. Also, the drones have recorded a huge success in eliminating some key figures of the Al Qaeda leaders or some other insurgents from CIA´s most wanted list.                          
However, those killed by the drones are not just the “bad guys”, as Brookings Institution reports, the drone attacks claim high civilian casualties since 10 civilians have to die for each insurgent killed, and these high casualties of non-combatant spark the unrest in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the public condemnation for these drone attacks play into the insurgent´s hand since every time drones slaughter the civilians, their families seeking the revenge often join the Taliban fighters. (Schirch, 2009). This shows that the death toll of the civilian population highly exceeds the death toll of the insurgent, so the drones actually undermine the US strategy of winning hearts and minds of Afghan and Pakistani people, since the high civilian casualties inspires their families or other people to become the new recruits in Taliban ranges. Thanks to the drones the US effort and strategy in Afghanistan becomes more contra-productive since it alienates the Afghan and Pakistan public which represents for the US the key factor for winning this war.

Although the lower number of US soldiers casualties seem only a positive thing, the author Peter W. Singer of the book “Wired for War” argues that the drone usage produce the fake perception that the war cost nothing since the Americans are protected from the reality of battlefield and from the moral consequences of the war. Due to the fact that the distant Pakistan tribal areas are forbidden or inaccessible for the media organizations, the damages after the drone attacks stay unnoticed. (Mayer, 2009). The drone concept sounds very alluring since the drones operate in the terrain which is hard to cover for the media, so it produces the imagination of costless war. Moreover, when a war cost many lives of US soldiers, the public support for the war is very low and the public uproar could even stop the war operation.  However, when there will not be any casualties of US soldiers and the collateral damage of drone attacks would be less documented in remote areas of Pakistan or Afghanistan, the public will care less about the war, and for the government would be easier to start a war.

 The increased usage of the robots in the modern warfare raises also another issue like it was stated in the article in the Indypendent newspaper where the author Eric Stoner points out that the modern high tech used in warfare helped to decrease the death toll of US soldiers, however, the number of civilian casualties has sharply increase. In WWI the civilian casualties claimed 10 percent, in WW II the death toll of non combatants was over 50 percent, and nowadays more than 90 % of the killed is civilian population since for example in Iraq, 4,300 US soldiers were killed, however, the number of civilian casualties was over 600, 000. (Stoner, 2009).   Although the high tech helps to reduce the number of soldiers killed, the rate of civilians killed is drastically higher. But the future of warfare belongs to the robots and also the drones will be even more upgraded as the current warfare demands for the automatically preprogrammed drones which would be able to execute the mission without the navigation from the pilot.(Stock Treck, 2010). The vision for usage for the autonomous drones in the modern warfare sounds like some breakthrough, however, I just wonder who would be responsible if such automatically preprogrammed drone would cause some huge damage and kill by mistake hundreds of civilians. Who would claim responsibility for it?  It would be definitely hard to prove somebody’s guilt, so what about justice? The technology used in modern warfare reminds us of some science fiction movies, but I think that when the WW III would be fought with such high tech, then like Einstein said, the WW IV would be fought with sticks and stones.

This digital age brings many advantages since the technology enhances our lives. The drones represent the technological miracle; however, with this boosting tendency some crucial factors like the illusion of costless war or the rising number of civilian casualties are simply overlooked. Will the future breakthroughs in technology mean a begging of a new highly developed age or a beginning of the end of the civilization?
USAWC Strategy research Project. (2007). Unamnned ariel vehicle – Revolutionary tools in war and peace. Retrieved April 25, 2010 from
Schirch, L. (2009, October 13). The costs of the drones strikes. The Huffington Post Retrieved April 25, 2010 from
Mayer, J. (2009, October 26). The predator war. The New Yorker. Retrieved April 25, 2010 from   
Stoner, E. (2009, April 17). Robot Wars. The Indypendent. Retrieved April 25, 2010 from  
Shock Treck. (2010). Multi-Mission Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Retrieved April 25 2010  from


  1. US is Not the only country using Drones to combative purposes. In 2009, Human Rights watch reported that Israel has been using Drones to kill Innocent civilians in Gaza. Serious Questions need to be answered by the US Govt if 90% of who die due to drone strikes are civilians and US Drone attacks continue to radicalize people in Pakistan, Afghanistan & US Citizens also - The latest example being Faizal Shehzad.

    Very Good Essay, Miss Zuzana. Looking forward to more good work from you.

  2. Not bad, Suzi. Good to end the essay with a question which hasn't got a credible answer, yet.
    Due to some faults in the systems of my power plant, highly automated, I begun to think that robots are potentially dangerous for the human race. They override my commands for some "reasons". The software has "anti-stupid" routines included and no manual command can disable them!!! I was not doing something stupid, the system was, but I could not convince the DCS (Distributed Control System) that "he" was stupid. The DCS thought that I am stupid, and "he" had the controls!!! I had to use the emergency push buttons of the equipments that the DCS took over from us, the humans!!!
    The surprise came next day when discussed the issue with the DCS engineers. Guess what, they took the side of the DCS! In certain conditions "he" has the right to neglect the human decision and do "what he knows"!
    Now this is a very serious issue. For the "right/wrong" value of any action is very relative, depends on contexts that a DCS cannot assess.
    Thank you Vicki for publishing this.
    Hopefully Suzi will have and maintain her's own blog. Smart kid, isn't she?

  3. Suzi is a smart lady and I'm proud to say she is at the top of her class as a Lady Adventuress Savant in Training.
    She is absolutely ready for her on blog and she has the opportunity on Wordpress where Andy has set one up for her.

  4. Great, but she would rather go for belly dancing lessons than for staying home and blogging :-)

  5. LOL! Maybe belly dancing is better!


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