During the World Wars, all major players shared the same kinds of basic weaponry. It wasn’t until the creation of the atomic bomb that the scales tipped greatly in favor of one power over another with regards to military technology. As a result, the world’s great powers have been at a quiet military standstill since 1945. Any aggression from a great power against another great power could result in nuclear war. This has kept any major conflict from occurring since.
However, the great powers still fight in smaller deadly wars against non-nuclear powers. I say smaller because their geographical area is lessened. However, the amount of ordinance used in these conflicts greatly outnumbers the amounts of ordinance used during these great World Wars. Despite the fact that the victims of this overwhelming aggression are in no way equal in strength to the great powers, nor do they have access to weapons beyond rifles and RPGs, the great powers have never won a war in this way. Disproportionate distance warfare in this modern age results more often in a crippling and embarrassing loss for the great power than it does for the weaker, less equipped nation. It’s less effective at eradicating targets and threats and far more costly in the long run.
A video has been released recently that shows US forces in Iraq killing 15 innocent people. They joke over the radio with each other as they shoot at the people on the ground from over a mile away in their helicopters. This video was released through a site called “Wikileaks”, and it wasn’t until outrage grew online that major news networks decided to pick up the story. Even then, the video was censored “out of respect” for the families of those killed. What a joke! The video would have remained censored if the Army had its way, just like the photos of Abu Ghraib would have remained censored. Even caskets of dead soldiers are censored in the media, why would snuff videos be allowed? Released in this way, this long after the incident took place and was “cleared” by the Army, will fuel anger in Iraq and all over the world, not only because of the content, but because of the continued denial of the US government and population that their occupation creates such crimes against humanity.
The world powers learned a lesson after Vietnam. Instead of being able to practice their trade legitimately, journalists are now embedded with US soldiers. During the aftermath of the massacre in Baghdad, a Washington Post journalist was on the scene. The first time the paper mentions the possible misconduct by US soldiers, however, was after the Wikileaks release of the video, whereby they mentioned it in passing to promote the journalist’s book about Iraq.
This incident and its response indicates to me that the United States has become too far removed from its own warfare. Pilots in Nevada finish flying drones in Iraq and then drive home to kiss their wives and children. Helicopter gunmen fire thousands of rounds on unarmed civilians from over a mile away. Ask any man on the street in the US and chances are good that he will have forgotten that hundreds of thousands of US soldiers are occupying Iraq. However, ask any man in Iraq and he will remember this fact very clearly unless he is severely mentally ill or incapacitated. It is a reality he lives with every day. An American will see this footage, and they will begin to make excuses for the soldiers firing rounds from over a mile away, themselves as far removed from the violence as the soldier has become through his distance weapons. Most of the rest of the world’s population will see this video and, due to their daily proximity to violence and poverty, will become incensed. Both sides are fighting each other, but only one side lives with reality.
Perhaps the powers that be found it easier to make their populations ignore the war than convince the populations to support it. Since the Iraq war began in 2003, US citizens have responded tepidly at best both in support or in opposition to the war. There are few American citizens who would be willing to make great sacrifices for their cause. Removed from the violence, miles away in our helicopters, Americans have lost the capacity to understand their bloody actions against the rest of the world. Al-Jazeera runs photos of the bodies and shows uncensored video footage. Wolf Blitzer simply tells you about it before breaking news about Tiger Woods.
Like Willard complaining in “Apocolypse Now”, we are becoming soft in our hotel rooms while “Charlie” crouches in the jungle and gets harder. Our technology has evolved, but our resolve has become weaker. When soldiers become so far removed from the conflict that they lose the humanity of themselves in regard to their targets, they lose the war. It happened in Vietnam, and it will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. By putting distance between us and our targets, we also lose the moral high ground. In an effort to “save American lives” – while lining the pockets of military contractors who create such technologies – we have made the Other more expendable. After all, our technology has grown to make some soldiers safer, but it has become more deadly and careless towards the target. Like the adoption of carpet bombing Europe in World War 2, the result is mass, needless civilian causalities. The only difference was that the various European countries had the means to adequately defend themselves. The Global South has resorted to suicide bombing.
While US soldiers grow fat on video games and Halliburton all-you-can-eat buffets, “Haji” crouches in the desert and gets harder. Only this is no longer a tactical issue, as it is to some old-guard grunts and generals. This has become a moral issue because our continued callousness results in the death and suffering of millions worldwide without a single pinch of moral consequence, which creates the cyclical environment wherein more lives will be ruined by our ignorance. However, instead of erradicating threats, distance warfare will multiply them, as more hearts and minds are repelled internationally by our standards.