Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Thinking about Weapons

Advances in weapon technology are not made by good fighters. Good fighters don’t need them.
Conflict has two parts. The emotional release of acting out the conflict is one. The desire to eliminate the opposition is the other.

Really powerful weapons place the second objective higher than the emotional satisfaction of fighting an opponent and displaying skill, strength and courage.

There is some satisfaction in exterminating an undesirable life form. But we do not get down on the floor naked to go after each individual cockroach. We do not hold mouse-hunting season, bagging them one by one after careful stalking. When we have decided that some creature must go, we deal with it as quickly and efficiently as we can. The same is true in human conflict.

Disguise it how you will. Delay the full force in deference to your fear of retribution or vestigial conscience. The fact remains that powerful armed force exists to exterminate undesirable human beings. It goes far beyond a good fight.

Look at some of the weapons we use: germs, gas and huge fireballs. Standing at a distance, the users of these methods let microbes, molecules and atoms do the dirty work. You may have to be a good scientist or engineer, and a cold-blooded bastard, but you don’t need to be much of a fighter.

That’s not to say that skillful and courageous fighters no longer ply their trade. When we don’t want to exterminate whole populations or smoke up a bunch of real estate, we have to send in the more precise technicians. They do need courage, skill and faith in their justification in order to give and receive harm in the fast-paced world of modern mechanized slaughter. And the theaters of war get more complicated all the time. But still we try to pursue precision violence.

The weapons are a large part of the problem. Stray bullets have a way of hitting unintended targets. It’s nice to be able to mow down your enemy with a hail of lead, but it’s easy to make deadly mistakes, shooting the wrong people in any number of ways.

Each advancement in the arms race from the first stick or rock has been an attempt to gain the advantage. But all humans seem nearly equally resourceful when it comes to figuring out how to hurt each other. One side develops a technology. The other side develops a countermeasure. Maybe it’s as big a gun. Maybe it’s a whole new way to hide and outflank. Maybe it’s a home-field advantage, which takes the day because the contest is about control of that field. The invader can’t move the conflict to another place to cancel out the defender’s local knowledge.

The art and science of kicking each other’s ass, which developed only to support the underlying desire to kick each other’s ass, has turned into a whole separate realm of endeavor, on which research continues even in times of little or no ass-kicking, against that future day when asses will need to be kicked. As a discrete industry, it develops its own protective and promotional strategies.

You could say it is as simple as the military-industrial complex, but what is that, really? You need to trace it back to fists, sticks, rocks. Selecting and shaping various objects to use against each other forms the basis of what we have today.

Are we happy to call ourselves advanced because we no longer use sticks and rocks?

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