Remote Control

When I was in high school, I remember witnessing someone that I knew being bullied. As bullying goes, I suppose it was a minor incident, although I am frustrated with myself for not standing behind him when he stood up for himself. The incident involved someone throwing something (I think it was a paper airplane, or something of the sort, but my memory may be deceiving me) at this boy. His response was, sarcastically, “Takes a lot of courage to attack by remote control.”

I had never really thought of that incident since, until this morning. The BBC was on the radio during my morning commute, and the reporter was discussing that the U.S. military was now involved in a new conflict abroad, primarily through the use of unmanned drones. Now, the report stresses that these drones are only for surveillance and not combat. We’ll see. It brought to mind that incident from my high school days, though.

Now, my point here is not to write a political post, but a post about culture in general. And, while I’m a pacifist because of my faith, I recognize the sad reality that warfare will always exist in our current state of being, because mankind never seems to be truly happy unless we’re hurting each other. And, while I avidly follow new technological advances, and I love to see science fiction become reality, I’m wondering if the fact that a solider can pilot an unmanned drone that is halfway around the globe from his or her own location and use it (potentially) for lethal strikes makes us a bit more apt to go into combat.

Drones aren’t the only technology that permits us to distance ourselves from combat, but only the most pronounced. The more advanced we become as a human race, it seems, the easier we make it to hurt each other from a distance while keeping ourselves out of harm’s way in doing so. I recall the phrase that used to be used for up-close and personal warfare and assasinations. These activities used to be called “wetworks,” because, as I understand the etymology, those enagaged in the fighting got wet (like, with blood) from the violence. I think that, when fighting was personal and you could see the person that you were fighting against, that we just may have been less likely to go into a situation without careful consideration. Like James Bond, these soldiers would take a life if ordered to do so, but they trusted that those orders were heavily considered before they were given. Somehow, the de-personalization that comes with the distance factor seems to make the decision to give the order a lot more likely, because it doesn’t feel like harming a fellow human being any longer, but more like a video game.

And who says video games won’t be our demise?

Now, let me recognize that I have absolutely zero military experience. And, I recall a character in a recent episode of a television program saying something the effect of war being easy to second-guess when you’re not in the middle of it. I recognize this. If warfare is indeed necessary (a debate that deserves more attention in itself), then I understand that no country wants to place their military personnel in harm’s way more than necessary, and that these technologies assist in that prevention. I’m concerned that we’re also becoming a bit more trigger-happy with entering into combats because of this technology, though, and this may have dire human and political ramifcations.

Because, as that person said back when I was in high school, it’s just a lot easier to attack by remote control.

I always respected him for making that comment.

Apparently, he was more correct than he knew.


  1. That’s an interesting way of looking at it, and very true I think! We sometimes talk big or hurt others when we know we are “safe” and far enough away that we ourselves won’t be injured. Good post.

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