Military Technology: It’s Only Cool Till You’re On The Receiving End

Twitter and the news this morning are full of excitement about the ultra-cool new heatseeking missile technology being used to attack Libyan Government tanks. Apparently, the French are setting new standards in the science of killing people by remote control.

Plenty of people support the Western intervention in the Libyan civil war. I don’t, partly because I think it’s got a lot more to do with Libya’s ability to produce high-quality crude oil than any concern over the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people, and partly because most such interventions don’t end well for the people they are supposedly trying to help.

But, whether or not people support the intervention – and I acknowledge that there are legitimate grounds for such support – I am immensely frustrated by the way in which ‘war porn’ continues to fascinate people who should know better. It happened in the first US-Iraq war; it happened in the second; and now it’s happening again.

This isn’t a video game. When a missile or a shell hits a tank, the people in that tank are torn apart or burnt alive. And they are people with no lesser or greater right to life than anyone else. So, if you feel tempted to celebrate that cool piece of military technology, imagine how it would be if the priorities of those who launch such attacks changed, and you found yourself on the receiving end.

16 thoughts on “Military Technology: It’s Only Cool Till You’re On The Receiving End

  1. Libya's ability to produce and sell oil would not have been hindered in any way had we just decided to leave them alone. The rebellion was on the verge of defeat and any disruption to oil would have been quickly fixed. Oil is what keeps Gaddafi in designer clothes and palaces, he ain't gonna stop selling it.You say the people in those tanks have \”no lesser or greater right to life than anyone else\”, and yet those same people are killing others, others who for the most part just want to be free. I'm sorry, but I have little sympathy for supporters of brutal tyrants who murder innocent people standing up for their liberty.

  2. Gaddafi has been urging his followers to go from house to house and to kill the rebels like rats; he uses fighter jets to quash civil unrest; he vows to murder anyone who stands in his way. Etc.This isn't just a facile choice between voyeuristically masturbating to war porn or callously securing one's self-interest by protecting oil reserves. Can we also not act to defend basic human rights, which this gaudy sartorial tyrant seems hell-bent on violently subverting? The International Community can respond to the Libyans' legitimate plea for assistance and still safeguard its own narrow interests.That said, we didn't see the same urgency in Sierre Leone when hordes were being massacred, and we didn't see it in the Sudan either or in Rwanda or East Timor. The Western Powers must have an ulterior motive to focus their interventionist policing policies. It ain't pretty and it ain't pure and it oughtn't to be like that: All military interventions should be staged from what Martin Luther King called Agape: Love the Apparatchiks and murder them with charity and goodwill; dispatch them with a prayer and a pang of remorse. I agree with you that the deaths these tank operators will suffer will be barbarous and butcherous, but what are they doing in those tanks? Hopefully, there won't be anybody operating the tanks. One wonders how much Gaddafi pays them to murder their brothers and sisters? What do you propose, Tim, that the Libyans sort out their own mess?

  3. Just as armour-piercing missiles really mess up tank crews, so do the kind of rounds that you can fire from a tank mess up people in jeans and t-shirts.I don't see much call for drooling over the the gun camera footage in either case.To the extent that we see it in the first case, I think that it's very much a matter of the TV news producers running what they're given, which is of course part of a couple of larger problems.

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone. As I said in my post, I acknowledge that there are legitimate grounds for supporting this \”intervention\”, although I doubt that these are the actual grounds. My blog post was sparked by what I consider to be the obscene drooling by a number of commentators over the \”wow factor\” of the latest weapons technology.John, I'm not sure that this was Martin Luther King's actual message…

  5. \”they are people with no lesser or greater right to life than anyone else\”No. They abrogate that right when they put themselves in that tank and execute illegal orders. It's right to kill bad people when they are killing good people.You may have an arguable point that war-porn is gratuitous, but it does not follow that the use of weapons on the world's enemies is wrong, or that it violates those malefactors' rights. When they have heavy weaponry, and are using it improperly, due process consists of stopping them and destroying their weapons, without regard to their safety.To believe otherwise is to encourage them to use deadly force to defeat freedom without risk to themselves.

  6. (Latest Anonymous) Do you apply that some logic when illegal orders are executed by US forces (or by the forces of you own country, if it's not the US)?

  7. I would have thought that people would be sated with news reports of death and destruction what with Christchurch and then Japan. And while the rebels may have good reason to protest, intervention by the west doesn't seem to have a good record of making things better lately..

  8. It is a tricky one, isn't it? I mean the intervene or not question. I am concerned about the religious bias on display too – some regimes are to be supported (Bahrain) by some and not by others in the region. Ostensibly the regional voices are protesting about civilians in Libya, but not about those in Yemen or Bahrain or Jordan … and I wonder if it is as much to do with the Swiftian Big-endians vs the Little-endians, the flavour of belief. I can'tbe clearer unfortunately. (read my post on Mark Twain)However, I agree the war pron stuff is bizarre, insane and repugnant.

  9. Hear hear! I HATE CNN or FOX News going on about how cool a missile/plane/tank is and how much destructive power it has. I support the intervention in Libya, but only because they have made it a killing offence to protest. I was quite nervous when I heard that UN forces were bombing Libyan installations.AND – where was the UN in Darfur? Eat Timor? Rwanda? Cambodia? (read Romeo Dallaire's \”Shake Hands with the Devil\” for that story). It does seem that you are on to something when you say that Libya can produce oil, and they don't want it to be disrupted. For the money they are spending on just a few tomahawk missiles, they could probably invent a replacement for crude oil.

  10. Thanks, Catherine, AJ, Isabel and Determinist.It's always possible that the intervention will succeed, and indeed I hope it does, in the sense of stopping the Gaddafi regime killing its own people – but, as two Iraq wars have shown, a judgement on the success of such a military intervention needs to be made after years, not months. Blowing things and people up from the air is the easy part (except for the things and people being blown up).Determinist, even at $1 million a missile, I fear it will take the cost of a lot of missiles to equal the economic value of Libya's crude oil reserves. But alternatives to oil is something I plan to return to on this blog in the next few months.

  11. Was it General Sherman who said that \”War is hell\”? I believe it never pays to forget, no matter how \”evil' we may believe them, that the people on the end of those 'cool' weapons will still—sons, brothers, husbands, friends—be \”somebody's darling.\” (Just as those on the end of their weapons are.) Because usually individuals aren't 'evil\”, just caught up in events like all of us; perhaps they even believe their cause is \”right\” and \”true\” … I will put my hand up to not knowing where the \”right\” and true\” lies here, so I guess I'm still in the Wilfrid Owen camp (and I may not have this quite right but he wrote something like): \”I write of war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.\”

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