Drones Redux Redux

As anyone who has ever been in combat will tell you, the last thing you want is a fair fight. Technology has been tilting the balance of battles since Goliath fell. I was born into the age of push-button warfare. Ivy Mike, the first thermonuclear bomb, capable of vaporizing an entire modern metropolis, of killing millions of people at once, was detonated over the Pacific before my second birthday. Growing up, the concept of global annihilation wasn €™t just science fiction. We held civil-defense drills to practice for it.

Within my lifetime, that evolution has taken a surprising turn. Today we find ourselves tangled in legal and moral knots over the drone, a weapon that can find and strike a single target, often a single individual, via remote control.

Unlike nuclear weapons, the drone did not emerge from some multibillion-dollar program on the cutting edge of science. It isn €™t even completely new. The first Predator drone consisted of a snowmobile engine mounted on a radio-controlled glider. When linked via satellite to a distant control center, drones exploit telecommunications methods perfected years ago by TV networks €”in fact, the Air Force has gone to ESPN for advice. But when you pull together this disparate technology, what you have is a weapon capable of finding and killing someone just about anywhere in the world.

Drone strikes are a far cry from the atomic vaporizing of whole cities, but the horror of war doesn €™t seem to diminish when it is reduced in scale. If anything, the act of willfully pinpointing a human being and summarily executing him from afar distills war to a single ghastly act.

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