Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:45 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 21:45 | SYDNEY

If there no risk, is it really war?


Sam Roggeveen


17 September 2012 14:58

Steve Weintz has taken the words out of my mouth.

My original post on this topic argued that drones don't really revolutionise warfare, they're just another step in the direction military aviation has taken from the beginning: improving the accuracy of weapons delivery while trying to keep the aircrew from harm. Christian Enemark responded that drones are qualitatively different:

When there is no contest between killer and killed, no relationship of mutual risk, any killing that takes place is incapable of attracting the moral imprimatur that war potentially bestows. The use of armed drones is therefore something that is genuinely new and arguably anathema to the reputed virtues of the military profession. The drone operator kills without experiencing any physical risk, thus requiring none of the courage that for millennia has distinguished the warrior from all other kinds of killer. As such, the moral status of the drone operator is diminished.

There's an obvious problem with Christian's argument. If a 'relationship of mutual risk' is central to the virtues of the military profession, then any attempt to reduce that risk undermines the courage which allegedly distinguishes warriors from other killers. That would include body armour, camouflage, or night vision equipment that allows soldiers to hide in the dark.

But soldiers have always tried to reduce the risk to themselves and increase it for their enemies. As George C Scott said in his famous portrayal of General Patton, 'no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.'

I think Christian recognises the weakness of his argument when he closes by saying that warriors need to expose themselves to merely a 'scintilla' of risk. I wouldn't go even that far, but if it would comfort Christian to know that drone operators do face a scintilla of risk, then he should remember that they are at some threat of being targeted by terrorists. In fact, I'm reading a cracking good novel on that subject just now, Andrew Croome's Midnight Empire. If you'd like to join Andrew, myself and the ABC's resident drone reporter Mark Corcoran to discuss this subject further, join us on Wednesday at the Lowy Institute.

Photo by Flickr user Defence Images.