The Ethics of War?

christopher_lee180-11

3rd November 2015

Westminster

I was through the Amargosa Valley in Nevada which boasts a gas station and the second best bordello in the state.  Nevada’s like that. I was heading for US Highway 95 and Creech Air Force Base close by India Springs. It is bare country and bare country has simple rules. You do what you got to do and never stand around unless maybe there’s a beer.

Forget the bordello. There’s not a batwing door to be seen and you won’t hear the clink of a dollar set of spurs. The nearby abandoned MX missile test site is known for its scorpion collection.  Packs a megaton sting they tell me.

We had moved from the base and were approaching Creech and a beer with a top sergeant who runs a four or five target analysis on some regular guy in a beat-up Toyota. The sergeant says that when Intelligence confirms that he is a baddie then the sergeant’s partner  a young lieutenant signs off the To Go sheet and takes a shot from an RPA. Goodbye says the sergeant and moves onto the tracking habits of another potential hit.

Could be a good morning for crispy bacon, easy over and maybe a beer.  The sergeant tells me that  the Predator drones (that is what a Remotely Piloted Aircraft is) are a good way to do some of the war. She says you get to track a baddie’s habits. You have a time from cover to automobile to destination. When the people at command one are sure then the baddie is as good as toast.

The score rate is high and most of the time the target is the only casualty.  Aborting a hit is easy.  You simply don’t press go. There will be another time. Clean.  What are we to make of this?

In World War One admirals talked about submarines not being fair weapons. Sneaky.  You watch the folk at Creech AFB and it cannot be sneaky. The technology is not a secret and, it is mostly clean.  War being mostly mucky that single fact could easily make it right.  Could it?

I was listening to something of an answer. I was listening to an Oxford professor discussing “Applying Ethics to Public Policy”. When it came to tracking a guy in a Toyota 7,800 miles away and then blowing him to seven waiting virgins the seemed no problem. But the ethics of what? Ethical revenge? Does it exist?

The ethics of using technology to do the damnedest thing because you have the technology is dangerous ground. In its simplest form ethical public policy has nothing to do with an eerie sensation of knowing that the baddie was about to get his. Is this not how it should be?

Taking out the enemy with no thought other than if he had a drone and I had a Toyota there would be no ethical discussion.

Then we get to think the next stage.  They say down here at Westminster the home of the world’s first bordello of democracy that the political risk of joining in the Global Coalition effort to air strike Syria is looking shakier every day.  They need a UN Resolution because President Assad has not asked the RAF to do it.

The ethicist cannot be certain of course.  To strike and prevent a massacre seems the very stuff of Biggarean moral philosophy.  I mentioned that at Creech.  The top sergeant looked puzzled.  You need a beer?

Cameron and Co need know nothing of all this.  He may not even ask Parliament to let him unleash what is left of the RAF (they have not really got enough assets to do this anyway) onto targets in Syria.  For there is the awesome fascination of the war against an unsophisticated enemy with the ethics of a zealot.

One is based at Raqqa.  One is based at Creech. One arouses horror, The other rouses ethical wonder.  And the British (complete with their own drones) don’t want to get their boots bloodied. No ethics. No uncompromising zealotry. Simply a frightened off political caste whose indecision is final.

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