Literal Killing Machines

Via Father Jake Stops the World, a Times Online article on “killer robots.”

“These robots have no fear,� John Pike, director of, an online military research firm in Virginia, said. “They can advance into enemy fire in a way that human soldiers will not.

“What’s more, these robots don’t need retirement benefits, they don’t have to be paid a re-enlistment bonus and they can be boxed up and warehoused between wars. They also, of course, don’t have loved ones who miss them and mourn them — and they can be produced in huge numbers.�

What is unsaid is that robots also have no conscience. A constant problem with human soldiers is that humans have a problem with killing. We have this thing called a conscience. If we have to kill it tends to mess up our minds, and we are liable to suffer for it for the rest of our lives, with PTSD and the like. It used to be that most soldiers in a given war never even shot anyone, but in and following the Korean War America found ways to condition its soldiers to make a higher percentage of them willing and able to kill, and we all know what spectacular success we’ve had in war in the latter half of the 20th century. This is the logical culmination of such policies.

Another thing that’s kinda unmentioned in this article is that presumably the people these robots are shooting at will indeed have “loved ones who mourn them and miss them.” And those loved ones are going to want revenge, and they are going to find ways to take revenge, and when they do so, they’re not going to go after the robots.

I’d be more geeked about these killer robots if they heralded an age when we’d all just build robots and let them fight it out, and didn’t get humans involved on either end. But that’s not what I’m expecting here.

Ever notice that with every development of military policy under the Bush administration, America more strongly resembles a bad guy in a Hollywood movie? The good guys never employ robot warriors. It’s always the bad guys with the soulless killing automatons. And under Gonzalez and Bush’s “pro-torture but we don’t call it torture” policies, America embodies the melodramatic Nazi bad guy who says “Ve haff vays of making you tok.”

Shouldn’t that be telling us something?