When I first saw Star Wars I couldn’t help but hate the empire. It was a juggernaut of technologically advanced weaponry and fighting machines in superior numbers against a ragtag collection of rebels. There was no chance for Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo and the rest of the rebel alliance to beat the odds stacked so heavily against them. The empire had a Death Star that could wipe out an entire planet with one shot, a mega fleet of star destroyers patrolling the entire galaxy, enough armored storm troopers to take over every planet in a solar system, and enough droids and drones and droid drones to perform any and every task imaginable.
In the opening sequence of the fifth Star Wars episode, The Empire Strikes Back, we see that it was one of those droid drones that found the rebels hiding out on the remote frozen planet of Hoth and alerted the rest of the empire. It was only a matter of time before Darth Vader and the rest of the empire came traipsing along to crush the rebel alliance. The Millennium Falcon and her crew barely had time to get off the planet before they were captured.
The other night I watched a 60 Minutes article detailing the success of the American military drones, the Predator and the Raptor. Both of these unmanned machines are credited with giving America the edge in surveillance and readiness. Although unmanned these state of the art machines are actually controlled by remote control by pilots at an air force base in California. These drones make it possible for these pilots to wake up in the comfort of their own home, take a drive or even walk to work, sit at a desk and start raining bombs on America’s enemies and still make it home for lunch and dinner. At least from a pilot’s perspective, the twenty first century is the dawn of an era of war by remote control.
As I write and as you read there are defense contractors and other corporate manufacturers are working on robotics and other machinery to help in the war effort. Sooner rather than later I’m sure we’ll see our foot soldiers joined by automated mechanisms designed to make the job of killing opposing forces even easier. At first their role will be passive. They’ll help move soldier’s equipment or even help move wounded soldiers out of further harm’s way. But these machines will eventually morph into their harbingers of harm equipped with all manners of weaponry to do the killing by remote control, just like the remote controlled airplane went from being predominantly tools of surveillance to become Predators and Raptors, ready to rain hell’s fire on the head of anyone who appears in the crosshairs on a television screen in California half a world away.
The 60 Minutes broadcast would serve as a recruiting tool as much as anything else these days. I have to admit that in my younger days I would’ve stood there with my jaw open agape at the cool tools at the military machine’s disposal. I would marvel at the technology and imagine myself pulling the remote controlled yoke of a Predator in what would undoubtedly be the ultimate video game ever made. But that was a long time ago.
Now, I see a Predator or a Raptor firing its missiles and killing people without putting an American soul in any real danger and I can’t help but wonder what led to the conflict in the first place. We’re at war in a foreign country with people who many call that country home. Many of those people supported a group who were responsible for the happenings that happened on September 11th so long ago. But then I have to ask, why would that group want to kill so many Americans by flying jetliners into one of the best symbols of America’s economic power and another symbol of our military power? What would drive a people to support people who would do such a thing? Things are never as simple as they seem on the surface.
I came away from this particular 60 Minutes episode thinking that this futuristic machinery is nothing more than the latest hammer that allows America to beat her opponents into unequivocal submission or into unequivocal oblivion. Not unlike that Death Star that was used against the rebels who dared to challenge the authority of the Empire in the Star Wars Saga.
But you had to give those rebels credit, they were a gutsy bunch. Despite the most devastating weapon in the galaxy designed to kill an entire planet of people in a single blow they continued to resist. And we were all manipulated into recognize the courage of the rebels who stared down the Death Star’s death ray emitting barrel in the movie. What can we say about anyone who continues to fight the good fight in real life when there are Predators and Raptors lurking about?