Remote Control War A Deadly Game

Would you like a different outcome to the Vietnam War? You can buy a video simulation game called Escalation and try.

Want to become a skilled sniper? You can do that for free. "America's Army", an online video game developed by the Army, is available free online or from recruiting offices. It already has 950,000 registered users, with as many as half a million players on weekends.

Players of "America's Army" go through basic training and learn how to fire Army machine guns and rifles. After that, the game becomes a First Person Shooter in which players become snipers, viewing the world along the barrel of a gun, shooting at terrorists who are trying to shoot them.

The biggest war game in history, Millennium Challenge 2002, was recently completed by the Pentagon. It was partly real maneuvers of 13,500 soldiers on the ground, partly computer simulation of actions the Persian Gulf. The Blue forces (U.S.) battled the Reds -- an unspecified Middle Eastern nation with a crafty, megalomaniac dictator (guess who). It lasted three weeks and cost $235 million. It also generated a lot of controversy that never reached prime-time TV.

Red forces commander General Paul Van Riper took seriously his assignment to challenge the high-tech weapons systems and concepts of the Defense Department's "New World of Warfare". First he circumvented the Blue's state of the art electronic eavesdropping techniques by using motorcycle couriers and muezzins chanting from minarets for communications. Then he mobilized civilian speedboats to deliver explosives to warships, sinking 16 of them and killing thousands of Marines.

But when he discovered that Pentagon referees, in order to improve the outcomes of the games, had refloated the Blue fleet and resurrected the Marines, he quit the game in protest.

"... it was advertised up front as free play" said Van Riper, "in order to validate the concepts they were trying to test, to see if they were robust enough to put into doctrine."

Since then the Pentagon has held mock battles simulating urban warfare in Baghdad, civil authorities are modeling traffic flow in Washington after a bomb explodes at Union Station, and intelligence agencies are tracking the sales of cough syrup as possible indicators of bio-terrorism

Last Sunday in Yemen a single vehicle carrying six men supposed to be Al Qaeda operatives was incinerated by a single Hellfire missile from an American Predator aircraft. The Predator, a remote-controlled spy plane that can prowl at 15,000 feet and transmit live video, infrared, or radar pictures, is not one of the Defense Department's new toys -- it's the CIA's.

The Bush administration praised the strike, with Rumsfield saying that the death of an Al-Qaeda operative was "a good thing." "We're at war with Al Qaeda," said another senior official. "If we find an enemy combatant, then we should be able to use military forces to take military action against them."

Most of the rest of the world sees the attack as an assassination or summary execution, exactly like the targeted killing of Palestinians by Israelis, which the U.S. has criticized. The Swedish foreign minister noted: ''Even terrorists must be treated according to international law, otherwise any country can start executing those whom they consider terrorists."

So here we are, at the start of the 21st century -- when we supposed that our highest human ideals of life, liberty, justice, and prosperity for all would be realized -- mired in desires, designs and devices for war, killing, destroying, and inflicting pain for power or profit.

The "New World of Warfare" is already in place; the resources and the attention of the U.S. are being channeled into ever-more-sophisticated systems for war, and miltary "doctrine" is being promulgated for the nation.

There is little doubt that the U.S. military and CIA can "win" any battle, or any war, or kill any Bad Guys they choose. We have the hardware, the software, the wetware, the imagination, the will, and the money to shape the world any way we want it, and to modify or destroy almost any natural or cultural system, including persons, civilizations (if any), and food chains.

But should we? Now that the capability to compass and consummate the death of anyone, anywhere, is within the reach of any nation, any agency, any religious sect, or even any single wealthy megalomaniac, does it mean we revert to our crudest values and vigilante justice?

There are no universal, overriding moral standards that could constrain such actions. Though all the world's major religions denounce killing and violence and propose something on order of the Golden Rule, in practice most of them have prevailed by killing those they define as "evil".

The Bush administration spends about a million dollars a day on war simulations, but that's small compared to the $1 billion a day of their total military budget. Do Americans concur? Are we willing to fight for life, liberty and justice, or only against evil? Would we spend as much on simulations and games to learn how to reduce human population, or develop cheap, renewable, non-polluting energy sources, or make peace between Israel and Palestine?

Were these sophisticated simulations, games and high-tech weapons developed in response to our values and ideals? Or are they driving our thinking about war and power?

As in "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."?

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