universal soldier – pilotless planes and the future of war?

My bullet’s bigger than your bullet.

Universal Soldier was one of those 1990s cyborg nonsense movies, built on the back of the kind of  post or transhuman mythology originated by the likes of Philip K Dick and William Gibson.

Van Damme’s Luc Devereaux, the cyborg who does war – was, depending on your perspective either an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future of warfare, inhumanity meted out by unhumans.

Like many of the best sci-fi stories, there is a hint of reality in the story. War has gradually been removed from the harsh reality of hand to hand combat, armies no longer charge towards one another with axes and clubs raised – ready to stab and bludgeon one another. Unless you count football hooligans or rioters of course.

But rioters and hooligans are not deliverers of ‘legitimate violence’ – that is the prerogative of the state, and the state needs to be seen to be as humane as possible in its dispensing of death. In particular it is politically awkward for soldiers to be seen to die in foreign fields, although its less bad if those soldiers are themselves foreign.

Footage of planes ‘delivering’ their digitally targeted ‘payload’ looks much more like a computer game than something inherently ‘real’ – Baudrillard’s seminal ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ develops this theme in much more devastating analysis, pointing to the fact that the way air strikes replaced hand to hand combat effectively made the warfare unreal in terms of ‘conflict’.

What I am leading to with this is the latest iteration in this post humanised process – the removal of pilots from fighter jets. There are already a plethora of remotely operated vehicles capable of delivering bombs and sending/receiving imagery and intelligence. Now legitimate death machine merchants BAE have developed a remotely operated fighter jet which can do all that the famous 80s helicopter Airwolf could, but without the need to involve risk to a pilot. So long, Stringfellow Hawk.

Warfare is always inhumane and removing pilots from planes does not mean that fewer people will die, just that death will become less politically embarrassing to the most powerful warriors.

But without him,
how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon of the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier
And he really is the blame
His orders comes from
far away no more.

They come from him.
And you and me.
And brothers can’t you see.
This is not the way we put an end to war

Buffy Sainte Marie – Universal Soldier

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