Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
It seems only fitting that in the very month the “Terminator” sci-fi franchise predicted the rise of militarized artificial intelligence, the Guardian of London reported on a British Ministry of Defence analysis warning that drone warfare may be creating an “incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality.” The report’s life-imitating-Skynet idea of robots ultimately making combat decisions is certainly scary — but still a bit fantastical. The more frightening part of the analysis was its look at how roboticized war may already be prompting governments to “resort to war as a policy option far sooner than previously.”
The dynamic is not surprising — nations will inevitably be more willing to use warfare as a foreign policy tool if they possess instruments limiting the cost of waging war. By letting kids in Las Vegas drop remote-controlled bombs on kids in Pakistan, Yemen and now Libya, drones are one of those instruments. But they are only one of many. Indeed, while President Obama preposterously claimed this week that most Americans “know well the costs of war,” it’s quite the opposite: Most Americans have been insulated from those costs — and it’s no coincidence that as we’ve become more insulated, we’ve happily waged more frequent wars.
This process of insulation was a gradual one. The first step was the mastering of aerial attacks, which allowed us to safely commit mass murder at 40,000 feet.
Next came the end of conscription during the Vietnam conflict — a move that calculatedly defused antiwar sentiment by disconnecting most of the population from the blood-and-guts consequences of war. Then it was on to George W. Bush, who coupled long-term military occupations with massive tax cuts. The twin policies, which defied World War II’s ethos of domestic sacrifice, suggested to Americans that there is no longer any personal financial hardship associated with war.
Now it’s drones and private military contractors — the latter of which make war easier in two distinct ways.
Money-wise, government data show that hired guns cost less to employ than regular American troops. Contractors also let Americans circumvent the psychological remorse of casualties. Instead of having to lament the innocent Army serviceman killed in action, we can write off contractor deaths by telling ourselves that death is an occupational hazard the contractors choose to face — and are paid handsomely to confront.
Considering all this, America’s bloated defense budget now stands as the last deterrent to truly permanent war — as it inflates the deficit, it reminds us that there is some cost for our militarism. This is likely why traditionally hawkish politicians are now talking about cutting Pentagon spending. With every other domestic cost of bloodshed neatly mitigated, these lawmakers know that if war is seen by America as a purely budgetary matter, and if that war budget can be reduced, then America will probably support any war with euphoric cheers of “USA! USA!” — regardless of a war’s motive or ramifications.
Of course, the push to reduce the defense budget is worthy for other reasons. And obviously, the end of conscription and new technologies have come with tangible benefits — namely, no American is forced to go to war and fewer American soldiers are killed in battle. But those developments all have a downside — namely, they’ve eliminated deterrents to institutional violence, as evidenced by our multiple wars and never-ending occupations. Americans may be paying less of a price right now for that violence, but the world is paying in blood — and both blowback and debt all but guarantee that we will be paying dearly in the future.
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)