Lately, we have been dazzled by all the new innovations in warfare. The military has introduced a new service medal to honor those who pilot stealthy drones from the safety of bunkers thousands of miles from their targets. And now the Pentagon is establishing a series of cyberteams charged with carrying out offensive operations to combat the threat of an electronic assault on the United States. We can presume these warriors will operate from suburban office parks and will one day be eligible for medals and ribbons, too.
We cannot forget, however, that although modern warfare, or war by proxy, allows us to inflict severe damage at minimal risk to ourselves, we still have plenty of conventional war to worry about.
The war in Afghanistan – as far as the U.S. is concerned – is nearing its end, but it’s still a war, with all the horrific consequences. That was made most clear with the announcement that seven Americans were killed on Monday: five in a helicopter crash in southern Kandahar and two, including a Green Beret, shot to death at a military base west of Kabul.
The chopper went down in a rainstorm, and enemy fire is not suspected. At the military base, an assailant dressed in an Afghan National Security Forces uniform fired a truck-mounted machine gun at a group of people, killing the two U.S. soldiers and two Afghans and wounding dozens of others, including 10 Americans.
The deaths come just after newly installed U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Afghanistan on his first overseas trip since his confirmation and as coalition members draw down their forces in the nation where war has continued since 2001.
The deaths bring the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan to around 2,200 – about half the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war.
Meanwhile, North Korea is threatening a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland, no less. That country’s new despot, Kim Jong-un, may be full of bluster, and although his country possesses both nuclear bombs and rockets, it does not have the technical know-how to put the two together yet.
But North Korea is armed to the teeth with conventional weaponry, all of it pointed at South Korea and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there. Kim also has stated that the North no longer recognizes the cease-fire that ended the Korean War three generations ago. North Korea has provoked its neighbor before and is likely to do so again, soon. As unpredictable as Kim and his nation are, that could involve not a nuclear bomb on San Francisco but a more likely rain of missiles across the Demilitarized Zone that could wipe out the U.S. presence in a matter of minutes.
And what might happen in the event of a preventive strike on Iran by Israel? All-out war in the Middle East, with the U.S. coming to the aid of its ally? Chances are very good we could not accomplish that with drones or computers.
Let us not be intrigued by the gadgets and systems that remove us from the battlefront and insulate us from its horror. War is the instrument of death. We send our young people to it; many return mutilated and broken; many never come back at all.
“World of Warcraft” is a video game. The world of warfare is not.