Killing is what men do to each other, has been for as long as our tribal memories can trace. Fighting, for land or gold or women or pride, dominates our ancient literature and scripture.
Cain, Beowulf, Achilles, Samson — a long and not-always admirable list. Still, like them or not, their encounters were personal; they entered the battlefield, as likely to die as to kill.
I’m not suggesting that either dying or killing is a particularly good idea, only that those confrontations involved risk for both sides. Our word “hero” meant brave or noble person before it meant central figure in a story.
The other part of warfare, mass casualties, is now as it’s always been, impersonal slaughter. But that is not my subject here. What’s on my mind is
that “hero” idea: an individual at risk in battle. It’s on my mind because it’s so clearly becoming a thing of the past, a quaint custom reserved to those backward tribes which have not developed drones.
The casual and anonymous brutality of drone warfare is, in one sense, merely an efficient method of killing people, a selected individual or group. In another sense, the one on my mind, it is a technical step forward and a moral step back.
It is, in short, man against man, but unlike our hero epics, one man is secure in isolaton, the other is out in the open and, almost surely, doomed.
We have gone from warriors in hand-to-hand combat, with equivalent risk on either side; to bomber pilots and ground troops, with risk on both sides, but greater on one; to, now, invulnerable assailants, and victims unable to defend themselves or retaliate.