P.W. Singer
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
04:04

P.W. Singer on War as Entertainment

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P.W. Singer explores the problem of war as entertainment.

P.W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings' 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker that most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day." In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaigns' defense policy task force.

His first book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry pioneered the study of the new industry of private companies providing military services for hire, an issue that soon became important with the use and abuse of these companies in Iraq. His next book, Children at War explored the rise of another new force in modern warfare, child soldier groups. Dr. Singer's "fascinating" (New York Post) and "landmark" (Newsweek) work was the first book to comprehensively explore the compelling and tragic rise of child soldier groups and was recognized by the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book of the Year Award.

His third book, Wired for War looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: "An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and "awesome" by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show,  Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It has already been featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot, as well as in presentations to audiences as diverse as the Air Force Institute of Technology to the National Student Leadership Conference.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Transcript

Question: Is force used more liberally when humans are removed from the battlefield?

Singer:    I went around the world and interviewed all sorts of people working on the robotics trend.  Everything from robot scientists to the science fiction authors who inspire them, to Four Star Generals, to the 19-year-old drone pilots in Nevada, to the Iraqi insurgents that they were targeting, to Red Cross lawyers, you name it, across the board.  And one of the things that was fascinating is that there was one shared concern among all of them and it was that as you move humans out of danger, it also potentially made them more willing to use force.  I thought… an interesting interview was one with the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan and he said, “Look, I’m a big supporter of these systems because they save American lives.  There are hundreds of American soldiers who are alive today because of sending out robotics to handle dangerous missions.”  But then he said, “I’m worried though because I’m worried we’re going to have more marketization of war, more [shock and all talk] to sort of defray discussion of the cost.”  And that takes it in an interesting direction because there are already several trends in place right now that I think this may take us to the logical ending point for.  That is, we don’t have a draft, we don’t have declarations of war anymore for some reason, we don’t have war bonds or war taxes, and now you have the trend that more and more of the Americans that might be put in the harm’s way are American machines.  And so you might take those already lowering bars to war and drop them right to the ground.  And so the public isn’t as involved in the way as it should.  There’s another part of this that’s kind of disturbing to me as well.  It doesn’t just de-link the public, it reshapes their relationship with war.  So these machines, you don’t have humans in them so there isn’t the risk there, but they also still record everything that they see.  And so in some ways that can be good because now the public can have an eye into the battlefield in a way it never could before.  That the home front knows what’s going on in the warfront.  But the thing that’s happening is it’s just like these video downloads here.  People use them for education and news, but also people use them for entertainment.  There are several thousand of these video clips of robotics at war up on things like YouTube, and so I call this the rise of YouTube war.  Basically, people are taking the clips and tying them into a form of entertainment.  And the soldiers have a different term for it.  They call it war porn.  And what it is, is they’ll take a clip of some combat footage and it gets e-mailed around just like a video clip of some nerdy kid dancing in his, you know, basement.  One of the ones that was sent to me was footage of a predator drone taking out an enemy site and the bodies blowing into the air, and it was set to music.  It was set to Sugar Ray’s poppy hit “I just want to fly.”  And so, a way to think about this for me is almost like a sports parallel.  You have… When you’re watching an NBA game on TV, a basketball game on TV, you see the players but they’re really tiny, and it’s the difference between watching someone on TV versus sitting in the arena yourself and realizing, whoa, someone who’s 7 feet tall really is 7 feet tall and the whole experience of being at the game is a lot different.  Well, take that and layer on top of it that this is kind of like the ESPN Sports Center version of war.  That is you’re just getting clips out of it, so all of the tactics and techniques and training is all turned into just, you know, slamdunks and smart bombs.

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