Tom Engelhardt: The Hyperpower Hype and Where It Took Us

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Engelhardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture and co-editor of History Wars, the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past.

Just last week, a jury began to deliberate on the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, who may or may not have been the missing 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks. At the same time, newly released recordings of 911 operators responding to calls from those about to die that day in the two towers were splashed across front pages nationwide. ("All I can tell you to do is sit tight. All right? Because I got almost every fireman in the city coming…")

Over four and a half years later, September 11, 2001 won't go away. And little wonder. It remains the defining moment in our recent lives, the moment that turned us from a country into a"homeland." With Iraq in a state of ever-devolving deconstruction, the President's and Vice President's polling figures in tatters, Karl Rove (Bush's"brain") again threatened with indictment, the Republican Party in disarray, and New Orleans as well as the Mississippi coast still largely unreconstructed ruins, perhaps it's worth revisiting just what exactly was defined in that moment.

A DIY World of Terrorism

The brilliance of the al-Qaeda assault that day lay in its creation of a vision of destruction out of all proportion to the organization's modest strength. At best, al-Qaeda had adherents in the thousands as well as a"headquarters" and training camps located in the backlands of one of the poorest countries on the planet.

Its leaders made the bold decision to launch an attack on the political and the financial capitals of what was then regularly termed the globe's"sole hyperpower." Although this face-off might have seemed the ultimate definition of asymmetric warfare, in terms of theatrical value -- no small thing in our world of 24/7 news and entertainment -- the struggle turned out to be eerily symmetrical. By the look of it (but only the look), the Earth's lone superpower met its match that day. With box cutters, mace, two planes, and the use of Microsoft piloting software to speed their learning curve, a few determined fanatics, ready to kill and die, took aim at the two most iconic (if uninspired) buildings at the financial heart of the American system and managed to top the climax of any disaster film ever shot. What they created, in fact, was a Hollywood-style vision of the apocalypse, enough so that our media promptly dubbed the spot where those two towers crumbled in those vast clouds of dust and smoke,"Ground Zero," a term previously reserved for an atomic explosion.

This was -- let's be blunt -- an extraordinary accomplishment for a tiny band of men with one of the more extreme religious/political ideologies around; and, if the testimony under CIA interrogation of al-Qaeda's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is to be believed -- summaries were released at the Moussaoui sentencing hearing -- what happened seems to have stunned even him. ("According to the CIA summary, he said he ‘had no idea that the damage of the first attack would be as catastrophic as it was.'")

And yet, so many years later, there have been no follow-up attacks here. This was obviously never the equivalent of breaking through military lines in war. There were no al-Qaeda troops poised to pour through that breach, ransack the rubble, and spread across New York; nor, like the Japanese at Pearl Harbor (to which the 9/11 assault was often compared), did al-Qaeda launch a simultaneous set of strikes elsewhere. Of this sort of activity the group was incapable. Such acts were far beyond its means.

By the look of it, there weren't even sleeper cells in the U.S. ready to launch devastating follow-up attacks. (Given the Bush administration's record from New Orleans to Iraq, we can take it for granted that its officials would have been incapable of stopping any such well-planned attacks.) As far as we can tell, most of the major terrorist assaults launched since then, from Bali to Baghdad, were essentially franchised operations, undertaken by groups who claimed a kinship of inspiration and ideology; and, in a number of devastating cases, including London and Madrid, by small, self-organized groups, brought to a boil by Bush's War in Iraq, who struck on their own as, in essence, al-Qaeda wannabes. What al-Qaeda has really been promoting, because it was never capable of promoting much else, is a DIY world of terrorism.

Crossing the Line, Apocalypse Bound

Despite the limitless look of the destruction on September 11, 2001, the dangers al-Qaeda posed were of a limited nature. After all, it took the group a long time to meticulously plan each of its attacks, whether on the WTC, or the USS Cole in a harbor in Yemen, or two U.S. embassies in Africa. Years could pass between major attacks. When Osama bin Laden, according to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's CIA testimony, pushed for launching the attack on the World Trade Center in May 2001, seven months after the waterborne assault on the USS Cole, Mohammed ignored him because they simply weren't ready.

Their attacks could be devastating locally, killing startling numbers, but that would be the end of matters for months or even years to come. Other than a finely tuned sense of the power of timing, theatrics, and publicity (which indicated just how"modern" a group calling for the return of a medieval Caliphate really was), the only thing al-Qaeda could brandish was an implicit futuristic threat: That someday they, or another group like them, might get their hands on an actual apocalyptic weapon, leaking out of the arsenals or labs of one of the two former Cold War superpowers or from those of proliferating lesser powers. Then they might create an actual Ground Zero, subjecting some city somewhere, possibly here, to a genuinely apocalyptic moment.

Certain analysts had long feared just this. One was Robert Jay Lifton who, back in 1999, wrote a far-seeing if little noticed book, Destroying the World to Save It, about the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. It too had been led by a fanatically driven leader possessing a vision of the end of the world that probably was, Lifton says,"as old as death itself." But whereas past religious groups had waited in expectation or terror for the predicted end of time to arrive, Aum's guru set out to make it happen, to trigger Armageddon. He actually managed to finance and set up his own science labs, attract scientific types to his cult, and create a poor man's weapon of mass destruction, the deadly nerve gas Sarin.

In 1995, his followers let imperfectly produced Sarin loose in the Tokyo subway system during a morning rush hour. Due to Aum's amateurishness, few people were killed; but, as Lifton wrote, the cult had nonetheless crossed a"line" that few even knew existed. It became"the first group in history to combine ultimate fanaticism with ultimate weapons in a project to destroy the world." Its acts were also a reminder that, sooner or later, weapons of mass destruction of one sort or another might indeed fall out of the control of states and into the hands of groups, cults, or even individuals who might feel none of the restraints states turn out to be under when it comes to their use.

This was an insight that lay just below the surface of our world until September 11, 2001, but that everyone evidently sensed -- otherwise that Ground Zero label would never have come so naturally to mind. Thought about with a cold eye, the single most important set of acts the Bush administration could have undertaken -- other than bringing to justice those who had launched the murderous assaults -- would have been to nail down the globe's nuclear as well as chemical and biological arsenals, and the Cold War labs that had produced them. It's worth recalling that the largely forgotten anthrax killer or killers, who closed down Congress and killed postal workers that same September, used weaponized anthrax, evidently from the American weapons labs. In addition, genuine national security would have meant putting full-scale efforts into reversing the global proliferation of nuclear weapons -- rather than just focusing ineptly on a couple of rogue states you were eager to whack anyway. You would certainly not have broken open the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, encouraged a state like India in its militarized nuclear dreams, or launched a major expansion and"modernization" of the already staggering American nuclear arsenal.

But of course nothing like this happened. In that terrible moment when a choice might have been made between the vision of apocalypse and the reality of al-Qaeda, between a malign version of the smoke-and-mirrors Wizard of Oz and the pathetic little man behind the curtain, the Bush administration opted for the vision in a major way. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and other top officials chose to pump up al-Qaeda into a global enemy worthy of a new Cold War, a generational struggle that might comfortably be filled with smaller, regime-change-oriented,"preventive" hot wars against hopelessly outgunned enemies who -- unlike in those Cold War days -- would have no other superpower to call on for aid.

Hyper about Power

That radioactive decision, not the 9/11 attacks, determined the shape of our world. Bush declared his " crusade" -- make no bones about it -- against Islam (though al Qaeda was the fringiest of"Islamic" groups) and the Middle East. It was, above all, to be a crusade to dominate the energy heartlands of the planet.

In its own way, al-Qaeda was ready to accept the Bush version of itself. After all, our President had just elevated it into the major leagues of enemyhood, right up there with the big boys of history. Via various videos, including one just before the 2004 presidential elections, al-Qaeda's leaders entered into a thoroughly bizarre" conversation" with the Bush administration, which, in press conferences, answered in kind. What a compliment! Who could reject a recruiting tool of that sort, right out of someone's Hollywood fantasies. Why not be a group of Islamic Dr. No's? (If only the Bush administration had reacted as James Bond did:"World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God.")

On their part, Bush and his cohorts were all-too-ready to dance with this minor set of apocalypts, in part because they were themselves into fantasies of world domination -- and considered themselves anything but mad. With visions of a"New Rome" -- and a one-party democracy at home -- dancing in their heads, they took that handy, terrifying image of the apocalypse in downtown New York and translated it into every sort of terror (including mushroom clouds threatening to go off over American cities and unmanned aerial vehicles spraying poisons along the East coast). In this way, they stampeded the American people and Congress into their crusade of choice.

The story of what followed you know well. Miraculously, al-Qaeda grew and the United States shrank. For one thing, it turned out that top American officials and the various neocons who worked for them or simply cheered them on from Washington's think-tanks and editorial pages, had been taken in by their own hype about American military power. They deeply believed in their pumped-up version of our hyper-strength, our ability to do anything we pleased in a world of midgets; and with the Soviet Union gone, if you just checked out military budgets and high-tech weapons programs, it might indeed look that way. Economically, however, the U.S. was far less strong than they imagined and its military power turned out to be far more impressive when held in reserve as a threat than when put to use in Iraq, where our Army would soon be stopped dead in its half-tracks.

In retrospect, the Bush administration badly misread the U.S. position in the world. Its officials, blinded by their own publicity releases on the nature of American power, were little short of self-delusional. And so, with unbearable self-confidence, the administration set out flailingly and, in just a few short years, began to create something like a landscape of ruins.

Today, we stand in those ruins, whether we know it or not, though the Ground Zero of the Bush assault was obviously not here, but in Iraq. Starting with their"shock and awe," son-et-lumière air assault on downtown Baghdad (which they promoted as if it were a hot, new TV show), they turned out to want their apocalyptic-looking scenes of destruction up on screen for the world to see no less than al-Qaeda did. It took next to no time for them to turn huge swaths of Iraq into the international equivalent of the World Trade Center. And it's a reasonable guess -- these people being painfully consistent in their predilections -- that it's only going to get worse. (As Sidney Blumenthal recently put it in another context,"Like all failed presidents, Bush is a captive in an iron cage of his own making. The greater his frustration, the tighter he grips the bars.")

Just a quick look at the situation in Iraq today reveals levels of chaos and a"steady diet of carnage" that not long ago might have seemed unimaginable. The Bush people now find themselves oscillating weekly between desperate policy non-alternatives, while a low-level, vicious, Lebanon-style civil war develops on the ground. Just last week,"Iraqi troops" with U.S. advisors were reported to have raided a Shiite mosque complex in a Baghdad neighborhood controlled by the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. A number of civilians, including an 80 year-old Imam, were killed, provoking an angry Shiite response, including calls for the sacking of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, indicating that a new stage had been reached.

For one thing, it's now clear that there may no longer be"Iraqi troops." In this case, the attackers turned out to be a Kurdish unit with American advisors, evidently perfectly happy to slaughter Sadr's backers. What exists, what we're"standing up" (so we can"stand down," as the President regularly puts it) are Shiite units, Kurdish units, and even relatively modest units of Sunni troops. As Robert Dreyfuss recently commented, all of this signals"that the United States is now fighting virtually the entire Iraqi Arab population. Only the non-Arab Kurds seem loyal to the United States now, and the notoriously fickle Kurds, famed for shifting their allegiances on a dime, can't be counted on as permanent friends, either."

Meanwhile, the country is officially without a government. As Dreyfuss sums the situation up,"Post-Saddam Iraq has become a nightmare, a Mad Max world in which warlords rule." While American power remains enormous there, it has proved less wieldable than anyone in the Bush administration ever imagined. The leading Shiite spiritual figure, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hasn't even bothered to open a letter from our President; previous Shiite allies have started denouncing us; Baghdad's provincial council has suspended" cooperation" with the U.S. military and the U.S. embassy.

So here's a future scenario to imagine: Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish troops all roaming urban neighborhoods, all engaging in revenge killings against the others, all with their own American advisors. It is no longer beyond the bounds of possibility that Americans could find themselves on every side of a future civil war; or, no less likely, that all sides could be attacking American troops -- or both; and so, of course, could the Iranians whom the Bush administration, in another catch-22, threatens to attack and yet desperately needs.

In the meantime, the American air war against Iraqi cities quietly ratchets up and, amid the ruins, huge permanent American bases like the 19 square-mile Al-Asad airbase in Anwar Province -- with its 17,000 troops, Burger King, Pizza Hut, car dealership Yellow and Blue bus routes, and"PX jammed with customers" -- thrive. Only recently, the administration requested from Congress hundreds of millions more dollars to construct stronger perimeter defenses, better runways with permanent lighting, more permanent dining facilities and the like at the largest of these bases.

While the basics of everyday life in urban Iraq continue to peel away and the Iraqi oil industry looks to be on its last legs, the Pentagon delivers electricity, potable water, and fuel, not to speak of i-Pods, televisions, Internet access, and other goodies to our massive bases, some of which, visiting reporters tell us, now resemble small American towns and to which the administration hopes to withdraw most of its troops sooner or later. At a time when Daniel Speckhard, director of the U.S. Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, is putting the country on notice that it can"no longer count on U.S. reconstruction funds," you might forgive an Iraqi for wondering how the administration that"liberated" their country could have done so much so efficiently for its soldiers and yet be so incapable of doing much of anything for the rest of the country.

The Rubble of Victory

At the moment, our bases exist like little untouched Edens in the eye of the storm. Undoubtedly, administration officials still imagine us camping out in the ruins in 2009 or 2019 -- after all, for a while the Pentagon actually referred to these ziggurats of modern Iraq as"enduring camps" -- while large cities like Mosul stew in their uncollected garbage and polluted sewage water, ever more rundown, ever more shot up, ever less under anyone's control. ("The Americans are now just one more of the tribes of Mosul," Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent quotes"one Arab source" as saying.)

It's true that some neocons once imagined chaos as a kind of acceptable fallback position in the Middle East, if the best of all worlds didn't work out. But this was the fantasy of people who had essentially never made it out of the Washington world of think tanks, punditry, and politics, who were desperately ready to be dazzled by the tales of Ahmed Chalabi and other exiled Iraqi Scheherazades. Anyone today who thinks that we can simply retreat to those permanent bases and protect the oil, while Iraq sinks further into chaos, while the ruins spread, should really think again.

"Imperial overreach" is too fancy a term for what the Bush administration has actually done. While its officials have talked a great game when it came to achieving"victory" in Iraq and exporting democracy to the Middle East, its main exports have turned out to be mayhem and ruins. And those it can continue to export. With every new move, yet more rubble, yet more terror, and undoubtedly yet more terrorists in Iraq and, sooner or later, in the wider region will be created. This is where the most essential choices made by the President, Vice President, and their chosen officials in the days after September 11, 2001 have taken us.

This article first appeared on, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Far from me to ask you or any body else to:".... disavow our troops or call them something different than my own it's just not possible..."
"They are us and we are them and rightly or wrongly, I will die beside them... There is no other way."
No less is required, or expected, from any honest, decent patriot any where.
Your patent concern over the evil that the troops of the USA are/were forced,ordered or, by being insufficiently supervised(?) ,allowed to do, as in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the myriad secret detention centers that are daily unfolding, speaks volumes for the basic decency of the average American !
However they are your(plural) troops and NOT the troops of the pernicious neocon/Zionist alliance fronted by President Bush and led by Wolfowits and Rumsfeld.
As such the blame falls, ultimately, on you as long as they are allowed, through the inaction of decent Americans, or, which is far more dangerous to the world at large, their non concern about what their troops are doing!
The major problem facing the world today is the neglect, nonchalance and , ultimately, the irresponsability of the average American when it comes to the foreign policy of the USA.
I know the USA, I believe, well enough and it has always amazed me that such a decent people would allow , through neglect and ignotance, "their" government to pursue such evil policies abroad !
My respect and regards to you!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"What are the ethical questions associated with using drones or robots (the prerogatives of hyper power) in place of our own troops?" is the excellent, far reaching, thought provoking question that Mr. Patrick M. Ebbitt asks!

The other side(s) of this, same, intelligent question is:

-How is human kind to resolve its differences and disputes when the ordinary collides with the hyper powerful?
-How shall the non hyper defend its interests if these same interests are coveted by the hyper?
-How is aggression to be resisted in the case of a truly irresistible hyper on one side of the conflict?
-Will national independence and sovereignty mean any thing any more and any longer?

The "power" morass that is the state of the world today can lead (if we simplify things back to their basic elements) to any of the following pattern(s) of international relation(s) :
-Complete hegemony of the hyper over the world and total submission by the world to his will ; the neocon/Zionist vision.

-Wars of attrition in which the victim of aggression inflicts enough damage on the aggressor to make him leave, but not necessarily desist, and ends up by making him pay an exorbitantly huge cost that makes his "victory" over the aggressor hollow and the equivalent of defeat; as (for now) in occupied Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq!

-An international, universal alliance against and boycott of the hyper that would isolate him from the rest of the world and confine him to his own domain; as is the ultimate dream of the anti globalization movement.

-An International Court of Justice with binding enforceable verdicts in which the hyper has one, and only one, vote and no veto power.(The nemesis of the Bush neocon/Zionist league)

Power, in persons and nations, corrupts and hyper power, more so with nations, corrupts “hyperly”!
(The case of several hypers is another , though not too far off,case.)

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr. Ebbitt
I was hoping your discussion of the subject will go beyond:"Sure we need to protect our troops & save(their?) lives that I am all for 100% ...".
Others, than "your troops", are, as you know, involved and, if any thing, are bleeding much , much more than them!
The way I see it is that the only way to "contain" the hyper is through his "electors" that empowered him; people, presumably, like your good self!
That is why I was hoping that the discussion will also, or to be honest will primarily ,look at the receiver's fate !
To US citizens it is mainly the question of a "clear conscience" to the receiver it is a question of life and death, freedom or serfdom!

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006


Unless you are an ordained Catholic Priest my confessions for the sins of this nation and my personal failings in both thought and deed with regard to my Moslem brothers mean nothing. As a "Joe Lunch Bucket" my daily struggles to put bread on the table are well chronicled within family circles. Fortunately, it is not in an environment with an occupying army in my back yard or where life/death may well hinge on one false move/word.

However, that does not mean that I or many of my fellow countrymen do not feel the pain and suffering we have inflicted on the innocents throughout the world. From South East Asia to Central America to the Caribbean to the Middle East our actions have had adverse effects on many undeservedly.

Yet, it is tough to be so critical of my country that is so great, kind, benevolent and our people so hard working, helpful, loving and willing to help those less fortunate/in need throughout the planet. If you are asking me to disavow our troops or call them something different than my own it's just not possible... They are us and we are them and rightly or wrongly, I will die beside them... There is no other way.

That is why I come here to HNN and my posts have spoken out as loudly as my limited mental ability permits against the war in Iraq and for the record I am not so convinced about our presence in Afghanistan. These posts are archived as proof of my resistance and I've made few friends/allies here for my outspoken beliefs on this tragedy. My conscience will never be clear of this stain.

Come November I will exercise my vote, as always, never for a party but for the person. In the machine of realpolitik two party system that is the US my vote is usually wasted on Libertarians, Greens, Socialist Workers, assorted lesser cause candidates and fringe lunatics. I view both Democrat and Republican with equal distrust and disdain.

My hope for this post was to get some personal barometer maybe, to alleviate a guilty conscience, by voicing my opposition to the use of radio controlled, unmanned weapons of war against lesser armed populations. You being a man of great intellect want to expand on this concept but, my small capability only allow me to concentrate on only one topic at a time. It is all I can eat... a cow, one hamburger at a time.

As we move past year three of the Iraq War I see our nation in a state of paralysis as the result of failed leadership, indecision and lack of clear vision. I am afraid my friend that many more are slated to needlessly die and that the worst is yet to come.

Take Care and May God Bless You.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dead is dead... dirt shirt, worm meal, meet your maker...

However, I would rather die fighting you mano y mano than to be slain by a well designed toy operated by a coffee swilling joystick geek from the friendly confines of an air conditioned cubicle.

If your cause is just then you should have no problem defeating your enemy to his face.

The use of unmanned tanks, planes, boats and bombs is the tools of war for the gutless. How typical of our country seeing as how it is so overflowing with pussies... these weapons are tailor made for us...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

As the US basically, outspends the rest of the world combined on defense, the technology we now possess outpaces all adversaries to such a degree that we could be fighting our foes with drones, robots and smart weapons in full scale conflict without subjecting our troops to harms way...

I was hoping to get into this discussion at the Chalmers Johnson thread last week but, HNN readers avoided that essay like it was the carrier of rat plague.

Is it ethical for the US to fight our flesh/bone human enemies without expending or placing our own human capital in the line of fire using drones or robots?

What are the ethical questions associated with using drones or robots in place of our own troops?

What will become of the 'Art of War' with our ever increased use of drones or robots?

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Thanks Omar, John and Fred...

All you're comments, astounding intellects and insightful reason are not only greatly admired but, very appreciated from this end of the wire.

However, this just doesn't feel quite right from a moral/ethical standpoint. Sure we need to protect our troops & save lives that I am all for 100% but, for a non-combat programmer at Langley to direct drones to kill the enemy seems so unwarlike, sanitary, calculated, cold and merciless. And it is not that I am uninterested as I have read DTI since it's inception and hope you enjoy this excellent e-zine.

John and Fred argue that military evolution dictates these advances but, the examples given were man on man... technical leaps in personal weaponry that the adversary could level up the playing field against in short order. Fred believes the world has always answered 'yes' to the question of new weapon systems/ethics but, the A-bomb says otherwise or Hiroshima wouldn't send luminaire's down river each summer.

In spite of superior intelligence directing strikes mistakes happen... a wedding party in Pakistan for example hit by a Predator strike or a small lie to target a life long neighbor and adversary.

We are discussing machine versus man. And men still die though they are the men without the benefit of the technology or the research dollars to compete. An RC tank that shoots 1M bullets a minute. What is the purpose? An adversary with an AK-47 and bandolier never stands a chance. What have we become as a nation... a feared Hyper Power... the Worlds Killing Machine...

Is this all the further we have evolved... as a people, as a nation... the best and brightest at creating orphans and widows and devastating all in our path.

Omar, as always, gives the human side mixed with powerful reasoning, to which I cannot dispute...

As a lover of good music there is an Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips led by Wayne Coyne, who is now wrapping himelf in a flag and pouring fake blood over his head during performances in protest of the war... but, I digress... In 2002 they released the Grammy Award winning/ highly acclaimed "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" that covers the 'evil' robot and war scenario with chilling effect... well worth a listen to for the far reaching Sci-fi lyrics, beautifully crafted melodies and controvesial subject matter that we are covering today.

I hope this thread plays out for a few more days.

Ricardo Luis Rodriguez - 4/4/2006

It is no more honorable delivered by a sword to the neck than a laser guided bomb. Once the cycle of killing starts human ingenuity covers the gamut from lo-tech (drugging your victim to decrease resistance as you personally sever the neck) to high tech (laser bomb impersonally delivered from a mile away.
Ethics in war? Kill or be killed.

Frederick Thomas - 4/4/2006

..another example of which is perhaps more instructive. The machine gun began to be employed in the late 19th century, and was immdeiately declared unethical by many religious authorities. A few years afterward the Germans, sensing another war coming, spent a lot of money to roll out an even worse family of weapons, the hydraulic recoil heavy artillery (HRHA).

HRHA make a huge difference, in that for example, the German 210 mm howitzer could fire twice per minute or faster, whereas the French counterpart fired only once in about 8 minutes. The hydraulic aspect meant that the weapon held its aim between shots, a huge difference. The French weapons could end up 20 meters away from where they were aimed after a maximum charge shot. In addition, the Germans weapons were about half the weight of the French, due to HRHA.

The ethics people did not notice the revolution in artillery, until English and French casualties were proven to be twice those of the Germans. Then the governments covered it up in panic, until the troops realised, and mutinied.

I am ambivalent on the ethics concept. Trench warfare, grenadier tactics, etc were adaptations to both these weapons developments. There are adaptations to almost everything one can invent. In the case of drones, one learns to disguise oneself from overhead observation, to meet under mosques, to detect the drone's presence, etc. In this way one survives, and that is man's history.

Randolph William Baxter - 4/3/2006

Your comments, Mr. Englehardt, would fit well into an updated version of your 1992 (and now out-of-print) book "The End of Victory Culture" -- do you have any plans to put out a second edition? I've used the text successfully for several years in my Introduction to American Studies course, and would welcome your comments at

Frederick Thomas - 4/3/2006

The world has always answered "yes" to the question of the ethics of new weaponry.

In the 13th century, when the ultimate long range weapons were the Welch longbow and the Mongol recurved bow, there was wide discussion as to the ethics of their use.

Much of this centered around whether a commoner, a "Yeoman," should be permitted to kill a noble knight in full regalia, as often happened.

But when Edward I of England gained control of this weapon after finally defeating the Welch, he reversed positions and embraced the longbow and the Welch archers who used them.

It was this weapon which permitted his great grandson the Black Prince to defeat the French so decisively at Poitiers, despite being greatly outnumbered, and again 100 years later with Henry V at Agincourt.

I see no difference between this kind of technical development and the unmanned drones. All force multipliers will be resented by those who do not have them, and declared unethical. It has always been so, and I do not see that changing. In fact, a primitive version of this technology was very effective in Vietnam, wherever we used it aggressively. I can only imagine what it was like to be on the receiving end-at least it was over quickly. But no one questions today if that form of high altitude precision radar bombardment is "ethical." Of course it is. The technology has moved way past it.

John H. Lederer - 4/3/2006

the argument of last year seeme to be that the United States policy was dommed in the face of an increasng an armed insurgency.

Over the last six months the insurgency appears to be declining in strength.

Without a single moment of reflection over the changed nature of the situation, the author switches to "United States policy is doomed because Iraq is has no government".

John H. Lederer - 4/3/2006

"Is it ethical for the US to fight our flesh/bone human enemies without expending or placing our own human capital in the line of fire using drones or robots?"

Is it ethical to have men die when technology could take the risk?

Is the author arguing for the sort of 15th century mentality that found crossbows "unethical" because they could defeat a heavy cavalryman before he could bring his sword or lance to bear?