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Eielson commander writes on implications of robotic war

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Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2013 12:11 am

“There was a time when American use of force was done out of deep reluctance,” says a new book on the rise of remote-controlled military aircraft. “It was, for a time, the national ethic on the resort to war, but reluctance seems to have slipped over the past decades. Our nation as a whole is now immune to the effects of war.”

The book is “Killing Without Heart: Limits on Robotic Warfare in an Age of Persistent Conflict.”

The author is  M. Shane Riza, a veteran F-16 pilot who is to conclude his tour in early July as commander of the 354th Operations Group at Eielson Air Force Base.

Col. Riza is to hold a book signing today at Barnes and Noble in Fairbanks from noon to about 4 p.m.

This is a valuable contribution to the national debate on drones and a stark warning that we have failed to think through the consequences of where we are headed.

Stop by if you’d like to learn more about what he believes is a turning point in our history regarding the role of the military.

Riza, who has more than 2,700 hours of flight time in an F-16, says that taking the human element out of warfare has serious moral and ethical implications for the nation that have yet to be examined.

A 1990 graduate of the Air Force Academy, he has also led fighter squadrons in Japan, Korea and Iraq. He has three master’s degrees and is a student of military history and current military operations.

“At its core, this book is a defense of the warrior ethos and it questions our ability to maintain what little of it may be left in the coming robotic age,” he writes. “It questions whether it even is or will remain a necessity. I am well aware this may put me in the same category as Army officers who could not let go of the horse in favor of the armored tank.”

He said it would be the “height of hypocrisy” for someone like himself to offer an indictment of technology in warfare as the Air Force relies on advances in weaponry and mechanical equipment.

But he said the nation must come to grips with aspects of technology that are changing the definition of what it means to go to war. He said we have funded a rise in robotic technology and deployed it for operations that might have been considered against basic American values a generation ago.

War represents a failure of all other options, yet we run the risk of overlooking that truth with killings by video screen.

“It should be on the forefront of our minds when we commit to war and in so doing we ought to be willing to risk our own lives. We ought to try to conceive of the staggering human cost for those we will fight and for those we will send to fight.”

The greater interest should not be to protect soldiers at all costs, but to avoid war.

His book is a philosophical treatise on the history of war, the culture of those who fight and the risks of detachment when deadly force is used in the name of our nation.

At some point, the ability of unmanned aircraft to kill with ease may lead to a public backlash when faced with images of “what may appear as wanton slaughter.” In that case, the most advanced remote-controlled weapons would be useless in meeting strategic objectives because they would not be used, he said.

Riza said that “sending in the ‘droids’” is not simply a step in a 6,000-year continuum, but a break with the past.

“The fundamental difference is that we are attempting to remove all risk to one side’s combatants while transferring it to all noncombatants, regardless of geocoincidence or technological standing. That has never happened before in all of recorded history.”


OIL TAX TALK: Researcher Richard Fineberg, a veteran independent oil analyst from Fairbanks, is to give a presentation Monday at 7 p.m. at the Noel Wien Library on the oil tax cut approved by the Legislature and why he supports the petition drive to put it to a public vote. The public is welcome. During the course of more than four decades, Fineberg has investigated many aspects of oil industry operations in Alaska.

Dermot Cole can be reached at or

459-7530. Follow him on Twitter at @FDNMdermot.

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