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Response to Martin Coward - Ethico-Political Considerations

Desirable as it may be, I do not foresee an end to war any time soon (this is one piece of futurology I am fairly confident about). It has been a persistent feature of human societies almost as far back as we can trace them and there is little sign that the political animal that is man is ready to permanently renounce violence as one of the means available to attain certain wants or needs (and perhaps even more disturbingly to satisfy certain drives). Morally satisfying and ethically justified as might be a wholesale condemnation of war and of the very existence of an institution dedicated to its pursuit, it is a stance I find of limited political purchase if not followed up by a more pragmatic assessment of the amelioration possible in the present circumstances.

Where there is such potential for amelioration is in the reduction of the frequency and intensity with which wars are waged and of the willingness of political actors to resort to this particular means of achieving their objectives. I see my own work’s modest attempt at contributing to this effort in offering a critique of the hubris which has accompanied most of the applications of technoscience to war. Where military leaders and policy-makers become persuaded that they have at their disposal an omnipotent military machine, the resort to war becomes all the more attractive. With it comes also a tendency to reduce complex strategic problems to ones liable to be resolved by military force to the detriment of diplomacy and negotiation. As the saying goes, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Catastrophic decisions for all concerned can be taken on the basis of such delusions. I would argue this is what happened in Vietnam and Iraq and I particularly take to task cybernetic conceptions of war for producing such disasters. 

To my mind chaoplexity teaches us that omniscience and omnipotence on the battlefield are chimera, that war is irreducibly chaotic and unpredictable. Thus the decision to employ armed force is one that should never be taken lightly and only as a last resort. One might object that there is nothing particularly original about that statement and they would of course be right. Yet unfortunately it seems to be a lesson military and civilian leaders have to keep learning over and over, periodically convinced that with the latest technology and doctrinal pronouncements past limitations to the exercise of their will have been finally overcome. I see the real value added of my approach in arguing against this hubris from the vantage point of the very scientific discourses which have so often acted as irresistible sirens to these leaders (the average soldier on the ground rarely shares such delusions for long) and therefore cannot be so easily dismissed as outdated and irrelevant by military technophiles.

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