We have the power to kill people individually and to destroy homes from great distances - and we are not only killing people regularly this way, but the technology is spreading.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, November 11, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Let's Kill People Remotely!

I had a lot of trouble with the 1971 movie, Get Carter. Michael Caine stars as a ruthless gangster trying to get to the bottom of his brother's murder. I identify with people single-handedly trying to right a situation (despite Carter's lethal brutishness).

Then Carter himself is shot in the head on a beach at a long distance by a guy with a high-powered, scoped rifle! What kind of an ending for a film's protagonist is that?

On the other hand, I've never enjoyed those elaborate light-ray duels in Star Wars. You mean futuristic fighters are using weapons that require more effort to kill someone than Robin Hood's arrows, let alone modern guns? For the same reason, when a guy is running ahead of machine gun fire and diving for cover, I lose interest in a film. Because we already have weapons that home in on the victim and kill them instantly, this whole scenario is laughably fake. The idea of elaborate sword fights with modernistic-seeming weapons, or targets running to avert gunfire, corresponds with our hoary senses of chivalry and fair-fighting.

That's not how people die in war anymore, at least when we're doing the killing. We use remote controlled Predator drones that fix on eerily accurate, night-lit images of settings - including sleeping homes - where we intend to kill the occupants. Or, if we want, we can identify and kill individuals or groups of people using satellite technology and robo-weaponry (although those killings tend to be a bit sloppy and include unintended victims).

Other countries - like Saudi Arabia and Turkey - want such imagizing technology and related weapons, so that they can kill people who are troubling them. The pressure is always on us to provide them. For one thing, if we don't give it to them, the French will, as they did the Saudis .

Here are the downsides. Americans might not be so happy about the victims in these cases as we are about killing the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Turks, for instance, want to kill the Kurds. Yet many people are kind of partial to these independent-minded, hard-working people and their close-knit communities, which are spread across four nations - all of which want to be rid of them. The Turks as well as many Iraqis (like Sadam Hussein was) are unified in their hatred for Kurds.

So imagine a village at night, with a bunch of people in what we regard as folk dress, perhaps gathered at a market, or enjoying a family meal, suddenly being exploded into particles.

Or (as in the photo), they wake up one morning and a building or a home is disappeared.

How do you feel about that?

Okay, if that doesn't bother you, what if terrorists procure such weapons, and use them on our military? Or on American compounds overseas? Or, heaven forbid, on us in the United States? There won't be as many people liable to be killed that way because, at least to start, these would be isolated incidents. On the other hand, drug cartels - who have all the money in the world - might be able to deploy such weapons on a larger scale with proportionally greater numbers of victims. And they don't really care whom they kill - including even people they can reach within the United States.

Scary, huh?