The Modernization of Warfare

A Discussion of Alfred McCoy’s “In The Shadows of the American Century”

"MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drone at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada" by A Train

by Annika Lof

Drones have been a controversial instrument of warfare ever since the US military began using them. Some believe that they’re an effective weapon that lowers casualties, while others rightfully point out the inaccuracy of drones and their tendency to strike civilians. Technological innovation being used to improve weapons, including drones and space warfare, is an important issue. Striving to modify weaponry has ramifications for people all over the world who become the targets of these ‘improved weapons’.

Drones are a common weapon used by the US military that come with several negative consequences. The most widely known one is their propensity towards targeting civilians. From 2001 to 2013, three hundred wedding celebrants were killed in drone strikes, indicating that people controlling drones are imprecise to the point where they can’t differentiate between a terrorist group and a wedding. Several drone-related casualties are also indicative of the US not having an understanding of the culture of the country they’re bombing. In 2010, the US killed twenty-three civilians in the bombing of a caravan that was deemed suspicious because men exited to pray and all the women were out of sight. If those making the decision to bomb the caravan had even the slightest understanding of Afghan culture, they would have realized that the caravan was taking people to school and work.

The American soldiers operating drones often have stress and PTSD from their experience, and they leave their jobs at 3 times the rate of the average soldier. The trauma of drones extends to those that live with them constantly flying overhead. In fact, a Stanford study found that the overhead noises of drones created a constant reminder of death that increased support for jihadists, since the never-ending threat of violence eroded support for the US. With the adverse impacts that drones have on everyone who interacts with them, it’s clear that this new technology is no less destructive than more conventional forms of warfare. In terms of psychological damage, drones seem to cause the same issues as conventional warfare, demonstrating that they’re not a “solution” to any military problem.

Drones aren’t the only new form of warfare that the US is using – America is also planning on militarizing space. In 2001, the Pentagon allocated $165 billion for controlling space and stopping adversaries from doing the same, demonstrating the country’s commitment to control the surroundings of our entire planet. America’s stated goal is to stop other countries from using space for hostile purposes. While this might sound good at first, it becomes nefarious when you really think about it. Any nation that has control over space can decide what they want to do with this control, which could include anything from stopping space voyages to shooting down aircrafts. No single country should be able to control what others do above Earth’s surface, but the US is attempting to do just that. The Department of Defense is currently working on regaining control over space, as they believe China and Russia’s militarization of space threatens the US’s complete control over this arena. It’s no secret that the US desires “space superiority”, and the government is willing to spend billions of dollars of an already bloated military budget to achieve it.

Technological innovation is necessary to development, as it goes hand in hand with efficiency. However, in the military, efficiency has an unnervingly strong correlation with killing people deemed to be the “enemy”. We must think of the consequences before continuing to develop new weapons that have the potential to kill more and more civilians. Militarizing space currently seems to have a high potential for unnecessary death, but the military is likely working on new mass-killing technology as you read this article. We must fight against the unnecessary and harmful innovation of militarism in whatever form it takes.


In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of Global US Power by Alfred W. McCoy