Joystick Mayhem

– Boeing engineer Roy Smith on the new X-45 unmanned bomber

Well, it’s about time. I often think to myself, as my frozen dinner rotates in the microwave, "Shouldn’t I be blowing the limbs off of some goddamn foreigners?" Then my reverie shrinks beneath the cold banalities of rent and work. How to balance the demands of everyday life against my patriotic duty to kill and dismember? More importantly, how to kill and dismember without jeopardizing my priceless American hide?

Presenting the X-45, another long sweet snort of taxpayer flake up Boeing’s nostrils. And it’s but one line in a binge of Studio 54 proportions. "Peace dividends" has joined the catchphrase boneyard, but military pork is alive and oinking. In addition to the X-45, there’s the Robotic Infantry Support System, an armed, unmanned vehicle to be deployed in convoys wherever we find the next Hitler. No soldiers on the Spinner, either, a mobile missile launcher, nor on the ominously-named Valkyrie. Where are the war heroes of tomorrow? Playing Doom in a million suburban bedrooms. Keep those joystick fingers healthy, kids. The Empire needs you.

If the Empire had any integrity, though, it would retire the term "national defense" once and for all. Not even the typing monkeys at Free Republic could find any defensive value in the aforementioned battlebots. When those pot-crazed Canadians storm the border, what good will remote-controlled toys do us? (Think hard about this one, Freepers – a situation where every snafu might kill a Republican.) Don’t bother mumbling "deterrence," either. Any country worth deterring – i.e., one that would take more than a fortnight to crush – ain’t gonna be impressed by gadgets whose very use presumes a mismatch. Kim Jong-Il sees your gadgets and raises you a nuclear holocaust.

But the humble foreign policy W. promised us apparently means that we’ll keep scouring the globe for patsies. Will we ever run out of targets? Don’t be silly. Saddams and Slobodans come and go, but the welfare-warfare state is forever. While there’s wealth to be redistributed, bureaucrats and government contractors will find ways to justify their salaries. As the oracular Madeleine Albright summed up the reasons for leveling Belgrade, "What’s the point in having this superb military you are always talking about if we can’t use it?" The boys at Boeing, Lockheed, and Northrop hope you buy this argument, because unused weapons won’t be replaced. Hence the mad scramble to save our nuclear arsenal.

You see, strategic nukes are victims of their own immensity. Firing one at Mecca would be, well, a little unsportsmanlike. The U.S. military loves shooting tuna in a barrel, but there’s no thrill in sticking a cannon into a goldfish bowl. Besides, most people still respect the nuclear taboo. That’s where the new mini-nukes come in. Once the Pentagon drops a few of these, the public will adjust its threshold of horror accordingly.

Of course, your threshold of horror doesn’t have to be all that high when neither civilians nor soldiers ever see any casualties. So much for the glory of war. Oh, you daring young men in your X-45s! Your dinner is getting cold!

Read more by Matt Barganier