If the phrase “civilized warfare” sounds like an oxymoron, it’s because it is. With their toll in lives lost, societies ravaged and resources destroyed, wars are the very anti-theses of civilized behavior. They can kill millions, as the first and second world wars did. They separate families and uproot entire communities. They set back development, and can throw entire societies back to an earlier stage of development—as in Vietnam, which the US sought to bomb “back to the Stone Age.” And yet wars are likely to remain part of the human condition as long as men and women are divided by competing economic interests and by the inequality in societies where the gulf between classes results in the most egregious injustice and the most widespread misery.

The elimination of war, whether between nations or within nations, is premised on the elimination of greed and inequality, to which all the other “causes” that trigger wars, such as racial hatred, religion, ethnic conflict, etc., are ultimately reducible. The rhetoric of the US “war on terror” concealed the real causes of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and the US’ retaliation, terrorism being a method of warfare rather than its cause.

Thanks in part to Bush’s Christian fundamentalist rhetoric, Muslim extremists mistakenly assume US Middle East policy to be an expression of religious intolerance. That policy is better understood as in the service of the drive for control of the world’s energy resources in behalf of both the profit and the global domination that assure the US oligarchy its billions.

Greed is the mother vice that makes the elimination of war in this century and even in the next a tall order. In the meantime, however, is civilized warfare at all possible?

To the extent that some fairness among the combatants, and the safety and immunity of non-combatants assured, is “civilized” warfare viable. A full-metal jacket slug can kill as much as a dumdum bullet, but that injuries from it aren’t as gruesome, and the wounded more likely to survive makes its use more “civilized,” as does the immunity from harm of the unarmed, including women and children and the infirm.

By the latter measure the war being waged by Philippine government troops in behalf of the most corrupt and most rapacious elite in Asia has long lost any claim to civilization. As the entire planet knows by now, from 2001 when Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power, the killing of non-combatants has escalated until it was noticed by human rights groups, the United Nations, and some governments. They have since abated in number, but only last week crossed that invisible line only savages have been known to cross.

Twenty-year old Rebelyn Pitao, the daughter of a New People’s Army commander in Davao, was abducted, tortured and killed, most probably by the military, last week. One of the geniuses with which the Arroyo regime is so delightfully blessed, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, retorted to that allegation by human rights groups that on the other hand, Communist Party founding chair Jose Ma. Sison and National Democratic Front Chair Luis Jalandoni should be held responsible for the policemen and soldiers killed by the NPA.

Perhaps someone should acquaint Remonde with the difference between combatants (policemen and soldiers) and Pitao, who was no guerilla but a substitute teacher? Or with the Philippines’ being a signatory to practically every international covenant that among others protects even combatants from torture? Or with the implication in his statement re Sison and Jalandoni that Mrs. Arroyo, under the same command responsibility principle, could be liable for every extra-judicial killing that has taken place during her watch?

Forget it. The unteachable are so labeled precisely because instruction is lost on them. The abduction, torture and murder of Pitao is a war crime most likely committed by that honorable breed of officers, soldiers and gentlemen so abundantly produced by the armed forces — an institution as unteachable as the press secretaries, presidential spokesmen, and presidents that fraud, mendacity, corruption and plain stupidity have inflicted upon this sorry nation.

There being no hope in teaching the unteachable — the Commission on Human Rights has after all been holding HR seminars for the police and military for years, apparently to no avail — out of desperation some could applaud US efforts to develop autonomous robot soldiers, supposedly, say US spokesmen, as a means of preventing war crimes.

The military robots currently operating in the world’s battlefields, among them the pilotless drones that can unleash a rain of missiles on a bridal party in Iraq or on the wife and children of a Hamas leader in Gaza with equal efficiency, are run by human operators. But the machines the US and other countries are developing, already at a cost of billion for the US, would be “autonomous” in the sense that they need no human operators, and can make decisions on their own, being armed not only with the most lethal weapons available, but also with artificial intelligence.

Human soldiers may be brainwashed, may break under stress, and may even — and often do — commit the unspeakable acts of barbarity so common in Philippine armed forces tradition. But they can also be moved by their consciences and can refuse to obey unlawful orders. I know of no such instance when a Philippine government soldier disobeyed an order because it was illegal or immoral, but the possibility is at least there, nevertheless.

Robot soldiers despite artificial intelligence can be programmed to kill indiscriminately in the same manner that human ones can be indoctrinated into killing and torturing even non-combatants, as those responsible for the killing and torture of Pitao were apparently so indoctrinated. But what’s worse is that they would not have the discrimination and the conscience that could prevent their killing everyone in sight if so programmed.

I know, I know. All this talk of robot soldiers is so far afield in the Philippines, despite the fact that not only the US, Britain and South Korea are already on this track. I suppose we’ll have to be content with the troops the Philippine government has, but with the hope that somewhere, somehow, there will be one or two who will disobey an order to abduct, torture and kill an unarmed man, woman or child. I’m sure all these fine specimens of soldiering the Philippine military can produce will claim when pressed to be as human as the operators and policy makers behind them — and they probably are, if your standards of humanity and intelligence are low enough.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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