In modern warfare, we move further and further from face to face engagement. The incentives for peace are largely gone. The war makers are in boardrooms far removed from their battlefields. Aerial bombings and the use of unmanned drones alienate even the soldier from the heat of battle, reducing the enemy to pixels on a screen. The drone soldier who prowls the plains of Afghanistan for his targets from the air-conditioned comfort of Las Vegas knows nothing of the ancient “nobility” of war or has any reason to avoid its savagery . Big powerful weapons from assault rifles to cluster bombs make “collateral damage” the killing of innocents and absolute certainty. As human beings crowd themselves into denser and denser population centers, war begins to look more and more like shooting rats in a barrel. Collective punishment also becomes a certainty. Nuclear and biological weapons make the wanton destruction of environment an inevitable consequence of pulling those triggers. There is little face-too-face engagement to humanize the enemy. The horrors of war make less impression on minds and hearts awash in endless dramatized violence.
The limitations that our religious traditions put on the practice of violence have effectively become meaningless today. If war was ever noble, it can’t be now. Jews carry the image of the God-commanded struggle to conquer The Land in the time of Joshua. Muslims see the glory days of Islamic expansion, the violent struggles of the early Muslim community. Americans fantasize about the conquering of the West, the brave cowboy. I have come to believe that F-16s, drones, assault rifles, bunker-busters, cluster bombs, phosphorous weapons, and biological weapons have rendered all of that a quaint fantasy. The goals and values that our religions teach us can no longer be furthered by modern war.