War Without Humans: Designing The Soulless Blood Sacrificers
by: Barbara Ehrenreich
11 July 2011
For a book about the all-too-human “passions of war,” my 1997 work Blood Rites ended on a strangely inhuman note: I suggested that, whatever distinctly human qualities war calls upon — honor, courage, solidarity, cruelty, and so forth — it might be useful to stop thinking of war in exclusively human terms. After all, certain species of ants wage war and computers can simulate “wars” that play themselves out on-screen without any human involvement.
More generally, then, we should define war as a self-replicating pattern of activity that may or may not require human participation. In the human case, we know it is capable of spreading geographically and evolving rapidly over time — qualities that, as I suggested somewhat fancifully, make war a metaphorical successor to the predatory animals that shaped humans into fighters in the first place.
A decade and a half later, these musings do not seem quite so airy and abstract anymore. The trend, at the close of the twentieth century, still seemed to be one of ever more massive human involvement in war — from armies containing tens of thousands in the sixteenth century, to hundreds of thousands in the nineteenth, and eventually millions in the twentieth century world wars.
It was the ascending scale of war that originally called forth the existence of the nation-state as an administrative unit capable of maintaining mass armies and the infrastructure — for taxation, weapons manufacture, transport, etc. — that they require. War has been, and we still expect it to be, the most massive collective project human beings undertake. But it has been evolving quickly in a very different direction, one in which human beings have a much smaller role to play.