Other kinds of violence, however, doesn't set off our national alarms. In fact, articles like this one evoke a far more positive response. High tech war toys get respect.
The massive Global Observer built by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia is capable of flying for days at a stratosphere-skimming 65,000 feet, out of range of most antiaircraft missiles. The plane is built to survey 280,000 square miles — an area larger than Afghanistan — at a single glance. That would give the Pentagon an "unblinking eye" over the war zone and offer a cheaper and more effective alternative to spy satellites watching from outer space.
The estimated $30-million robotic aircraft is one of three revolutionary drones being tested in coming weeks at Edwards Air Force Base.
Another is the bat-winged X-47B drone built by Northrop Grumman Corp., which could carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier. The third is Boeing Co.'s Phantom Ray drone that could slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.
These aircraft would represent a major technological advance over the Predator and Reaper drones that the Obama administration has deployed as a central element of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the current fleet of more than 7,000 drones, the new remotely piloted planes will have jet engines and the ability to evade enemy radar.
All sorts of benefits are touted for this set of next-generation weapons. They don't require on-board pilots, so American casualties will be reduced. They will cost less to operate than the current models. They are more lethal. And, not to ignore an important facet right now, these programs are providing tens of thousands of jobs in the Southern California aerospace industry.
So, what's the beef?
Well, these new weapons systems are being developed based on the underlying assumption that they will be used, that they will have to be used. We will always be at war, some place, some how, for some reason. And some are honest enough to make that assumption explicit:
"We are looking at the next generation of unmanned systems," said Phil Finnegan, an aerospace expert with Teal Group, a research firm. "As the U.S. looks at potential future conflicts, there needs to be more capable systems."
Our priorities are clear. Some kinds of violence are perfectly acceptable, even worthy. We can spend billions on pilotless drones which can evade radar on their way to deliver laser guided bombs, but we don't have the money to provide decent health care (including mental health care) for the country. Violence by a lone gunman is an atrocity, but institutional mayhem is just fine.