Upshot: A project for non-lethal force is getting criticized. The Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP) system creates a microscopic burst of plasma on contact with skin, which results in incapacitating levels of pain without permanent injury. Critics claim this could be used for torture (it could, yes) and doubt that there is an ethical basis for continued study. Andrew Rice, a consultant in pain medicine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, said: “Even if the use of temporary severe pain can be justified as a restraining measure, which I do not believe it can, the long-term physical and psychological effects are unknown.”
My take: Okay, fine. It’s unethical to study how to hurt people without killing them. I guess we’ll just resort to doing things the old fashioned way, and KILLING THEM.
The project, which I read about over a year ago, is to create a weapon that can be deployed on a battlefield, and that will induce excruciating pain in anyone who insists on remaining in the line of fire. Need to clear a street? Sweep the street with this, and it’s clear. Obviously the technology could be abused or misused, just like rubber bullets, tear gas, and that foam stuff they’ve been playing with. Let’s face it, though… there are only three alternatives to providing soldiers with non-lethal force:
- Provide them with lethal force, and let them go “weapons free.” The body count will be pretty high, and collateral damage unconscionably so.
- Provide them with lethal force, and then saddle them with very restrictive “rules of engagement.” We do this today. Collateral damage is still high, and our soldiers still let themselves get killed by enemy units masquerading as non-combatants. Anybody who thinks this is the best way to do it, raise your hand (just don’t have a gun in it… rules of engagement being what they are, you’re now a hostile target.)
- Don’t deploy soldiers at all. War is bad, killing is worse, and it’s all just a Big Lie anyway. Give Peace A Chance.
For obvious reasons, #3 isn’t being seriously considered by anybody in power today (and not just in the US). Some NOT in power shout about it a lot, but the moment they take office, they’ll resort to violence the moment the worm turns.
That leaves us with options #1 and #2. Neither of these are attractive. Barring a sociological solution to organized violence (and that’s what #3 really seeks), we need a technological solution we can live with. The PEP is one such solution. Let the research continue. Soldiers or regimes who choose to use the technology as a torture device will be dealt with the way we deal with torturers today — courts martial, and that nice prison in The Hague. Besides, the research has gone far enough already that industrialized nations seeking to exploit the research for their private torture chambers know enough to do it. The cat, as they say, is already out of the bag. Let’s go ahead and find out if it’s rabid by TESTING it, not by waiting to see who it bites.