While I was growing up in New York I watched a lot of television despite the admonitions of my school teachers . My two favorite programs were Star Trek (the original series) -- yes, I'm that old, and Hogan's Heroes. The latter show was very funny but had almost zero intellectual content other than perhaps predicting the creation of the EU in the sense that the English, French and Germans on the show all got along well despite the fact the show took place in a Nazi POW camp.
Star Trek was different. The original series produced by Gene Roddenberry was full of philosophical and technological content. Tricorders, matter/anti matter propulsion, medical scanning beds, cloaking or stealth shields and transporter machines. We forget how prescient the writers of the series were in the mid 1960s because so much of the then science fiction has turned into accepted contemporary technology.
I was reminded of my admiration for the original Star Trek series twice recently. First, rummaging through some old files, I found a yellow campaign pin, circa 1967-68, which read "Nixon is only a Klingon in disguise." [For the non-Star Trek cognoscenti (if one can ever use that term to refer to a very nerdish community), the Klingons were pointy-eared enemies of the Federation good guys.] Second, the US administration's increasing fondness for Predator drone strikes (in action in Pakist again today), reminded me of a Star Trek episode in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise encounters an advanced civilization on the planet Eminiar VII which has been at war with its planetary neighbor for generations. The interesting aspects of this war are that (i) no one on either planet can remember why the war began or why they are still fighting and (ii) no weapons are actually fired. Instead, these "advanced" societies have long-since moved beyond the crude form of warfare still more or less current on earth, in favor of computer simulations of the destruction that kinetic weapon strikes would have had. Once these simulations have identified the putative victims of these attacks, they are required to report to liquidation centers to be killed quietly and with no collateral damage.
The verile Captain Kirk will have none of this. In the episode he berates the leader of Eminiar VII for continuing to meekly follow this bloodless war protocol, notwithstanding the latter's protestations that this is the most advanced, humane and civilized way in which to wage war. Kirk's winning (of course) argument is that by so attenuating the gory and repugnant aspects of true warfare, these self-proclaimed advanced civilizations had established a means by which to fight an endless war without the usual attendant mayhem.
So why does this 40+ year-old example of science fiction remind me of current US Predator drone warfare? It is of course, the "stand-off" nature of the combat; the very attractive (from an American viewpoint) ability to project violence without putting American human forces in harm's way, and the computer-controlled seeming precision of the affair. What differs, of course, is that in the Star Trek episode, both warring planets possessed the relevant technology, but so far in real life, only the US can project such lethal force. This will, of course, change.
There is another, less immediately apparent, manner in which the US is able to wage war without putting too many of our sons and daughters in theatre. First, by using an ever increasing number of contractors (I would just call them mercenaries). Second, via a volunteer army whose members are increasingly drawn from the less well-off. Now don't get me wrong; I am deeply grateful to live in a society in which my young children do not expect to serve (at least unwillingly) in combat. However, I do worry that our political leaders are somewhat more willing to take the nation to war because the consequences (at least to the most influential members of the electorate) are more attenuated.
Star Trek teaches us to be wary of the sanitization of war.