British arms manufacturer BAE Systems is designing "environmentally friendly" weapons, including "reduced lead" bullets, "reduced smoke" grenades and rockets with fewer toxins, The Sunday Times said. Other initiatives include developing armoured vehicles with lower carbon emissions, safer and more sustainable artillery and even recycling or composting waste explosives, the newspaper added.Fair enough. God knows there are excellent reasons to ban the use of, say, depleted uranium munitions. And as repellent as it might be to massacre civilians, there’s no reason to compound the survivors’ suffering by using lead bullets. Environmentally friendly munitions are quite reasonable.
Then again, that’s precisely why they’re frightening. Walter Benjamin famously claimed that there is no monument of civilization that is not also a monument of barbarism. Advances like BAE's encourage a more optimistic outlook: There is no monument of barbarism that can’t be civilized.
One doesn’t admire mindless, orgiastic bloodshed, of course, but it’s less disturbing in many ways than rational, efficient bloodshed. Consider the guillotine: If your goal is to remove people’s heads, axe-wielding executioners are messy and unreliable; what if it takes three blows to get the head off, instead of one? The guillotine solved this problem nicely, while also turning execution into an educational demonstration of Newtonian kinematics. Clearly, this approach to head-removal was better suited to the dignity and grandeur of a clockwork universe.
By the same token, "green" munitions are better suited to a society that’s coming to appreciate the interdependence of all life. One can almost imagine some future apologist for slaughter officiously complaining about the enemies’ unenlightened use of lead bullets and VOCs. Kill 'em all, in Gaia's name!
Like it or not, though, this is progress. We have every reason to hope that Israel’s electrified wall against Egypt will be solar powered, and that if Raytheon gets the bid to wall off Saudi Arabia from Iraq, it’ll meet LEED standards. And of course, these modest projects are nothing compared to the worldchanging innovations we’ll see as we reduce the environmental footprint of Fortress America.
It’s an exciting time to be alive, all things considered.