Note: The technological progress which seeks to sanitize warfare just might be our undoing.
Private Joe Marker lay on the ground, wounded, too close to the enemy and too far from his comrades for rescue. His rifle lay on the ground just out of reach, his left leg ached and he dared not stop hugging the hole in his chest to reach for his weapon. His Little Dog robot scampered back to the lines, carrying his pack and spare ammunition away from the enemy’s grasping hands. Shells flew across the battlefield, and he could hear small arms fire, as well. The noxious odor of spent munitions nauseated him. He might be done for, and he knew it, because the blood was oozing out of his chest, seeping between his fingers, dripping onto the ground, spilling out his life. He tried not to moan, in spite of the pain, and he resisted the urge to lift his head and look around. If the enemy spotted him, they would finish him, or worse, capture and torture him.
The sound of rescue reached his ears in the form of rolling treads, spinning gyros and whining servo motors. He hoped that this was what his mind told him it must be, what his heart told him it had to be. All at once, the friendly teddy-bear face of the Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, BEAR, bent down and gazed at his prone body. The robot’s pre-recorded voice assured him that he was being rescued. The BEAR maneuvered close to him on its system of wheels, tracks and joints. Metal arms capable of carrying up to five hundred pounds gently lifted him and held him low, close to the ground, cushioned on the rubberized casing of the robot arms that held him securely, while the BEAR carried him over the rough terrain, back to base camp and safety and medics. The whole time, a pre-recorded voice issued soothing reassurances that the robot was carrying him to safety and medical aid.
The military expected the same technology that had saved his life to win the war.
The BEAR had been available for several years, but not every unit had one. It could carry only one casualty at a time, but for that one soldier it was enough. The enemy had the habit of shooting BEARs, even though it violated the Conventions, since the loss of a robot cost the military more money than the loss of a soldier and made it necessary for personnel to risk their lives to do the same work. It also meant that fewer casualties could be rescued.
The factories were turning out new BEARs all the time, working extra shifts to supply the demand for more and better robots. The military maintained an open order, purchasing them as fast as they could be built. The war kept spreading across the globe, so the need for technology mushroomed. The military maintained that technology, not bodies, would win the war.
Marker, lying in his hospital bed, thanked God and the engineers who designed the BEAR for saving his life. He had a broken rib and a shattered in his leg, but he would live to fight again, walking or running into the battlefield on steel rods with a knee joint powered by tiny servo motors. He wondered what the BEAR would do if it found a wounded enemy. Would it rescue any casualty on the battlefield? Was it designed to recognize the uniforms of the opposing sides? Certainly the BEAR would never kill anyone; it had no weapons, since it was strictly a rescue vehicle. Its programming ensured that it did no harm to anyone, not even by bumping into people. If the BEAR found its way blocked by a person, it would stop and turn in another direction or wait until the way was clear. Inanimate objects, on the other hand, could be lifted and moved aside by the robot arms.
In between bouts of unconsciousness, he thought about his wife and kids, relived the battle and cried out to God and all the saints. He relived the nightmare of war, the scattered rifle fire and the screams of missiles, the order to charge and his sudden fall to the ground. He wasn’t sure whether