COMMENTARY | Last week we learned about intense threats of malicious hacking by the People’s Republic of China. This week, the blogsophere is abuzz with news, and criticism, regarding America’s newest military medal: the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Ranked higher than the Bronze Star, putting it an unexpected third in the U.S. military medal hierarchy, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, awarded for cyberwarfare, is generating lots of upset, reports NBC . Obviously, many veterans of ground combat are annoyed that desk jockeys could be raking in such highly prestigious medals.
The medal is a tremendous sign of legitimacy for cyberwarfare, which still exists on the cultural fringe as a “nerd” thing. While it is a positive sign that the powers that be recognize that a nerd with a modem can disrupt an Iranian nuclear facility or People’s Liberation Army network, is this award also a signal of a greater cultural shift? If so, is this shift positive?
Though nerds and gamers undoubtedly herald the creation of the Distinguished Warfare Medal as a sign of positive modernization and respect of intellectual ability, the medal may harm America’s diplomatic efforts in third world regions where military drones are known to operate. America already has a bad reputation for the use of such drones, and outrage will likely be bolstered by giving medals to those who fly the drones like they are playing X-Box or Playstation.
Essentially, a medal for drone-jockeying could be seen as very imperialist by the people of war-torn nations, especially local allies on the ground who do much of the day-to-day fighting against Islamist extremists. While they struggle and risk retaliation against their homes and families, wealthy allies in climate-controlled facilities hundreds of miles away get to “log in” and fight without risk to themselves. Will the growing trend in American cyberwarfare alienate less-wealthy allies? Could nations that allow American drone bases to operate become targets of terrorists and extremists who have intense hatred for that sort of warfare, reducing the likelihood that foreign nations would allow Americans to operate from their territory?
Additionally, the increase in legitimized cyberwarfare cause dissent at home. Should veterans’ benefits be allocated differently based on the type of fighting performed? Would Americans stand for a drone-jockey to receive as much GI Bill money as a grunt who served on the ground in a combat zone?