It took me years to understand why US Cyber Command was originally housed in the Air Force. It was surprising to hear, as a software engineer – you probably don't need me to tell you, but nothing about these tasks involves altitude.

I still don't have any real confirmation, but suffice it to say, after the development of stealth technology and planes so fast dogfights stopped making any sense, the Air Force wasn't just defined by "they use Force, in the Air". They were expert in necessarily asymmetric warfare. You couldn't even see their planes, forget trying to fight them directly. All defense against the Air Force had to be passive. All offense was handled by officers. This was a whole new form of military conduct, driven by advanced technology, and it's safe to say that the Air Force adapted to the new structure.

Of course, passive defense and expert-only offense is also necessary for dominance in cyber-warfare (as 90's as that term sounds). Technology in general has heightened this dynamic, leading the Army to be, in no small part, a logistics/police organization, not the marauding jackals soldiers of a millennia ago were, as mentioned earlier. That's been made possible by continually reducing the risk to soldiers in the field. That's what's left of war when technology lets you kill without the possibility of retaliation.

The cost structure of war encourages that type of faceless horror and imposes high costs to missions of daring. That's actually not a bad thing per se – surely no one would prefer risking more American lives, if the outcome is otherwise the same. But avoiding horror and being daring was what built the alliance to stop the Axis powers. There is a modern understanding of blowback, and how proxied military action is often more dangerous to our long-term interests than inaction. I think it's fair to say the most salient example of this is the drone program. Sudden explosions aren't just the calling card of American cinema, anymore.

It's possible there's an accounting error in modern discussions of drone attacks, where sudden, senseless terror to people who cannot lay down arms (if they're even combatants) causes unrecognized harms. But that's a minor complaint compared to how much it weakens American credibility on war-crimes-adjacent issues like chemical weapons. Knowingly killing civilians is morally wrong, and it's obviously bad PR, but if it weakens an expectation that e.g. all wartime deaths were chosen by a human and not an algorithm, that costs much more than the lives involved.

Obviously, public reaction to mass killing of non-wartime civilians is relevant to how the modern military would fare in the 20th century. But more than that is beyond my ability to speak with confidence – someone has to make terrifying choices, and those are surely among them.

But there are reasons we impose discipline on troops, that we operate war with rules. The game theory is a major part – it isn't just moralizing, the restrictions of torture keep Americans safe, or at least safer. But even if it doesn't, we fought the Nazis for a reason, and if it wasn't their killing of civilians outside of wartime, I'm not entirely sure what it was.