Blame the user, not the tool


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jun 13, 2012 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

For the past several days people have been tweeting at me (and Linus) to change the license of Linux to forbid the kernel's use for war. These tweets were due to the issue of Linux being used in the drones of the US Military. I tweeted back “Do not blame the tool”, but I think that answer was too subtle, as the people kept tweeting. So here is a longer answer for them.

First of all, Linus (and certainly not I) do not “own” Linux. The copyright holders of Linux are many, and some of them are no longer working on the project or even dead. Therefore to change the license terms at this point is both legally and morally impossible.

Secondly, this request flies in the face of GPL Freedom #0, which states that the software can be used for any purpose.

Many years ago we discussed the issues of Linux (or even GNU/Linux) being used in weapons, or for purposes that some people did not agree with.

Part of the issue is that given a large enough audience, there are always some people that disagree with every use or with every person who uses it.

For example, some people might not like the fact that Linux is used in robots that are used in the military. Yet some people's lives might be saved by having that robot go into a situation that would be dangerous or even fatal to a human being. Should we ask that Linux not be put in that robot, knowing that a human life might be sacrificed instead?

Some people might not like Linux to be used by tax collectors, or various governments.

Just like a hammer can be used to build a house, the same hammer can also be used to build a bridge for tanks to cross and the hammer can be used to kill someone. The hammer is a tool...the person using it is at fault if they use it incorrectly. I object to laws that try to limit the use of the Internet for the same reason. The Internet is a tool. We should punish the incorrect use, but not the tool itself.

As I said, this was discussed early in the process of developing the Linux kernel, and some people left the project for just the reasons that the tweeters have stated. Others, however stayed with the project because they realized we were out to create a better tool, and if some people used that tool the wrong way, then those people are the sinners, not the kernel developers.

Third, even if Linus (and I) were to “forbid” people from using Linux in drones, do you think the drone builders would listen? Or if they did listen about not using Linux in drones, do you think they would stop building drones? They would just use *BSD, one of the other free operating systems, or Microsoft.

I don't know about you, but I would just as soon have an operating system that is secure and stable inside a drone plane that has lots of explosives on board. I would not want the enemy to infect the plane with a virus and have the plane fly back at my troops or to harm innocent civilians. I want the best software I can get in that drone....and we all know what software that is.

Mr. Tweeter, you are tweeting at a person that has never killed anyone, never voted to go to war with anyone and always voted to end wars. I have lived and worked next to people of every nationality, race and religion, and in the last thirty years have never raised my hand in anger. In no way is this blog entry a condemnation of the young men and women that fight in these wars with the goal of protecting their country if they have at least given consideration to what is right and what is wrong.

Rather this blog entry is a condemnation of the old men and old women who send young men and women off to die because of their inability to come to rational agreements, and who feel that war and killing are the only answer. It is a condemnation of those who profit from those wars and profit from the misery that comes from war.

I can tell you after 62 years of experience that the way you stop people from lobbing bombs at each other is not to tell them “don't use Linux in drones”, but to tell them “stop the useless wars”.

Carpe Pacem, Carpe Diem

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