Lessons Not Learned on Flying Killer Robots


Imagine, if you will, living with the certainty that that at any given time a cold, electronic eye might be focused on you from miles away. You cannot see it, you cannot hear the whirring it makes as it positions its acutely sensitive lens on you. Through this lens a stranger, perhaps ten thousand miles away, can see everything you do. It can read a book over your shoulder, focus through your bedroom window.

But the ever present awareness that you could be watched even in your most intimate dealings is nothing compared to the knowledge that this very same machine can rain death and destruction upon you at whim. Even if you have done nothing wrong, conducted your life with the utmost care of avoiding any trouble with this remote controlled death machine you know that you are not safe. If you happen to be near someone in the market place who might be “one of those,” or even someone who bares a close resemblance to one of those, you are in danger. Should someone knock on your door whose name is on an unknown kill list somewhere you are in danger. Sitting on a bus, working in a field, walking down the street. Buying produce. You are always in danger. If this stranger behind the remote control is given the order, with just a flicker of his finger you can be incinerated with no chance for repeal, no hearing.

You are collateral damage–just another sad statistic in the so called war on terror.

Even if this does not happen to you, the knowledge that it could consigns you to living in fear. You are a victim of terrorism.

Recent revelations on the chilling human impacts of our flying killer robots have forced us to spend at least a few minutes considering the legitimacy of our flying killer robot policy. This time we killed an innocent American and an innocent Italian, so the President had to perform the standard mea culpas  reserved for when our own atrocities hit home. The accidental deaths of innocent Americans and our allies (white allies) is one thing, and must be acknowledged. Innocent Pakistanis, Yemenis? Well, they don’t count. The New York Times accurately reports the truth of our remote killing program. “Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.”

They often don’t know who they are killing. But they are certain that they are killing someone. Someone with a family, a future, dreams. Somebody whose loss is a significant hardship to others, and a route to extremism for some.

At this point it should be clear. We cannot fight a war on terror by using terrorism. Instilling fear of constant surveillance, the ever-present reality of certain death doe not endear us to the very people who could help us deal with terrorism. Instead, our flying killer robots become a rallying cry for the youth to join extremist groups and take up arms against those who threaten them and their families. The indiscriminate use of flying killer robots also delegitimizes the host governments, seen by the people as unable to protect them from foreign terrorists with hair triggers impersonally killing images that they see on a video screen. So people turn to those who offer a chance to fight back, or to at least die for a higher calling rather than waiting to be picked off.

Despite the undisputed fact that drone strikes are not the precision warfare that they are billed to be, and that they may just be making bad situations worse, don’t expect this, or any other administration, to reconsider their application. Another article in the New York Times announces, “The program is under fire like never before, but the White House continues to champion it, and C.I.A. officers who built the program more than a decade ago — some of whom also led the C.I.A. detention program that used torture in secret prisons — have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks.” Congressmen just want to be in the know because it makes them feel important…like they are part of the team.

A war on terror is insanity. War cannot be used to end terror. It can only perpetuate terror. This is true whether we have boots on the ground, planes in the air or flying killer robots at our command. Terrorism is a crime, the product of social instability and a breakdown of legitimate authority. It should be treated as such, from both sides of the conflict.

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