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Tuesday, November 13, 2012


As I had hoped and expected, my brief post posing a question about unmanned drones produced a large number of thoughtful and knowledgeable responses.  Among all the considerations advanced, there were several that struck me as especially powerful responses to the specific question I asked.  The first was the observation that drones have contributed to the militarization of the CIA [a development highlighted by the recent flap concerning General Petraeus.]   The second was the argument that the politically cost-free character of drone usage significantly increases the likelihood that the president will choose to authorize drone attacks.

I focus on these two considerations rather than the many others that were cited by one commentator or another because they seem to me to be peculiar to drones, and not just a feature of war itself.   They are therefore, I think, good arguments for the proposition that we ought to oppose the use of drones even if we despair of having any noticeable effect on the general imperial militarist stance and policy of the United States in general, which is the proposition I posed for discussion.

The first argument cited above had in fact not occurred to me, which may be why I was especially impressed by it.  Taking all in all, I am persuaded by those who advanced the various arguments.  There is, however, one consideration I should like to mention that played no part in the comments, so far as I could see.  To put it simply, the use of drones reduces the risk of injury and death undergone by American men and women in uniform.  Now, despite having spent a benign six months in uniform fifty-five years ago, I have in my long life had virtually no personal connection with the lives of men and women in the service and the dangers they undergo.  So it is fatally easy for me to make the mistake of transferring my anger at American foreign and military policy to the ordinary soldiers who actually put their lives in danger carrying out that policy.  But that, I think, is unfair of me, and a cheap off-hand response to the world.  With the ending of the draft, military service became a career for many young men and women who had few other paths to a job with decent pay and benefits.  It seems to me really dishonorable for me to sit back in safety and comfort and say that those men and women should run greater risks of death and injury because I think, on reflection, that a weapon that is saving their lives ought not to be used.  Nor do I feel at all comfortable suggesting that if American servicemen and women suffer higher death and injury rates, perhaps that will dissuade politicians from choosing a military option.  I do not think I have the right to make an argument like that unless I or my sons are the ones whose lives are being put at greater risk.

This is why I was opposed to the ending of the draft and have always been in favor of its reintroduction.

Well, perhaps we can move on to happier subjects, like thinking through what next steps we as progressives can take to solidify such gains as we made last Tuesday and build on them for future gains.


LFC said...

"the use of drones reduces the risk of injury and death undergone by American men and women in uniform."

I'm not at all sure this is true as a general rule. Drones tend to be used in remote inaccessible areas like the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions where certainly no US ground soldiers could operate in any numbers as a practical matter. Nor would air power be a useful substitute for drones here, I think. The point of drones is that they can hover endlessly, for days or weeks, over a possible target, surveilling it, taking photos of who goes in and out, before possibly attacking. A jet fighter can't do that. So drones are often used in situations where the alternative, I think, is simply not to use anything, rather than to put US personnel at risk.

There may be some cases where drones do directly reduce risk of death or injury to soldiers, but in may other cases I strongly suspect they don't.

LFC said...

correction: "many other cases"

Unknown said...

I wrote this the other day, but on my phone and didn't get to a computer before your newest blog post, so apologies if this overlaps with some other comments.

Probably the problem is a number of things coalescing - the increasingly impersonal manner with which drones kill people, the ferocity with which they're (alleged) to take out first-aid units called the scene, the specter of war in general, the haughty dismissal with which opposition is met by the wannabe Bundys and McNamaras of the day, etc.

Perhaps think about your conundrum about why people ignore the benefits like this. How do we judge a picture to be ugly if we're not an art expert? By the visceral reaction it evokes. Is that qualified or nuanced? No. But is it likely to be the way the populace proceeds in forming their reactions? Sure. Are we going to look at what strikes us as an ugly portrait and see if there are any parts worth salvaging, maybe the right corner? Probably not. So that probably explains why people don't see the one positive tucked away behind of everything else, given that the negative is what our attention is mainly focused on.

There are things like in the UK where they monitor the Olympics with drones, making science fiction stories sound real. There's an aside where you point out that the way we conduct face-to-face combat and view it as honorable is really an old-fashion relic from another time. Isn't it right that the ethical aspects of the drone should be weighed and considered before we make it an archetype, instead of just letting it slip into our ideological worldview as though it was the embodiment of normalcy, the way the hand-to-hand combat mythos was arbitrarily solidified in our collective consciousness? Especially when we live in a more reflective and open time than the one where we fought with muskets.

I don't want to overextend myself here, but browsing foreign policy publications, sometimes it seems like there is a lack of debate going on - closed-off, in a way. I wonder if you have ever read Robert K. Merton's article on bureaucracy and conformity. It seems apropos, in light of certain individuals seemingly unable to focus on or even perfunctorily entertain arguments that might invalidate their position, due to career and otherwise personal concerns.

Murfmensch said...

One factor to consider. The use of remote drones makes it much easier to justify targeting sites in the US. Every base in the US is now a target b/c all of them are potential remote drone sites. The inability to find these sites could also be sited as a reason for striking civilian targets.

Also, the current use of drones is surely recruiting insurgents who will seek a way to attack more soldiers.

This could lead to more soldiers and civilians dead over time.

High Arka said...

Yada, yada, yada--war is peace, freedom is slavery, murdering foreign children with robotic drones is progress. yada...yada...

How can you satire such honest lords of death? Watching you talk about the costs and balances of drone strikes is like watching a Nazi boardroom talk about the costs and balances of gas v. guns is like watching Cro-Magnon elders talk about the costs and balances of rocks v. clubs.

Here, killers:

That Particular Number.