Sunday, February 24, 2013


An exceedingly callow young denizen of Thinktankistan called Michael Kugelman has undertaken the task of teaching Pakistanis to stop worrying and love the drone, or at least put up with it, in an op-ed in the online Dawn, and Matt Taibbi just savages him for it, in his own blog:
So there it is, folks. Welcome to the honor of American citizenship. Should we replace E Pluribus Unum with We Don't Kill as Many Children as Measles? Of course people aren't mad about bombs being dropped on them from space without reason; they're mad because anti-Americanism is alluring!
He also tears a fine new one for the authors of a Times editorial in favor of a drone court, though he misses Emptywheel's insight, which I think is indispensable, that it would be a system for punishing crimes before they are committed.
Aerial Target: Design for an unmanned, radio-operated plane for use against Zeppelin aircraft and controlled  bomb, 1916.
Taibbi includes the first real discussion I've seen of the issue of cowardice in drone fighting:

What kind of a people kills children by remote control? If you're going to assassinate someone, you'd better be able..., morally, to look him and everyone else in the eye when you do it – or else don’t do it. If you're going to pass the ultimate sanction on someone, it had better be a decision you’re comfortable making before everybody, including the target, his family, your family, the world in general.
Here I think there's a sentimental error. There are really two kinds of cowardice at issue, physical and moral: by shooting from his video arcade thousands of miles away from where the missile is going to explode, the killer protects himself from the danger of being shot at, and also from the knowledge of the sin, if I may use the word, that he is committing. But it isn't the drone pilot who makes these decisions; it's the higher-ups that station him there and tell him when to fire, and the higher-ups never have to kill anybody, and thus come to grips with moral cowardice, at all. (I think as a matter of fact we'll soon be seeing cases of severe PTSD among those drone pilots even though they've never heard a scream or smelled death.)

Anyway, this is just the logical endpoint of a process that has been going on for centuries, of alienating the deathworker from the death, in a line that is linked so tightly with the development of industrial capitalism that they might be just about the same thing. Beginning with explosive black powder and the adoption of the guns that enabled Europeans to conquer the Americas, much of Asia, and practically all of Africa, and carrying on with the development of distance artillery, air power, and "smart" weaponry, there has been a constant evolution of technology meant to kill Them while preserving as many as possible of Us.

But the spread of drones also marks the culmination of an opposite trend dating back to the Second World War, when the death capacities of military technology from the Blitzkrieg to the Bomb finally became so great that even the worst people in the world agreed it was time to pull back. Henceforth the normal form of war for the self-denominated civilized nations would be counterinsurgency, in which your goal is not so much to kill everybody as to win the hearts and minds of the survivors, meaning you should make an active effort to kill fewer of them, while the enemy's ability to kill you is relatively limited anyway.
OQ-2A Radio Plane, attack drone designed by Reginald Denny for the US Army, ca.  1941.
With the development of the Kill List for Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and so on (and maybe this will extend to Pakistan as well once Brennan has taken over at CIA), President Obama and Father Brennan took upon themselves some of that moral bravery Taibbi is talking about, as I've said, of knowing whom they're killing, by name and by face. For what it's worth.

I'm not suggesting that Obama has discovered a recipe for morally acceptable war. I'm saying if you think it's disgusting or laughable then going back to conventional kinds of war is not an alternative. The only alternative is no more war at all.

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