Sunday, November 25, 2012

Drone Apparatchik Crocodile Tears

The lead story in today's New York Times, purporting to describe how certain conscientious members of the Obama administration do care about the war crimes that are being committed daily by them and their co-workers in the drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who-knows-how-many other countries, is good news in at least one respect: it suggests that the vocal and growing opposition to U.S. actions with drones is being heard.

However, it's bad news in another respect. Look: clearly the sources for this article are the kind of "team players" whose first priority was to assure that their boss was re-elected in November. It is pathetic that they cannot even see how fallacious their own statements are: what, it was urgent to impose rules if Romney was using drones, but Obama's use of drones can proceed in a legal vacuum????

It is even more pathetic that these apparatchiks think that some end is served by telegraphing their twinges of conscience to the rest of the world . . . as if that somehow makes the drone killing alright.

If they really saw that what Obama and the rest of his administration are doing is wrong -- and if they really wanted to throw a wrench in the works -- there is a clear course of action.


(Can you say "Cameron Munter"?)

When I see "unnamed members of the State Department and Justice Department" -- the people who allegedly are concerned that the Obama administration is doing something wrong on drones -- use their power of exit to influence their erring masters, I'll fly to Washington to shake their hands.

Until then, it's just crocodile tears.

Related posts

More than anyone else, the beneficiaries of permawar are the politicians who thrive on the power to make and control wars.

(See J'ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar)

There can be no question but that Americans and the rest of the world will eventually wake up to the terror being inflicted in their name on Pakistanis and others. The only question that will then remain will be whether Obama, Panetta, and the whole drone "kill chain" will be prosecuted as war criminals or as ordinary criminals. (And God help them if they are condemned to the limbo of "unlawful enemy combatant" - entitled to neither civil nor military justice.)

(See #NATOvictims - Drone Strikes in Pakistan )

"In response to the consequences of war, each of us is presented with the responsibility to say something and do something to prevent more killing. For better or for worse, how we respond to the moral challenges of our times defines who we are, as citizens, as parents, as neighbors, and as members of the global community."

(See #RemembranceDay2012)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

War By (Drone Base) Timetable?

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day - the day when we commemorate the armistice, signed on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," that ended World War I.

On a day when we think about those who suffer so greatly from war -- veterans, as well as those who don't live to be veterans, as well as the enormous numbers of civilian victims of war -- it is easy to breathe a sigh of relief over our ability to (sometimes) end (some) wars.

But maybe we should, instead, devote ourselves to looking once again at how those wars get started.

WWI German sailors mobilized by rail
(See: Railways in War)

The historian A.J.P. Taylor had a startling insight about WWI - the war whose end we commemorate tomorrow. In studying how the war came about in the first place, he realized that the countries involved programmed themselves into a corner by the way they prepared their highly-efficient and "smart" systems (transport and other -- to "respond" to a war that they hoped wouldn't come:
[A]ll of the great powers believed that if they possessed the ability to mobilise their armed forces faster than any of the others, this would serve as a sufficient deterrent to avoid war and allow them to achieve their foreign policy. Thus, the general staffs of the great powers developed elaborate timetables to mobilise faster than any of their rivals. When the crisis broke in 1914, though none of the statesmen of Europe wanted a world war, the need to mobilise faster than potential rivals created an inexorable movement towards war. Thus Taylor claimed that the leaders of 1914 became prisoners of the logic of the mobilisation timetables and the timetables that were meant to serve as deterrent to war instead relentlessly brought war. [Source: A.J.P. Taylor article on Wikipedia]
Taylor's book on the war was entitled War By Timetable.

The historian Barbara Tuchman expands on this in her brilliant, unforgettable The Guns of August. She places the mobilisation planning in the context of the larger move by all the powers involved to develop enormous staffs to plan, plan, plan for war.

There is an eerie reminder of war by railway timetable in William L. Shirer's monumental The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer reminds us that the armistice of 11/11/18 was signed in a railway carriage -- and that when Hitler invaded France in WWII, he dug up the very same railway carriage, and had it transported to the very same spot, and forced the French representatives to sign the surrender terms in it.

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse?

And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future? (See: Department of Defense Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability (April 2012).)

To see what's developing near you, see the list of state-level "No Drones" sites on the No Drones Network website.

When there are so many plans being carried out to use drones, how can we possibly imagine that we won't end up in a global drone war?

American Legacy by Steve Fryburg

Will any of us be surprised when we wake up one day and see this picture, imagined by artist, Ohio Veterans For Peace leader, and anti-drones activist Steve Fryburg, realized?

Related posts

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

The U.S. can get more "bang for the buck" out of each pair of boots it puts on the ground, because -- through the magic of robotics -- it can back up those boots with Hellfire missiles and 500-lb. bombs. For the folks back home, it helps maintain the illusion that the U.S. isn't really intervening in a way that risks escalation. For the population of the affected areas of Iraq, it helps maintain the balance of terror -- because those armed drones are just part of a much larger fleet of drones that is patrolling the skies over Baghdad.  ("Is that drone overhead aiming . . . or just 'looking'?" From the ground, one has to assume they're all aiming . . . . )

(See Armed Drones Over Iraq: A Force Multiplier (Which Is Precisely Why They Are So Dangerous) )

Now comes the messy part. We need many more people to engage with with the emotions aroused by drones. This is going to involve many different groups of people, engaging with this topic in many different ways: churches and faith groups . . . young people . . . . The point is: the discourse on drones is going to get out of our hands. It isn't always going to go the way we want. But the important thing is that many, many people are going to be talking about it in the ways that feel appropriate to them.

 (See Democracy vs. Drones)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Orwell Was Right

I've decided to read a book to ring in Barack Obama's second term. No, I'm not talking about The Audacity of Hope. I'm talking about 1984, by George Orwell.

In case you haven't read it lately, I strongly recommend giving 1984 a fresh read. My memory of it was of a book that was clever, but a bit shallow, and one that ultimately imparted a feeling of comfort because, after all, it was pointing a finger at the misdeeds of other societies. (Okay, okay, it's been a long time since I last read it . . . . )

NATO protests, Chicago, May 2012

What I'm finding instead is a book that is both packed with insight into the psychology of the public experience of repression, and startlingly prescient about the specific facts of our world today.

With respect to the latter of these, allow me to quote just three brief descriptions that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up:
In the distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. (p. 2)
We in Chicago are the most electronically surveilled population population in the world. (Can you say "seventeen thousand cameras??) The proliferation of cameras makes the use of helicopters optional.

Of course, they're not really doing anything with all that surveillance, right?
It was always at night -- the arrests invariably happened at night. . . . there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared, always during the night. (p. 17)
Considering that progressive Americans are rejoicing today over the re-election of Barack Obama, despite his failure to close Guantanamo, reverse the legacy of night raids in Afghanistan, prosecute the torturers who carried out extraordinary rendition, and abandon his claim to be able to detain anyone indefinitely under the NDAA . . . this passage is chilling.

But it was the passage that seemed to describe drone strikes really made me stop short:
"Steamer" was a nickname which, for some reason, the proles applied to rocket bombs. . . . The bomb had demolished a group of houses two hundred meters up the street. . . . Thre was a little pile of plaster lying on the pavement ahead of him, and in the middle of it he could see a bright red streak. When he got up to it he saw it was a human hand severed at the wrist. (p. 74)
This description was quite startling to encounter, shortly after seeing the account of Pat Chaffee, recently returned from the Code Pink delegation to Pakistan to protest U.S. drone killings, entitled, "Body Pieces".

I feel quite sure that when I read this passage years ago, I thought, "Well, certainly, that will never happen . . . .

Never say never.

Orwell was right.

Page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.
Image: @Deprogrammer9 Copyright Julie Dermansky 2012

Related posts

Re-reading George Orwell's 1984 recently made me see at least 15 ways 2013 is like the world he describes in the book . . . .

(See 2013 = 1984 ? )

As the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights prepared to convene a conference on surveillance on October 19, 2013, it was a shock to find that the majority of the Illinois congressional delegation voted AGAINST the Amash Conyers Amendment -- the measure to curtail NSA surveillance.

(See In Chicago, Illinois: YOU ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE!) 

"What are the unseen possibilities and risks associated with drones?" We need the insights of lots of people -- including the work of thinkers who are no longer living -- that are good at imagining the future and considering previously unimagined possibilities.

(See DRONES: Build a Foundation for Our 3-D Future

Monday, October 8, 2012

Does America Need a Spiritual Awakening?

I was at a book event at the Chicago Public Library several weeks ago, in which Pankaj Mishra discussed his new work, From the Ruins of Empire. The book profiles thinkers in several Asian countries at the turn of the last century -- Liang Qichao in China, among others -- who turned their intellects to the problem of the West, its material superiority, and how to respond to it.

Lu Xun
The discussion of Mishra's book brought to mind my undergraduate years, focused on the study of Chinese and Japanese history, and I remembered how difficult it had been as a student to begin to even understand the challenge faced by people like Liang. It is not easy -- even with 20-20 hindsight -- to characterize the "West" as it confronted China (and other countries), and the difficulty of doing so in context is nearly inconceivable.

I was amused at the book event to see poor Pankaj field the inevitable questions from the audience: "Why did you choose certain thinkers and not others? Why Tagore and not Gandhi?" And, "Why not Mao?" And I smiled inwardly and asked, "Yes, why not Mao? Why Liang and not Mao? Or, for that matter, why Liang and not Zeng Guofan? or Kang Youwei? or Yen Fu? or Lu Xun? or Sun Yatsen?"

Yes: "Why not Lu Xun?" Most of all, I wondered, "Why not Lu Xun?"

Lu Xun was an author who is said to have defined the spirit of ferment and revolution after 1919 in China, generally referred to as the May 4th Movement. For me, Lu Xun's entire body of work can be boiled down to two elements: his epiphany about the challenge China faced, and his location of the heart of that challenge in his story, "The True Story of Ah Q."

Lu Xun's epiphany about the challenge China faced came when he was a medical student in Japan. Following the logic of several waves of thinkers before him, Lu Xun was intent on gaining expert, material, scientific knowledge in order to be of service to his country. His turning point came when he sat in an audience together with other patriotic Chinese students to view a news slide, which depicted Japanese troops beheading Chinese captives during hostilities in North China. Lu Xun came to the conclusion that China would never respond effectively to the challenges it faced until Chinese people were able to search their hearts and find the spiritual bases of their subjugation, and to overcome them. Until that happened, he concluded, scientific, material "solutions" would be moot. He abandoned his medical studies and became a writer.

Lu Xun's seminal work, "The True Story of Ah Q", is a portrait of a woebegone member of China's lumpenproletariat. Ah Q has many strikes against him. But the most important one, laid bare by Lu Xun, is a self-deceiving habit of mind, as epitomized in several fragments of internal monologue which occurs after Ah Q is beaten up:
Then only after Ah Q had, to all appearances, been defeated, had his brownish pigtail pulled and his head bumped against the wall four or five times, would the idlers walk away, satisfied at having won. Ah Q would stand there for a second, thinking to himself, "It is as if I were beaten by my son. What is the world coming to nowadays. . . ." Thereupon he too would walk away, satisfied at having won.

Whatever Ah Q thought he was sure to tell people later; thus almost all who made fun of Ah Q knew that he had this means of winning a psychological victory. So after this anyone who pulled or twisted his brown pigtail would forestall him by saying: "Ah Q, this is not a son beating his father, it is a man beating a beast. Let's hear you say it: A man bearing a beast!"

Illustration: Ah Q
Zhao Yannian (born 1924)

Then Ah Q, clutching at the root of his pigtail, his head on one side, would say: "Beating an insect—how about that? I am an insect—now will you let me go?"

But although he was an insect the idlers would not let him go until they had knocked his head five or six times against something nearby, according to their custom, after which they would walk away satisfied that they had won, confident that this time Ah Q was done for. In less than ten seconds, however, Ah Q would walk away also satisfied that he had won, thinking that he was the "foremost self-belittler," and that after subtracting "self-belittler" what remained was "foremost." Was not the highest successful candidate in the official examination also the "foremost"? "And who do you think you are anyway?"

After employing such cunning devices to get even with his enemies, Ah Q would make his way cheerfully to the wine shop to drink a few bowls of wine, joke with the others again, quarrel with them again, come off victorious again, and return cheerfully to the Tutelary God's Temple, there to fall asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow . . . . (See "The True Story of Ah-Q -- Chapter Two: A Brief Account of Ah-Q's Victories")

For me, the lesson of Lu Xun is that it is so easy to be dazzled by affairs of state and military technology, and fail to address the need for a spiritual awakening, and the adoption of new habits of mind. This, it seems to me, is the secret to China's ability to revolutionary change during the 20th century, and radically alter its place in the world -- a monumental accomplishment and one that is far from over. And it provides a valuable insight on why people in the Muslim world place such a high value on the spiritual guidance they gain from their faith, from a deep, deep submission to spiritual discipline.

I was reminded of this again while reading a recent exchange about drones and drone warfare. Chicago syndicated columnist Bob Koehler wrote a review of the recently released study, "Living Under Drones.". The suffering in America's "video game war," Koehler says, "is widespread and profound." Longtime antiwar and anti-nuclear activist Penny Kome supplied a counterpoint, expressing the sanguine hope that this new technology can be thought of "as a nicotine patch – a way to kick the US addiction to war.". Koehler responded, saying, "It’s more likely that drone technology is just the beginning of a new and different — and still hideous — type of warfare, with more devastating robo-technology to come.".

I'm glad that we're starting to debate drone warfare, but I'm concerned that Americans are stuck at the surface of the problem -- the technology, the politics -- and not getting deep enough into the psychology that allows us to tolerate the injury being done to others. Are we being lured into the same old debates about command chains and throw-weights, and failing to own up to the spiritual bankruptcy that enables us to continue to operate these killing machines? Is this a question for a small number of liberal antiwar activists? Or for every member of the society that considers themselves a person of conscience and/or faith?

This need to get at the spiritual basis of our drone "addiction" is the impetus behind the Awake to Drones project.

* * * * *
Image by Alfonso Munoz, from Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan: The aftermath of war is rarely envisioned by the powers that trigger such events. Such views are usually blinded by greed and massive egos. Those who survive will continue to live with a lifetime's worth of emotional damage beyond the healing of physical wounds. Photography has captured more images than I can mentally handle (and I am the lucky one living removed from such places). I wanted to convey the atrocities like an investigator who outlines the bodies on the scene of a crime, leaving behind a silhouette on the ground where the horrific events have taken place.

Related posts

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )

Leveling Up is the creative work that demonstrates just how thoroughly America's new ways of warfare have become intertwined with the other dominant strands in our culture.

(See Level Up, Step Up, Grow Up, Man Up . . . Wake Up)

I wonder if, years from now, we will be thinking back to today and feeling surprise at how little we thought about some of the developments in our world, and in our country, and how we talked about them even less. Someday will I have to explain to my kids, or to my kids' kids, why it was that "people just weren't talking about it" . . . ?

(See Why Weren't People Talking About It? )

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Isn't Robotic Killing Taboo?

Raft of the Medusa (detail)
When we think about practices that our society surrounds with taboos -- cannibalism, incest -- we tend to assume that those practices are extreme, and difficult to engage in.

But that is the point of taboos: that is what taboos are intended to make us think.

Because the reality is that the practices that taboos protect us against are the easiest things in the world.

In a society that eats meat, there is nothing easier than grabbing the neighbor's children and cooking them. To sexually active people, the most convenient sex partners are those who live in close proximity.

We have taboos against these practices despite the fact that they are convenient. The taboos reflect a recognition of social disruptiveness that outweighs the benefits of some limited subset of circumstances in which the practices happen -- and, more importantly, even the possible desires of the most powerful people in the society.

Géricault, Raft of the Medusa (detail)
For instance, we seem to encounter cannibalism mainly in hypothetical lifeboats where someone has already hypothetically died, and others can hypothetically survive by sustaining themselves on the flesh of the deceased. But the cannibalism taboo was established to prevent not this far-fetched situation, but the kind of flesh-eating that could be expected to take place every day without it.

Today, drones are set loose by the United States government day after day to kill people in country after country, and in the limited number of cases in which justifications are even proffered, they are extremely tenuous: "Well, we had reason to believe . . . on good authority . . . that the victim was engaged in preparing to plot . . . or was otherwise associate with . . . . " Drone victims in remote regions 6,000 miles away have about as much chance of defending themselves as hypothetical lifeboat passengers.

The problem with drones is that their computerized, high-tech, robotic, automated killing long ago came to outrun -- by a long shot -- any semblance of human agency in controlling them. And it's only getting worse every hour.

Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa

"An over-life-size painting that depicts a moment from the aftermath of the
wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, which ran aground off the coast
of today's Mauritania on July 5, 1816. At least 147 people were set adrift
on a hurriedly constructed raft; all but 15 died in the 13 days before their
rescue, and those who survived endured starvation and dehydration and
practiced cannibalism." (Source: Wikipedia)

An exaggeration? Hardly. This is exactly the kind of activity that our society governs with taboo. We are indulging a fantasy that "reasonable" use of drones can be determined by logic and policy and jurisprudence, and all the while more and more people are being killed, and the technology is reaching the point of being uncontrollable.

The day will come when we would no more elect to office a person who believes in setting robotic drones loose to kill other people than we would someone who eats the flesh of their next door neighbor or has sex with their sister. Instead, we will cast such people outside of social bounds.

Related posts

I've suggested that it's time for a serious debate on drones, and that a good place to start is with Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics."  Here are 10 questions that come straight out of the writings of Asimov and that can help spur the debate.

(See 10 Questions to Spur the Drone Debate )

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

Beyond recognizing the inherent contradictions of "pre-emptive violence," we must confront an urgent problem related to technology: the automation of "pre-emptive violence" -- e.g. via drone technology -- is leading to a spiral (or "loop" or "recursive process") that we may not be able to get out of.

(See When "Pre-emptive Violence" Is Automated ....

Friday, September 7, 2012

Oct 13: National "Debate the Drones" Day?

In a flurry of debates in October, the U.S. presidential candidates will talk about every topic under the sun -- both domestic and foreign -- in locations across the country -- from Denver to New York City to Boca Raton -- in formats both formal and informal -- with an assortment of moderators from all the major networks.

Be assured, however, that there is one topic that will be off-limits.


So here's a modest proposal: let's debate the issue ourselves.

Let the debate begin!

Saturday, October 13, falls smack dab in the middle of the election 2012 debate schedule. (October 3: Denver (domestic policy); October 11: Danville, KY (vice presidential debate); October 16: New York City (foreign, domestic); October 22: Boca Raton (foreign policy).)

Saturday, October 13, also happens to come at the culmination of the "Drones Week of Action" (October 6-13): "The Drones Campaign Network in the UK is organizing a week of action to protest the growing use of armed drones from 6th – 13th October. The week coincides with the International Keep Space for Peace Week which focuses on the militarization of space."

Who should participate in such debates? And who should organize them? Well, at this point, there are local groups all over the United States -- and all over the world -- that are deeply concerned and extremely active in trying to address the drones problem. The Occupy movement has taken up the issue. Activity is picking up on college campuses. The churches are getting involved. A few brave journalists are leading the way in asking questions. There may even be one or two independent politicians who want to step up to the plate on the issue.

In school: debate drones
And, after all, do we need the permission of the Democratic or Republican party to take up an issue? For that matter, if we're talking about an issue that truly matters, do we imagine that the Democratic or Republican party would want to risk being part of the conversation?


Do you think it's time to get the drones issue out in the open? There are groups in nearly every state involved in combating the menace of drones. Get involved with one today and help figure out how to make October 13 the day to break the silence about drones.

Colorado - Not 1 More Acre!
Florida - No Drones Florida
Illinois - No Drones Illinois
Indiana - Indiana Drones Project
Iowa - No Drones Iowa
Kentucky - No Drones Kentucky
Maryland - No Drones Maryland
Michigan - No Drones Michigan
Missouri - No Drones Missouri
Nevada - Nevada Desert Experience
New Hampshire - NH Peace Action
New Jersey - No Drones New Jersey
New Mexico - Not 1 More Acre!
New York - Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones
North Carolina - No Drones North Carolina
Ohio - No Drones Ohio
Pennsylvania - No Drones Pennsylvania
Texas - No Drones Texas
Virginia - No Drones Virginia
Washington State - No Drones Washington State
Wisconsin - No Drones Wisconsin

NATIONWIDE - No Drones Network

Related posts

We can now entrust all the dirty work -- including war -- to robots. (Or can we?)

See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones 

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

Now comes the messy part. We need many more people to engage with with the emotions aroused by drones. This is going to involve many different groups of people, engaging with this topic in many different ways: churches and faith groups . . . young people . . . . The point is: the discourse on drones is going to get out of our hands. It isn't always going to go the way we want. But the important thing is that many, many people are going to be talking about it in the ways that feel appropriate to them.

 (See Democracy vs. Drones)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mothers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Drone Pilots

The New York Times is trying to tell us something. "Look, I'm not your conscience," it seems to be trying to say. "I'm not responsible for getting everything ethically right: that's your job. I just lob stuff up for you to react to. Have you got a pulse? REACT!"

Let's start with the title of the article that appeared on the front page of today's Times. When a major newspaper uses the term "kill shot" in a headline without irony -- without quotation marks, as I just used -- it screams out for us to say "WAIT A MINUTE! We don't talk about killing and injury so glibly!" (See Elisabeth Bumiller, "A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away".)

Drone pilot console

Moving on to the first paragraph, we are reminded that the nation's newspapers long ago abandoned any pretense of judiciousness in reporting about the combatant status of the targets of the U.S. military and the C.I.A. The people in the story are "insurgents" and "militants" -- apparently because the military says so. The words "alleged" and "reported" and "suspected" are nowhere to be seen. And that's why we, the readers, need to mentally supply those words and restore some semblance of reality to the story.

The story goes on to report that drone operators might feel empathy for the people they follow with their video eyes ... but, on the other hand, they claim they don't lose any sleep over the attacks they carry out ... and yet they do know that it's more than just a video game ... at least when commanders "beat into their crews" the message that it's not just a video game.

Is that all clear?

Anyone trying to get a moral bead on the issue of drone operation could be forgiven for getting dizzy. Perhaps the most honest sentence in the whole article is this:
In his 10 years at Creech, he said without elaborating, "I've seen some pretty disturbing things."
Figure it out, reader!

The U.S. military is desperately trying to beef up the ranks of its drone pilots - to meet a "near insatiable demand for drones." There's only one way that's going to happen, and that's if we let our young people think that it's okay to sign up. The world of military service is more abstracted and foreign than ever. If ever there was a time that young people needed guidance from others about what military service might mean for them, that time is now.

The New York Times is putting us on notice -- this is where the real battleground is -- at the recruiting station. It's not the job of The New York Times -- or any other part of the media -- to pass judgement on the state of the world. Their job is just to tee up the issue. It's up to us, on the other hand, to face those issues head on, and to do something about them.

JOIN OTHERS NEAR YOU to oppose drones! See the full state-by-state list on the No Drones Network website.

Related posts

Grounded raises tough questions. I was hoping that the play would challenge the idea that killing people with drones is good. It's a reflection of the seriousness of this work that that is just one of the issues it raises; others include our society's willingness to destroy the people who we employ to "serve" ("serve our country," serve us in general), our culture's worship of violence / use of force, and the consequences of pervasive surveillance.

(See "Everything Is Witnessed": Searching for "the Guilty" in GROUNDED )

We need to do several things for our young people. First of all, we need to show them pictures of war and explain: "This is what real chaos looks like." And then we need to ask, "Still think this sounds appealing?"

(See The Few, the Proud ... and the Chaos)

A big Hollywood production of Ender's Game is scheduled for release on November 1. It's a perfect opportunity for us to ask: Are we happy seeing our schools turned into "Battle Schools"?

(See "Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This? )

Ames serves a largely Spanish-speaking community. Is the militarization of Ames anything other than a signal of what the Democratic party means by equitable treatment for immigrants?

(See The Militarization of Ames: The Real Meaning of the DREAM Act )

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nationwide: Getting SERIOUS About STOPPING the Drones Menace

KnowDrones replica in use at anti-drones protest at the White House.

I arrived in Dayton, OH, at 8 a.m. after driving through the night from Chicago. In the parking lot of Fritsch's Big Boy, I met up with two friends from No Drones Wisconsin. We were there to rendezvous with Nick Mottern and George Guerci from Know Drones, who were bringing MQ-9 Reaper drone replicas for us, as well as for anti-drone activists from Indiana.

I had rented a small van to take my new 8' drone replica back to Chicago; I knew that, even when it was broken down for transport, the drone replica and the display stand would require a bit of space. I was curious to see how Nick and George were managing FOUR drone replicas! Before long, Nick and George arrived from New York, via Columbus, towing a 12-feet-long enclosed trailer.

Delivery of KnowDrones replicas of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
drone to antiwar activists from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

My jaw dropped when they opened the trailer and I saw the four model drone fuselages resting on foam cushions, with their wings neatly strapped to the front wall of the trailer. "These are some very, very serious people," I said to myself.

The KnowDrones replicas include careful reproductions of the Hellfire
missiles and laser-guided 500-lb bombs carried by the Reaper.

And, indeed, the Know Drones Tour has taken their replicas to do anti-drones activism throughout the U.S. Northeast: in Brooklyn, NY, southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and northern Maryland. A tour of Ohio is planned for September.

Perhaps more importantly, they have assisted the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones (in New York) in building Reaper replicas and provided replicas to the NH Peace Action (in New Hampshire), Code Pink (in Washington, DC), World Can't Wait (New York City) and to Larry Carter Center, a peace activist in Charleston, South Carolina, in order to boost the drone opposition movement that is becoming a nationwide phenomenon.

Nick, George, and their colleagues at Know Drones have recently figured out how to double the rate at which they can produce drone replicas, to enable them to deliver a dozen more models in the next 45-60 days. This will be crucial as the presidential election heats up in the U.S., and activists work to demand that drone killing and drone surveillance be talked about -- and NOT swept under the rug -- during this period of national debate. Plans are already under way for drones protests at the RNC in Tampa, Florida, at the end of August, and drones protests at the DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the beginning of September. Drone replicas are already on order for delivery to activists in Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware.

To get an idea of how activists are taking the "No Drones!" message to the general public and incorporating the drones replicas made by Know Drones, consider the case of Robert Rast ....

KnowDrones replica displayed by Robert Rast, whose son was killed by
"friendly fire" from a U.S. drone while serving in the U.S. Navy.

Mr. Rast's son, Navy corpsman Benjamin Rast, was killed accidentally in a Reaper drone strike in Afghanistan in April 2011; that strike also killed Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremy Smith. Robert Rast has set the replica up in his front yard and sits with it, telling those who stop what happened to his son.

KnowDrones replica on display in Madison, WI.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the very active progressive community in Madison has had the chance to encounter drones model brought out by No Drones Wisconsin.

In Chicago, we've been pushing hard against the Obama administration's drone killings - starting with our protest against Eric Holder when he made his announcement "justifying" extrajudicial executions in Chicago, and continuing with our protests of the drone killings in Pakistan in March, our protest to make the drones killing 100% VISIBLE during the NATO Summit, and our protest against drones killings at the June 1 Obama fundraiser.

Making the drone killing 100% VISIBLE in Chicago.

No Drones Illinois will be featuring our new model as part of a large-scale antiwar outreach (including Chicago World Can't Wait, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Chicago Chapter, Occupy Chicago, Pakistan Federation of America Chicago (USA), and Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ) at the Chicago Air & Water Show on August 18.

As Nick Mottern has said, the proliferation of drones and the daily increasing reliance on drone warfare is carefully calculated by our government to discourage us from criticizing U.S. war-making and killing, or even thinking about it. In effect, the nameless, faceless drones are part of an effort to "systematically deprive people of empathy" for others. (This absence of empathy is a phenomenon I wrote about in a blog post entitled "Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt?") The Know Drones models are part of an urgent effort to reverse that trend. People begin to think about the significance of drones when they feel the model hovering over them. They can begin to get a sense of the size of the drones. They start to ponder the facelessness of the drone when they are looking at it and realize that there are no windows, that there is no on-board pilot. Most important, they get it into their heads that this problem is REAL, and they become unable to shake that thought.

So: New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, DC, Maryland, South Carolina ... Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio ... Oregon ... Hawaii ... and discussions are now underway with activists in Michigan, North Carolina, and Colorado, and others, on using replicas of the Reaper, which has become the primary work horse of drone killing, and which will be produced in larger and larger numbers in the coming years by its manufacturer.

Soon "No Drones!" groups -- with drone models from Know Drones -- will be active in every state. All of these groups are in urgent need of support from activists with a wide range of talents, to enable them to carry out the public outreach that is so desperately needed.

STOP THE DRONES! What are you prepared to do?

Related posts

Coming off our experience this past weekend once again protesting against drone killing, drone surveillance, and related acts of militarism at the Chicago Air and Water Show, I am more confirmed than ever in my view that air shows are a very effective place to get our message out to the public.

(See Why Air Shows Are a Very Effective Place to Protest Drone Killing and Drone Surveillance )

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

Check out these links to anti-drones activities that sprung up in 2012. Obviously, this is just a sampling of drones activism nationwide -- but a great place to start! (What are you prepared to do?)

(See Drones Activism: Big Stories in the No Drones Network on the No Drones Network website)

The April Days of Action Against Drones 2013 have been imaginative, colorful, powerful, and inspiring! Look at the images on this page and click through to learn more about the ones that you want to know more about.

(See April Days of Action Against Drones: HIGHLIGHTS! on the No Drones Network website)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt?

People all over the country and all over the world are waking up to the drone menace. There is something about this weapon and the way it is used that is wrong - you can feel it in your gut.

I've been talking with people in the faith community in Chicago, trying to put into words just what is so wrong with drones. What is it about drones killing and drones surveillance that is qualitatively different? What makes it even worse than all the violence and war that we've seen carried out in our name to date?


For me, it started to become clear when I learned about signature strikes. Up until then, I had been hearing a lot about how drones could "see" people, and how what they "saw" was evaluated in some way, and some part of me had accepted the idea that there was something similar in the way a drone "sees" people and the way a person "sees" another person.

But signature strikes -- in which a drone detects some kind of human activity, and on the strength of a vague characterization of that activity unleashes a Hellfire missile -- make it clear just how people are "seen" when drones are being used.

There is a famous scene in the movie, "The Third Man," which characterizes this problem perfectly. In the film, the villain's childhood friend, Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton), meets the villain, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles). They climb aboard a Ferris wheel that carries them high above Vienna. In response to the demand, "Have you ever seen one of your victims?" the villain yanks open the door of the Ferris wheel cabin menacingly and says:
"Look down there. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped moving, would you really -- old man? -- tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"
(You can watch the Ferris wheel scene from "The Third Man" here. Then watch the infamous "collateral murder" footage - included two minutes into Kyle Broom's powerful short film, "Prevention of Injury (POI).")

With drones, people have become just that: dots. Bugs. In fact, the military uses the term "bug splat" for what's left after a drone strike. Of course, there are real people involved in operating drones -- "in the loop" is the Computer Science term for that "involvement" -- but we should be very, very clear that the role those people play is nothing like the role they play in any other kind of human interaction -- including other warfare and violence.


In a sermon about a year ago at the church I attend in Chicago -- St. Luke's Logan Square -- the Rev. Pieter Oberholzer of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries in South Africa spoke of the human impulse to dismiss other human beings as bugs and worse. He spoke of the Aramaic term raca -- literally, "spit"; essentially "trash" or "dirt". The "raca spirit," he said, is a worldview that allows us to pigeonhole some people as "dirt." And then he told us that the Good News of the New Testament can effectively be summed up as: we used to live in a worldview that allowed some people to be relegated to "dirt" -- unworthy of consideration -- but we now know that God values us all as people, and wants us to value all other people as people. Pastor Oberholzer commended to us the words of Desmond Tutu: "We are of ultimate worth" in the eyes of God. This translates, he told us, in African society, into the concept of ubuntu -- which he translated as, "I live because you live; you live because I live."

When I was a child, there was a public service announcement (perhaps for the National Council of Churches?) that ran on television. It was a parable of a rancher in the Old West, who was a pillar of his community and a stalwart of his church. This rancher had a very Old Testament view of the world, and when someone was caught stealing one of his cattle, he considered the person beneath consideration as a person. Here's a summary I found of that old PSA:
Once upon a time there was a wealthy rancher who had hundreds of cattle, and next door to his ranch was a poor farmer who could barely feed his family. One day the farmer decided he'd help himself to one of the rancher's cows, but (sounds of guns being cocked and the image of shotguns pointing at the farmer) he didn't get very far.
At the trial, the rancher told the judge, "String him up, it will teach him a lesson."
That night as the rancher slept he dreamed that he died, and was standing before God awaiting judgement.
And the Lord said, "Forgive him, it will teach him a lesson."
Those are words that I have never forgotten.


Graham Greene, who wrote "The Third Man" and set it in the ruins of war-ravaged Vienna, saw exactly where modern war was taking us. When we finally get around to understanding just how wrong drones are, that understanding is likely to crack wide open a recognition of the inhumanity of all the modern warfare we've been dragged into in the modern era. Like a frog that is in a pot of water whose temperature is gradually increasing until he is boiled alive, our society has stood still for advances in weaponry that allow victims to be dehumanized further and further and further. It's time to put a stop to it, and turn back the clock.

How far must we turn back the clock? I don't think we'll be done until we recognize that ever since weapons became the tools of Empire, people have been reduced to being the victims of signature strikes.

More at: Can we stop the DRONES?

* * * * *

The image "Collateral Damage" by Lillian Moats is from Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan -- an art collection and traveling exhibition consisting of 45 murals created by artists from all over the world who have tried to capture the experience of the war in Afghanistan and to make it visible to people everywhere. Windows and Mirrors is a project of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

For further thought:

Genesis 18: 32 -- "Then [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Galatians 3:25 -- "But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian."

Matthew 6:22 -- "The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light."

Related posts

We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

Palestine 30 CE - were Jews a "community of color?" And what was Empire doing to keep the community within "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" bounds? And what happened to people who looked like the "wrong" type?

(See Was the Crucifixion a "signature strike"?)

If the American public knew the nature of the crimes that its government was committing in Afghanistan, could it possibly sit still and not force an end to the war, and the removal of U.S. military, intelligence, and contractors from Afghanistan?

(See VAU Afgh 101: Attacks Against Civilians)

More posts about the immorality of drones at: Can we stop the DRONES?