Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Why focus on drone attacks?"

Drones: serving man. (Or . . . ?)

The months of April and May saw a large number of protests against the U.S. program of targeted killing with drones, and progress in challenging that program in Congress.

An interesting question was raised on a listserve:  "Why focus on drone attacks?" The questioner -- a dedicated peace activist with an inquiring mind -- explained that he felt a bit perplexed:

As far as I understand, these drone attacks cause damage similar to that caused by other kinds of weapons – cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles fired by planes or helicopters, gravity bombs, artillery.

I don’t think that the anti-drone campaign would be pleased if the drone attacks stopped, but the same level of U.S. attacks were carried out by other weapons – say manned flights carrying missiles. Would that be better in some way? If it would be better, I ask you to explain to me how or why it would be better.

Here's how I responded:

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.

I'm curious to know if other people agree with me.  What is your experience? Is the movement against drones helping to build consciousness about the deeper issues of consent?  Or are we being sidetracked by paying too much attention to other aspects of drone warfare?

Please join the conversation.

Related posts

Operating drones and other robotic killing machines still requires some human operators. And despite all their hopes to the contrary, the military establishment has discovered that human operators have consciences.

(See THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Drone Pilots Speaking Out)

Today we live in a different world. Without the draft, the people have "checked out." It is like Rome ... the legions do the work of empire and the people are kept happy with bread and circus. (Or Starbucks and "Dancing With the Stars," if you prefer.)

(See Not Your Father's Antiwar Movement )

Year after year, hundreds of thousands of people from Chicago and the surrounding area gather on the lakeshore to watch aerial displays by an array of planes. Most don't suspect that they are being subjected to an intense propaganda effort by multiple branches of the U.S. military.  The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo views this as a perfect opportunity to engage with the public and enlist them in the growing movement against U.S. war, torture, surveillance, and other crimes.  We will join activists from many other peace and justice groups who have had a growing presence at this event in recent years.

(See August 16-17: Protest U.S. Kidnapping, Torture, and Drone Assassinations at the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show Protest )

If the public will join us in asking the question "Who decides?" about drone executions, I believe they will rapidly come to realize that they are utterly dissatisfied with what the government is saying.

(See Who Decides? (When Drones are Judge, Jury, and Executioner) )

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)

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry)

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