Thought drone warfare was making warfare into a video game?
Not so, according to a front-page New York Times story that flips the conventional understanding of drone attacks.
The story suggests that drone warfare, in which military pilots, some who have never flown combat missions in a manned jet, control aerial weapons from the safety of American suburbs, allows these pilots an unprecedented level of intimacy with their targets.
They are literally watching “militants” and their families for days on end, waiting for the wives and kids to go to the market before firing the missile and buying a Big Mac on the way home. It’s all very difficult to comprehend, especially for the American pilots pulling the trigger.
The Times story includes interviews with traditional fighter pilots, who say they are less likely to experience any kind of hesitation from 30,000 feet in the air.
And honestly, drone pilots still do their “duty,” which means taking out “militants.” The problem is that we now know, also thanks to a Times story in May, that militants are defined as “all military-age males in a strike zone.” It’s the biggest story of the year that nearly everyone will ignore.
The possible innocence of these “bad guys” can only be determined post-humously, which is a little absurd. Maybe the CIA has a seance after each assassination.
And watching these “militants” so intimately hasn’t exactly slowed down drone assassinations. They are quickly becoming our military’s favorite tool. The Air Force chief of staff says in today’s story that drones could outnumber combat jets in the “foreseeable future.”
Warfare is warfare, regardless of the weapon, and when soldiers are told to kill somebody, history suggests they tend to do it.
Yet drone warfare still raises some difficult questions.
We don’t often judge soldiers for killing on a battlefield. It’s not a situation of their making. What can they know except that they’re being shot at? Now we have more intelligence gathering and more sophisticated weaponry than ever before. But that doesn’t necessarily make these targeted killings easier to stomach. In an expansion of wartime powers that began with George W., the Obama administration has taken the extraordinary leap of assassinating American citizens without due process.
How much do we trust the president — any president — to serve as judge, jury and executioner? That’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.
Maybe it’s not how we kill that’s as important as who and why we are killing in the first place. Increasingly, those are questions that our political leaders don’t bother trying to answer.
Whether it’s Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen or Afghanistan, the response is much simpler:
Fire up the drones.