Sunday, February 10, 2013

Drones and the Morality of the Technology of Warfare

Rather than going into questions of the morality, constitutionality, or international legality of the White House’s targeted killing operations (Surprise! I find them to be immoral, unconstitutional, and flagrantly illegal in the face of international law, but that’s for another time), I would like to address the specifics of drone warfare, namely the relationship between unmanned aerial vehicle weaponry and the morals of technology and of warfare.

One must, however, take the point of caution to note that those operating the UAVs are members of the CIA rather than the armed forces, a troubling sign of the militarization of a purportedly civilian agency. However, one must look at warfare as warfare, so our frame will be that of the armed forces, who will likely accelerate the use of UAVs.

We, especially in the United States, often praise soldiers for their willingness to put their lives at risk for something larger than self. That self-transcending entity may either be the collective (“the American people”; “the American nation”), a representation of an ideal (“democracy,” “freedom,” “liberty”), or a possession of the collective (“our freedoms”). Regardless, the locus of the praise is the act of self-sacrifice; we associate such a willingness to die with honor and valor.

What we often ignore is that the willingness to die is only one half of the act of war: the other is the willingness to kill. As drone warfare removes the element of self-sacrifice from war—as the individual operating the joystick does not put his/her life in danger, we are left with the act of killing alone. No one, I suspect—or at least I hope, finds anything morally heartening about “Our soldiers are over there murdering in order to protect us.” But that is what it is.

When you remove the costume of self-sacrifice from the spectacle of war, all with which you are left are the bad acting, the faulty direction, the stilted dialogue, and the meandering, interminable plot that seems to go nowhere because the writer had neither the courtesy nor the foresight to build in a conclusion.

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