Drone cheerleaders

Our national discourse has become so distorted, attacking children from robot planes is now considered “more humane”:

As you know if you’ve paid attention to recent news, drone war proponents are currently facing inconvenient truths. This month, for instance, they are facing a new United Nations report showing that President Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan War – which is defined, in part, by an escalation in drone airstrikes – is killing hundreds of children “due notably to reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force.” They are also facing news that the rise in drone strikes is accompanying a rise in al-Qaida recruits, proving that, in predictable “blowback” fashion, the attacks may be creating more terrorists than they are neutralizing.


Drone-war cheerleaders will no doubt find this news difficult to explain away on the merits. And so many are trying to change the linguistic foundation of the discourse from one rooted in fact to one rooted in a sophistry that narrows the public’s perception of available choices.


Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine) comments justifying the drone war last week exemplify the talking points.


“Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do,” he told a cable television audience. “I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people.”


Designed to obscure mounting civilian casualties, King’s Orwellian phrase “humane weapon” is the crux of the larger argument. The idea is that an intensifying drone war is necessary – and even humane! – because it is more surgical than violent global ground war, which is supposedly America’s only other option. As New York Times columnist David Brooks summed it up: drone strikes are great because “they inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative.” Or, as one drone-war defender put it on Twitter: “Drones? 160,000 pairs of boots on the ground? Hmm.”


In a country whose culture so often (wrongly) portrays bloodshed as the most effective problem solver, many Americans hear this now-ubiquitous drone-war argument and reflexively agree with its suppositions. Having been told in so many ways that killing is the best and only possible policy prescription, most simply assume that our only national security choice is between drone wars and ground wars – between different forms of preemptive violence, and nothing else.

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