You’d think that people always seeking “lessons” from war would draw one from our latest wonder weapon, which fights our wars for us without an American in sight. I’m talking, of course, about the drone aircraft that have, in recent years, become a signature form of American war-making. They represent truly advanced technology, with ever newer generations of them in production and on the drawing boards, ones that might some distant day be able to fight actual Terminator wars more or less on their own.
The drones already in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and perhaps other zones of conflict are now celebrated in Washington for their special “precision” in taking out enemies. Like all such weapons, however, they look so much more precise to those using them than to those on whom they are being used. They are also only as good as the intelligence that sends the missiles and bombs towards targets on the ground, which means that such weaponry will always, repetitively, kill innocent civilians (and sometimes only them). Don’t be fooled by the stories that invariably describe the latest drone attack as taking out so many “suspected militants.” It ain’t necessarily so.
Our precision weapons look different indeed if you happen to be under them, as the headline of a recent Reuters article makes clear: “Drones spur Yemenis’ distrust of government and US” Yes, Virginia, ever since the underwear bomber headed from Yemen Detroit-wards and threw this country into a paroxysm of fear, your advanced weapons systems have been buzzing the skies of that country and evidently firing missiles as well. “Suspected militants” have died, but so have civilians. (“Now children and women are terrified and can’t sleep… people are haunted. They expect the next strike to hit the innocent and not the fugitives…”) While enemies are certainly being assassinated, enemies — undoubtedly more of them—are being created. And as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore points out, Americans know next to nothing about all of this. We are generally as cosseted from our wars—and the world they are helping to create—as the pilots who fly such aircraft from Langley, Virginia, or Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, “warriors” whose most dangerous moments are caught in an on-base sign that warns pilots at Creech to “drive carefully” on leaving after a work shift “in” Afghanistan or Iraq. This, it says, is “the most dangerous part of your day.” There are lessons to be learned from all of this, but not by Americans, not right now anyway. When Astore focuses on how isolated we are from the wars Washington fights in our name, he’s on to something deep and degrading. It should be a lesson to us all.