Drone strikes: it’s not a game

The United States is no longer fighting a conventional war on terrorism that involves boots on the ground. Instead, it is fought from thousands of miles away in front of a computer screen with unmanned drones. Consequently, the result is a process devoid of emotion, sympathy and more importantly, human decency. Furthermore, President Barack Obama’s decision to make a “kill list” of terrorists, that he now shuffles through like an adolescent boy admiring his baseball card collection, is grotesque.

Since the president took office in 2008, he has overseen 300 drone strikes in Pakistan. A big chunk of them, 122, took place in 2010. The president continues to justify the use of drone strikes to combat terrorism and keep Americans safe. But with every strike, he is garnering further resentment from countries in the Middle East and Africa as U.S. drones continue to kill innocent men, women, and children in countries where we don’t belong.

Drones are known more specifically as unmanned aerial vehicles. They are the quickest, cheapest, and “safest” way to kill so-called terrorists. However, drones and their subsequent deployment have become a symbol of death and destruction that continue to strike fear into civilians of Yemen, Somalia, and parts of Pakistan.

The U.S. military has reportedly spent $26 billion on drones since they were first utilized in 2001. However, this is not only an issue of a bloated military budget in our current economic state, but more specifically an issue of morality. We can no longer remain indifferent to these strikes simply because too many innocent people are killed by drones. These are the same drones that represent the purported land of the free and justice for all.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent news organization, states although there is no official report, it is estimated that roughly 290 civilians have been killed as a result of these horrific attacks; 64 of those were children.

Many of these children are not old enough to understand the complexities of war, but are constantly looking to the sky, praying that they can walk home from school without being attacked by drone-dropping missiles.

Former counter-terrorism adviser for Obama, Bruce Riedel, argues the deployment of drone strikes only have short-term benefits.

“You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing the lawn, the grass is going to grow back,” said Riedel, according to the Washington Post.

Although Riedel’s statement attempts to illustrate the ineffectiveness of the use of drones that will only allow the “grass” to grow back, it also highlights the lack of moral compasses among our leaders. As the nation that attempts to set the pace for equality and democracy across the globe, should we compare human beings (regardless of their criminality) to blades of grass?

Furthermore, the use of drones fosters an apathetic behavior among our soliders who are sitting behind a computer screen and dropping missiles on white dots that they perceive as terrorists. This eliminates any kind of sympathy for the dead and turns it into a chore, like “mowing the lawn.”

We have known the president to be compassionate and sympathetic, especially to children, having two of his own. We expected him to be the president who would stand firmly against unnecessary war and killing of innocents. While Obama continues his aggressive counter-terrorism efforts, his labeling of drone strikes as counter-terrorism is disingenuous to say the least. Drone strikes are meant to kill terrorists so that we may feel more safe. While some of these strikes may indeed kill terrorists, what we are telling the world is that children in our country are more important than children (or collateral damage) in target countries.

It all boils down to what kind of country we want to be. We have been the bully of the world, arrogantly marching around and asserting dominance in other sovereign nations. We have murdered people on the opposite side of the earth simply because we want to quell threats that have not yet materialized.
Enough is enough. We in the United States cannot rid ourselves of compassion for the citizens of other countries simply because it does not touch our lives directly.

More transparency must exist from the president in his second term. American citizens must challenge his approach, which represents us all. Obama was inaugurated into his second term this past Sunday and maybe this time, he will hold himself accountable for the promise he once verbalized.

“I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness …. Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” said Obama in a memo to his senior staff.

If peace is indeed the destination, then peace must also be the focal point of the journey. Humanity will never come together and see eye-to-eye with blind, aimless killing followed by justification and minimization. We would not accept it from terrorists after 9-11, so we must not accept it from ourselves.

Kevin is a senior majoring in journalism and he thinks that drone strikes are only acceptable after seven kills in a row in “Call of Duty.”

  • Jon Soto

    No one mentions that the cowardly jihadists hide among the innocent. The leaders of the American Revolution didn’t hide behind civillians. That’s the difference.

  • Arafat

    Really, so Catholics have “strict rules on what constitutes lefitimate war?”  As in the Spanish Inquisition, for instance?

    Your description of Islam is inaccurate.  If one reads the Quran and hadiths one understands that Islam is unique among all religions.  Islam is the only religion whose prophet engaged in aggressive warfare – Mohammed led 60 battles against caravans, villages and cities.  Mohammed is the only religious prophet who enslaved, sold slaves for profit, who encouraged his men to kill as well as wage aggressive war as a means to expand Islam’s power.

    The facts speak for themselves.  Within three years of Mohammed’s birth Islam had aggressively conquered most of the Middle East, most of North Africa, huge parts of Asia, and smaller parts of Europe.  The Pope did NOT declare the First Crusade until Islam’s armies controlled large sections of Spain, Sicily and had declared their intention to march into Rome.

    Furthermore your distinguishing between Sunni Muslims and Persian (Shiite Muslims) is disingenuous as the principles of Jihad – aggressive warfare to spread Islam – are part and parcel of both sects.

    I do not express these views to hurt Muslim’s feelings, as they are Islam’s first victims, so much as to correct the mistruths you’ve written above.  It is only through being honest about Islam that we can understand what is happening today.  And it is also vital that we speak the truth repeatedly about Islam so that Muslims themselves can see their religion clearly and realize that it is Muslims who have committed apostasy who have chosen the path to a freer and brighter future for themsleves and those dear to them.

    • Michelangelo Landgrave

      Have you studied the Hindu religions?

      • Arafat

        Why?  Last I had heard they had not declared a war against the West nor do they refer to America as the “Great Satan?” 

        Last I had heard Hinduism does not have a prohpet like Mohammed whose end game was to make all of mankind “submit” to Islam and to “submit” to the repressive, individual-crushing Sharia law.

        • Michelangelo Landgrave

          Islam has declared war on the west? Where was I?

  • Arman Gosparini

    Two things:

    1. Am I to take from this article that it would make us morally superior to instead put pilot’s lives in harms way when we want to eliminate our enemies? Or should we simply surrender any notion that we have a right and obligation to protect ourselves. from mass murdering, religious psychopaths. 

    2. Why is the blame for civilian deaths rested solely on us? How about directing your ire towards the combatants who have chosen to conceal themselves behind a civilian population. Drones don’t disguise themselves as 747 passenger planes, yet jihadists are perfectly content to run their schemes within densely populated areas for the specific purpose of drawing our gunfire towards innocent people in order to bolster their rather pervasive propaganda campaigns. This is not only illegal under the Geneva Convention, it is absolutely immoral, and by giving cover to the enemy by blaming our forces, thus effectively aiding in that propaganda campaign, you are only helping to ensure that these tactics continue to be used more frequently.

    • Michelangelo Landgrave

      Out of curiosity how would you characterize the American patriots during the Revolution?

      • Arman Gosparini

        I can’t say I totally understand the question. I’m going to go off on a limb and assume that you are hoping to draw some sort of comparison between the actions of the American Patriots of 1776 and the Islamist Jihadists of 2013. I think such a comparison is weak and frankly absurd. Asymmetric (or guerrilla) warfare isn’t the issue at hand here and while the Patriots often engaged in tactics such as ambush and sniping, which were certainly unconventional during that era, I can’t point to any example where the Patriots deliberately drew British fire towards their own civilians. Not that such a tactic would have been conceived in a conflict that took place prior to the concept of total warfare. Battles were largely waged on battlefields and in the wilderness, not in streets and buildings. 

        The Jihadist tactic is fairly simple, but also maliciously brilliant. They understand a few things about our nature. They understand that we have an aversion to needless civilian slaughter. They understand that we have a press that is largely sympathetic, or can be made sympathetic, to the plight of the Afghan/Iraqi people. Thus, they have developed tactics that seek to intentionally place their installations and forces at the hearts of dense populations where the chance of innocents being caught in a firefight or bombing is significantly higher. This tactic is used to remarkable effect in places like Palestine, for example, where ordinance is stored in the same apartment buildings that civilians sleep in. 

        This has two possibly effects. It will either deter the use of force against them, because they’ve calculated that their opponents will avoid dead children on the TV at any cost, or their enemy will choose to use force and thus produce the corpses necessary to inflame passions and gain sympathies. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll go out and personally make those corpses through suicide bombings, which will get invariably blamed on U.S intervention by the various and sundry useful idiots covering the war. This is a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of warfare, and thus can’t be suitably compared to a war that took place over 200 years ago.

        There’s a lot wrong with this Op-Ed. A lot of silly notions, frankly. The idea that pilots are made apathetic about their job because they are operating remotely is particularly silly. Drone pilots are, in the end, pilots. They fly aircraft, and a Drone is a several million dollar aircraft that has to be flown skillfully and with precision  I think the notion that these pilots are somehow rendered unaware or uncaring of their actions is the same vicious slander that anti-war activists leveled at B-52 pilots during Vietnam. 

        Language such as “murder” should not be applied to legitimate military activities. The children of our country SHOULD be more important to our government. Collateral damage has ALWAYS been a fact of warfare and it will always be a fact of warfare, and there’s a world of difference between a civilian being caught in a blast that was targeted at a Jihadist Mass murderer and a civilian plane being flown into a Civilian building with the specified goal of killing civilians. Such an attempt at moral equivalence is not only idiotic, its down right depraved.

        • Michelangelo Landgrave

          To put it plainly, yes. I was hoping to draw the comparison. In your original post you seemed to have a negative view of asymmetric battle tactics, as you put it, and I think it was uncalled for. Asymmetric battle tactics are fantastic. As a close friend of mine put it, America’s history of guerrilla is unjustly overlooked and should be revived. It’s beauty lies in being a successful method of countering an otherwise overwhelming occupying military. -And I’m not referring exclusively to the USA in the former sentence when I say American. Many, if not most, countries in the American continent owe their liberty to guerrilla warfare.

          I have to disagree with any attempt to pretend that the current militants are the first to use tactics of hiding themselves or their equipment within the civilian populace. It was used to my knowledge in the Mexican Revolution and the Reform Wars in Mexico to respectively get rid of the French occupation and the old Mexican order. I doubt that Mexicans were the first to use them, but this means that the tactics were already in use by the 1800s.
          And probably much earlier than that. The Boston Massacre is a perfect example of the patriots using civilian deaths to gain sympathy for their cause. I’m sad that textbooks today simplify the conflict as a fight between the Americans the British. There were many more sides than that. At the broadest you had loyalist American, patriot Americans, Whig British (who were in favor of ending the war with the colonies), the Tories, and the neutrals on both sides. This isn’t including the French and many other European powers who had varying degrees of interference in the Revolution. During the Boston Massacre the Patriots played up the propaganda not only in the colonies, but towards the sympathetic Whigs in the British Isles.Did you know that during the revolution there was actually American privateers who attacked the British isles and its commerce? I’m sorry, but my sympathies are with those who are opposing the empire. It pains me to say it, but in this case the federal government is that empire. It isn’t ‘Jihadist’ who the war is being waged against. The federal government is waging an imperial war. We should definitely go after those responsible for 9/11, but it wasn’t these so-called ‘Jihadist’.

          The very term Jihadist is misleading. It implies that the ‘enemy’ is a single force. It is not. It can neither be described as Islamist, Arab, or even Middle Eastern. We are no longer dealing with nations or even ideologies. It is a grave conceit to pretend that somehow the Arab countries are in league with Iranic/Persian, the Turkish, Berber, Indonesians, or other Islamic people. Nor is it religious in nature. You have secular and Muslims Arab factions in play. Within the Muslims Arab factions you have opposing republican and monarchists factions in turn. Even the Arab Muslim monarchists you have competing dynasties with opposing interests. The ‘enemy’ is not a cohesive alliance and the War on Terror is doomed to failure as long as we pretend to ourselves that they do. In most cases they aren’t the enemy of the American people at all. They are civilians and otherwise neutral factions who have no qualm against us. Los Angeles has the largest Persian population overseas and I interact with them frequently. We also have sizable Arab and Muslim people respectively. None of them are inherently anti-American. They are understandable angry that their relatives are being killed back in their homelands. Who wouldn’t be?

          As for the usage of murder in this article, I think the author is correct is using it.

          Now I don’t know what your religion is, or if you’re atheist  but I am a Catholic and we have strict rules on what constitutes a legitimate war. The War of Terror does not meet these requirements and as such the actions by the US military is properly described murder.

          • Arman Gosparini

            Apologies for the length of my response:

            Asymmetrical warfare is, at best, only a temporary measure. We didn’t win the Revolution solely through the use of such tactics. Eventually, with French support, we defeated the British via rather conventional means. The problem with asymmetrical warfare is that it relies on outlasting your opponent. That only works if the opponent is demoralized. If your opponent commits to your destruction, then your army will wither from the lack of steady supplies and recruitment, which the conventional opponent will have in abundance. Its an excellent stalling tactic, and against weak willed opponents its rather effective, but it isn’t neccesarly a superior mode of conducting warfare. 

            Perhaps such “hugging” tactics were in use prior to the War on Terror, but its never been used to advance a propaganda campaign at such a large scale. But, you are correct. I had forgotten about the Imperial Japanese in WW2, who would order civilians to build munitions and equipment in their own homes, thus, in part, necessitating the massive bombing campaigns over Japan. 

            On the subject of the Boston Massacre, its also important to note that those soldiers DID intentionally fire on unarmed civilians. That much is not really in dispute. They were, however, later acquitted by American courts, as it was understood that those men did have reason to fear for their lives. 

            Privateers were commonly used in that era. Nearly every major power employed them. All a privateer is is a private ship with the state granted authority to open fire on ships of an enemy nation.

            Jihad, Islamism, etc, is the philosophy that our enemies adhere to similar to how Germans adhered to Nazism and Soviets to Communism. I suppose a more accurate term would be Al Queda and the Taliban regime that harbored them, and those are precisely the targets of these drone strikes.

            Your sympathies should not be spent on them. Liberals and Libertarians should realize that the Taliban is one of the most illiberal regimes of modern history, with constant abuses towards women, homosexuals, Jews and Christians. I’m going to try and avoid talking about whether the decision to invade was right or wrong in order to keep the conversation focused, but I will say that I don’t think your sympathies really are with people who throw battery acid in girl’s faces for attending school, or hang homosexuals from construction cranes.
            As far as the term Empire. Empire is not a valid descriptor for the United States. Here’s why. Traditionally empires take over and rule land for the purpose of gathering more resources, but that behavior doesn’t describe the U.S action’s in the Middle East. A common criticism of the War from many Conservatives and libertarians alike, is that it became mired in a Nation Building mission while there was still an active insurgency. That right there should invalidate the notion of an Imperial war. There are no American Governors in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their laws are created by their own autonomous governments, and while the U.S certainly has influence in these governments, such influence is not uncommon or unusual and isn’t enforced via force. 

            So how can the U.S  be an empire if it doesn’t control Iraq and Afghanistan, and it sends, instead of taking resources, to Iraq and Afghanistan? 

            And if we are an empire, is this even a bad thing? Power has always abhorred a vacuum, so who would you prefer fill it? Russia? China? The E.U? 

            Jihad must be opposed in the same manner that Nazism and Communism were opposed, and not all of it is militarily. Direct condemnation and mockery of these ideas on a constant basis would do much to erode the philosophical mortar that allows for the building of so many terror cells. Its impossible for me to address every single one of these cells and their motivations, but Jihad: a belief in Islamic supremacy, is a constant thread with these organizations.

            It would be important to note that Persians do not occupy Afghanistan or Iraq, and that the Taliban, Al Queda, and Hussein’s regime have killed many more innocent Muslims, doing so intentionally, and that the U.S stands in opposition to such organizations, and has effectively put an end to such butchery at least in Iraq. 

            I don’t see the point in arguing the semantics of murder on a religious basis as I am not Catholic, however based on the reading you linked to I can make a very strong case why Catholicism would certainly call the War on Terror just. Killing the enemy in warfare is not murder. Drone strikes do not target non-combatants. Non-combatants simply have the poor luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such things are the grim cost of waging war, and if we can’t stomach that cost, then it might be best to simple abandon any notion that we can ever achieve victory against ANY militant opposition for the rest of this nation’s future.

          • Michelangelo Landgrave

            The lengthy response is fine, but I rather wished that the comments section was more user friendly to allow discussions with longer posts. I don’t suppose you frequent any political forums where this can be carried out? I’d rather move things to a forum where we can more easily quote and address individual sections. 

          • Arman Gosparini

            None that I know of, unfortunately. 

          • Michelangelo Landgrave

            I’ll try to set something up then so we can continue things there. I’ll send you the link soon. 

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