Drone warfare is truly the warfare of the videogame age. The ‘pilot’ sits behind a panel, miles away from a flying machine that contains no human being. Through cameras and various forms of sensing equipment they direct the drone to the location where it will carry out reconnaissance and/or a missile strike. And then, in the case of a missile strike, presto, the target vanishes!
There are many problems with this entire scenario. Drone warfare, particularly the manner in which it is played up in the media, leads one to believe that war is now easy and relatively painless, at least for those operating the drones. Yet, the accolades for drones ignore a few things, such as, what if the wrong target is hit? What if there is a mistake?
None of this is abstract. Drone warfare, whether carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or any number of other places, has brought with it an extensive amount of what is politely called “collateral damage.” The estimates of the number of civilians killed in drone strikes range significantly from 200 – 600 for the first years of the Obama administration. Yet each time that we hear about these drone strikes, we are informed, through the mainstream media, that another “militant” has been eliminated. The reality is that we, the public, really do not know who has been killed.
There is one thing that we do know and it has been documented. The drone strikes in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war have turned populations against the U.S.A. The hatred of the U.S.A. in Pakistan is now almost legendary. While we hear about the ‘pilots’ directing the drones from the security of buildings miles away, civilians in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan are often fearful of where they walk, not knowing whether a drone thousands of feet in the air, will mis-identify them as a terrorist, and as a consequence, eliminate them.
The Obama administration seems almost impervious to criticisms of its drone campaigns. For too many people of the U.S.A., drone warfare is an acceptable approach to the ugliness and confusion of the alleged war against terror. As a result, there is so little pressure on the administration. As has been demonstrated repeatedly since the end of the Vietnam War, when the body bags are not returning to the U.S.A., it is easy for most people here to believe that there is no crisis; there is no war. From the standpoint of those in the countries where the drones are deployed, there is a very different story.
As we learned in the aftermath of both the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, hi-tech warfare is far less accurate and ‘clean’ than it appears when watching selected clips on television. In viewing missile strikes on television we do not see the families blown apart or the survivors crying hysterically. All we actually hear is a number, that is, the number of alleged terrorists supposedly taken out.
We are then asked to go to sleep.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.