I think its hard for the average American citizen to understand the incredibly warping presence of America’s global reach on the lives of those who are not part of our sprawling empire and its alliances. We talk about drones and we ask ourselves about the President’s rights to perform extrajudicial killings. We worry about drones being used in American airspace to spy on citizens, we worry, if we’re not monsters, about the innocents killed by rockets meant for terrorist leaders, but we pay far too little attention to the psychological burden we are placing on the citizens of other nations.
1. America can deal death from the sky suddenly and without warning.
2. America can bypass the military defenses of a player as militarily well equipped as Pakistan.
We have crossed from being a country who can devastate whole cities from afar, from a country who’s military can rapidly deploy to any point on earth, to a country who can, by surprise, deal death to individuals with the press of a button from the far side of the world. Drone warfare, by its very nature, has created a deep psychological terror in the lives of innocents around the world who know all to well that America answers to no one. If America’s drones destroy your family’s home because it mistook it for the home of the terrorist next door, there is no means for redress, no way to relieve the grief because there is no plausible effective response.
It is one thing to fear another country’s ability to send in an army, there’s precedent for dealing with armies, effective tactics (for better or worse) for civilian populations to strike back against their invaders. Even in the fearful days of the Cold War there was the knowledge that even if the worst came to the worst, one’s enemies would also pay the ultimate price. Now there is no mutually assured destruction, just a sky full of faceless potential killers. America has shown a terrifying willingness to send its drones into other nation’s sovereign territory to achieve its murderous goals. I’ll admit, sometimes I approve of those goals, sometimes the villains need to be removed for the world to move forward, but not like this. This isn’t assassination, its not clean. Rockets are not sniper’s bullets, they tend to do a lot of collateral damage. Innocent people die so we can kill a villain without risking an American life, that is not an acceptable outcome, that is not justice, it does not create safety.
Drones have made killing too easy, too distant. Yes, its wonderful as an American to know that we’re risking expensive aircraft instead of American lives, I’ll spend dollars over lives any day, but on the other hand, that lack of risk has created a horrifying culture of collateral damage just being the accepted cost of drone warfare. It is one thing to make the world hate you, it is another to make the world fear you. In my experiences travelling the world I have found that most people just want to be left alone to get on with their lives. They want their government not to create undue burdens on them and to be left alone to get on with living. Even if they hate their government, or the government of the nation next door, most people will never raise a finger to do anything but talk some smack and rant about how things never get better for the little guy. Despite their discontent, most people are happy to just complain and keep farming, or making widgets, or creating complex banking derivatives to screw their fellow citizens with. That changes when you introduce fear. Fear is a game changer.
There is a big difference between hating a distant nation who you fear might one day bomb your capital and military installations due to disagreements on policies you don’t care about between your nations’ leaders and knowing that enemy nation has flying death machines that can bypass all of your country’s military defenses to drop a rocket on your house because a General 7,000 miles away took your joking comments about hating selfish consumerism a little too seriously.
America can deal death from the sky. Think about that. Think about sitting in a remote village in Afghanistan and hearing the whine of drone aircraft overhead, who will die today? The militant leader? His wife? The neighbor’s children who don’t give a damn about politics or even know where America is? They know we can do it. They know their will be no negative consequences too America, we’ll just label everyone in the area a militant posthumously as needed. Because we can, because its easy, because we don’t need to spend American lives, we use our drones. The price now appears to just be dollars: If our drone is shot down it just means another hit to taxpayers and a pressing need to step up R&D of the next drone generation, but there’s a lot more to the picture. People will live in hatred, but they will not live in fear, the tension created by a state of constant fear is too much, the dam will burst. We are creating lifelong enemies with every rocket we fire.
Fear is a great motivator, it will motivate the world to push back against America in the ways they still can affect. When people cannot reach the military of the nation forcing them into a constant sense of fear of death from above they will reach its surrogates instead. They will attack American’s overseas, they will attack supply lines, they will destroy America’s interests abroad because we will leave them with no other means of lashing back against the reality we have inflicted on them. The reality where America is a heavy-handed god. The reality where America’s reach is everywhere. The reality where America has proven that it will kill innocents to get an actual target. A reality of constant collateral damage being an accepted and normative aspect of modern drone warfare that America’s citizens don’t even deign to notice.
Every missile we fire is a poison, it leeches into the land, into the local population, and turns them against America and its interests forever. The problem at home is that America is still a nation full of conservative minds that think fear is a good disciplinary tool, that people can just be terrified into submission forever. Fear can be used to keep people from rebelling; fear of death, fear of torture, fear of ones loved ones being harmed are all powerful motivators but even fear has its breaking point. America’s drones would be amazing as a deterrent threat “We can reach you anywhere”, the problem is we’re using them as a proactive threat. We have unleashed our flying dogs of war and they are raining death and fear across the world. The fear of death from the sky is real to far too many people already. The fear of what America can and is doing to them will eventually outweigh their fear of what America COULD do to them. Once we’re doing the worst already there is nothing left to fear, and thus no reason not to act against us. The world is learning that not only can we reach whomever we please, but that we will, and consequences be damned.
When our technology suddenly allows death to be dealt by surprise to anyone we consider an enemy it demands a change in our thinking. Drones are an amazing tool for commanding fear around the world, but, like the nuclear bomb, actually using it can only lead to extreme fear and revulsion. Strategically, drone use should be rare, the last resort for America to get its revenge on an enemy who has directly harmed its interests and who cannot be reached through any other legal means. Instead, we are using drones for every enemy because its easy. We are spending the world’s capacity for fear at too rapid a rate, people will tolerate a little fear, but if you make death from the sky a normal thing then the regular little guy will begin to fear it instead of the enemy who should.
Use drones only to spy or to reach high profile targets. Raining death from the sky around the world to get small time players just breeds fear and resentment. Its America’s usual short term thinking though, demand immediate results now and the bill later.