The War Drones On

"Complaints
about civilian casualties have also stirred concern among human rights
advocates."

The problem
is that a sentence like this - arguably a dead sentence, with a few
quasi-facts entombed in an inert moral sensibility - parades as serious
news. I mean, it's lifted straight from the New York Times: from a story
about drones, the CIA hit list and our cool new PlayStation way of
killing bad dudes (and everyone else in the vicinity). Someone with an
active conscience could come upon a sentence like that, in the middle of
a painfully ill-focused story on the endless war, and think she must be
going insane.

As an
archeological find, it's worth examining in closer detail, but first let
me put it in context. The use of pilotless aircraft in Pakistan and
Afghanistan to assassinate Taliban or al-Qaida leaders and other
Islamic, America-hating insurgents - with missiles, no less - seems to
have hit a snag of legal controversy lately because of the news that one
of the people on the list of targets, Anwar al-Awlaki, was born in New Mexico. He's an American citizen.

This is
where my moral consternation begins, and immediately radiates in several
directions:

A) In the
context of the nearly eight-year-old war on terror (with the Afghan war
the longest-running in U.S. history), with uncounted thousands or
hundreds of thousands of civilians slaughtered in the hostilities,
millions more displaced, and the toxic leftovers of battle sending
cancer and birth-defect rates soaring in Iraq and Afghanistan, how does
the potential assassination of an American citizen deserve singling out
as significant in a way that the killing of non-Americans simply isn't?
Just asking. This isn't to minimize the issue, but I can't seem to turn
off my outrage that the unstated implications of the controversy are
that American lives matter in ways that other lives do not.

B) Why is
al-Awlaki on the hit list? According to William Fisher of Inter
Press Service
, he's a former imam who "purportedly inspired Islamic
terrorists. His sermons are said to have been attended by three of the
9/11 hijackers." There is nothing the least bit illegal about any of
this; the fact that it merits a death sentence from a rogue intelligence
agency, the corralling of which is on no one's agenda, bespeaks a
post-9/11 value hemorrhage in our society that disturbs me to the core.
Our government is infected with what I can only call the Nazi virus.

C) Murder by
drone. The use of robot aircraft and target takeout by missile fire is
modestly controversial in and of itself, perhaps, though the controversy
seems to be counterweighted, at least in mainstream reportage, by the
military's enthusiasm for drones. When a potential target is an American
who isn't situated in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the controversy
inches upward. I'm sorry, but I still haven't gotten around on the
concept of robot war or the insanity of stalking enemy prey with
missiles, even if there was the least bit of precision in the process.

The fact
that we often rely on preposterously bad intelligence and wind up
killing large numbers of civilians with our missiles strikes me,
quaintly, as wrong. And by "wrong" I mean insane, stupid,
counterproductive, criminal - a means of murder guaranteed to inflame
hatred toward us, complicate our "mission" and prolong the war. But then
again, this is a war against evil, so we already know that it's
endless.

All of which
brings me back to the New York Times and the helpful, informative
sentence quoted above, which I unearthed in a recent Times Online "topics" piece on drones. Mostly the
story is from a military point of view and reports on what seems to be
the adolescent glee of intelligence and military brass over how
disruptive robot air strikes are to enemy operations.

Toward the
end of the story, statistics about collateral damage are cited from two
sources. The New America Foundation estimated that, since 2006, drones
have killed 500 militants and 250 civilians; the ratio was a little
better in the Long War Journal, which estimated 885 dead militants, 94
dead civilians. Not cited, for some reason, was a Brookings Institution study, which found that for
every militant killed by drones, 10 civilians are taken out. This
is a heart-stopping ratio of cruelty that should instantly decommission
all future robot assassination missions.

The fact
that it won't is due in no small part to the tepid, morally inert
reportage of the mainstream media, as typified by that sentence, which
entombs the humanity of all who read it: "Complaints about civilian
casualties have also stirred concern among human rights advocates."

When we bomb
children, we garner "complaints," same as we would if we trample on
someone's flower bed. These complaints then "stir concern" - you know,
like when the milk goes sour - not among people in general, but
specifically among professional do-gooders, "human rights advocates,"
who monitor and fuss over dead civilians anyway.

Nothing in
this language presses on the conscience or interrupts America's daily
business. There is no hint of the value of the lives we destroy, no
laying of those lives in our laps. There is only fog and numbness, and
the war drones on.