Thursday, February 21, 2013

Droning On

File:MQ-9 Reaper in flight (2007).jpg

Clergy are particularly sensitive to the phrase "droning on." It is what we hope not to do when we are speaking and it is the stereotype of preachers: " I don't need a sermon on the subject" or "don't preach to me."

Just the same I am going to climb into my pulpit on a developing human rights and justice issue. It is the use of drones to kill people. Someone sits in a room and makes like an adolescent video game addict. Except that he or she is controlling a lethal weapon in the form of a  vehicle or plane carrying a payload of missiles which will be launched at human targets deemed the enemy. Some of the drones are essentially the size of conventional aircraft or military vehicles, but the US military is apparently developing some that are insect-sized. The larger flying drones have ranges of up to 6,000 kilometres and can cruise at altitudes of 10 kilometres.

The ethics of this form of warfare is being called into question. Ironically the technology and use has advanced rapidly during the term of President Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Drones have been employed to take out the leaders of terrorist groups, which may sound okay to some, but this has happened with incursions into countries with whom the States are not at war, and without guarantee that the targets are accurate. Essentially a remote controlled devise becomes judge and jury, often without a declaration of war or any accountability for the decision to strike.

As I pondered writing about this, former archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa wrote a pointed letter to the New York Times:

Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it. I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.

It bugs me when Desmond upstages me like that! I am glad he and others are raising the ethical questions about the use of drones. War stinks already. This takes it a step further into dark territory. When President Obama accepted his peace prize he spoke of "just war," an ethical principle debated through the centuries by theologians and philosophers, but there is a great danger of injustice attached to these unmanned weapons.

Have you paid much attention to this development? Do you understand why a spiritual leader such as Desmond Tutu would sound the alarm?Are we too quick to suggest the benefits outway the problems?


IanD said...

There was a Star Trek episode that dealth with this kind of idea.

Two warring cultures would wage an electronic version of Battleship where virtually all citizens were considered part of the military. If you were living in one of the areas that was "hit," you were sent to an extermination station. The logic was essentially that casualities and "collatoral damage" could be minimized by using technology to control the war.

It was a twist on the very thing you're writing about - how prescient for 1968!

In real life terms, doesn't this kind of thing seem a sign of the times?

sjd said...

This word is applied to the worst possible set of cirmstances between countries. History tells that there have always been those who want to make rules for war. The problem is that the advantage is to the warriour that works outside the rules.
WWII was all out kill or die. The Hitler using drones B1, and B2 flying bombs to simply kill whoever was unlucky enough to be near where it lands.
Truman dropping Atomic weapons on Japan. It ended WWII, but at what cost. What would the cost have been to not do it??

The answer is it's all wrong, and I'm not surprised that this drone technology is being employed instead of the personal touch combat soldiers have been subjected to in the past.