Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thou Shalt Not Kill -- Remotely?

Not long ago we saw the film Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Ryckman. It is a taut thriller and not what I expected -- in the best possible ways. It is about the use of drones as weapons of war, and presumably to pre-empt terrorism and large-scale violence. What we realize as the film unfolds is that decisions about using drone launched attacks have a myriad of subtleties and moral dilemmas. What percentage of certainty about targets is necessary in order to strike? What is acceptable collateral damage in order to save many more lives? Can doing evil actually result in a greater good, and who in the chain of command decides?

Meanwhile those who make the life and death decisions go about their mundane lives in distant countries. And so do the "flight crews" who direct the drones to their targets. In this film the pilots are young Americans who are in what looks like a shipping container on a base in the American Southwest. Mirren and Ryckman are the British military personnel who give the order from Great Britain and both are excellent in their roles. The terrorist leaders live amidst innocent people in Pakistan. The story unfolds with great tension and complexity.

A few days later there was a news item about a top Taliban commanders killed by a drone strike in Afghanistan. Previously I might have paid little attention, but all the issues of the film came to the fore when I read about this assassination. Who decided? Where were the decision-makers? Who else died in this strike?

Yesterday I read a review of a book called Drone and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It noted that drones are now the No.1 counterterrorist weapon for the United States. Thousands have been killed by drones in the past decade. What are the ethics of drone warfare, and does the commandment "you shall not kill" mean when death can be administered by remote control.

We do live in a complex world, don't we? Have you seen the film? What was your response? Have you given any thought to the ethics of drone warfare? How would I work that subject into the Prayers of the People?!


Frank said...

I did see this movie.
It's evident how readily the individuals who are mounting the attack can become detached from the immediate consequences of what they do (all in our name BTW).
It's also easy for the viewer to get caught up in and awed by all of the technology.
Bottom line: can we morally justify this kind of preemptive violence to secure our own safety?
All in all a very thought provoking and poignant film.

Judy said...

I saw the film as well .... very sobering ... what is wrong and what is right in warfare and anti-terror efforts? The prevention of 30 or so deaths in a more public place was the reason for the attack, the collateral damage made "justifiable" - and the young military personnel on the SW American airbase were "just following orders", although it obviously went against their personal morals to do so (Is that not what we refuse to accept as an excuse in the trial of Nazi war criminals?) A lot of gray areas here - none of them comfortable or comforting.

David Mundy said...

We agree that it was a thought-provoking film. Good! And thanks for your comments.