Remote killing with drones is building a wireless new axis of evil
Detaching ourselves from the consequences of our actions is a growing trend
A Unmanned Aerial System at the US military base in Vilseck-Grafenwoehr in Germany. “The detachment of warfare feeds into how we are detaching ourselves more and more from the reality of living.” Photograph: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
The idea of clocking into work, sitting down at a desk and pressing buttons to kill people thousands of miles away is a terrifying, dystopian vision of a world so cruel we can’t even bear to look our enemies in the eye.
And it’s a real one. The United Nations is making a lot of noise about United States drones, which kill people in Pakistan and elsewhere. The prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has called on the US to end the programme, even though CIA documents obtained by the Washington Post indicate Pakistani officials apparently know a lot about the drone programme and co-operate to some extent.
We baulk at the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the prison camps of North Korea but the detached killing from the air, we’re told, has become a necessary and successful way of picking off terrorists.
In 2008, I stood in Times Square in New York watching a wall of screens announce Barack Obama’s election win. It was an amazing moment, especially since four years previously I had attended John Kerry’s “victory rally” in Boston, which obviously went horribly wrong. There was, and still is, a huge appetite to see Obama as a peacemaker. He won the Nobel Peace Prize after all. The enthusiasm for Obama as a progressive liberal blurs when it comes to the operations of his military and the CIA. But, then again, love is blind.
Ireland has, of course, been utterly complicit in facilitating the killing of people in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere during the US’s illegal wars. We high-five them as they enter Shannon on their way to the killing fields, or the less exciting outposts of modern warfare, the floating towns of their aircraft carriers and the operations centres on green-zone bases.
Last month, an aircraft landed at Shannon Airport “armed with a fixed weapon”. Successive Irish governments have permitted the landing of aircraft that were up to God knows what, but when you can see the weapons things get a little uncomfortable. Our Government decided this was very serious, and complained to the Americans, who said it was an administrative error and, you know, won’t happen again. We can hardly protest any further considering we’ve bent over backwards to dispose of our neutrality in favour of a pat on the head from our American buddies. For the Government, our diplomatic relationship with a superpower and the jobs their stopovers prop up are more important than anything else.
The future of war, one in which everyone suffers apart from the perpetrators, is, of course, biased in favour of those who have the technology and riches to impose clinical death from above. The doctrine that allows the US to kill al-Qaeda suspects anywhere in the world is a hangover of the borderless war on terror.