Friday, March 15, 2013

On the Waging of War

Predator drone (U.S. Air Force photo)
I have a problem with drone warfare.  Recently Bill Moyers gave an editorial comment (“When We Kill without Caring”) on Moyers & Company speaking out against the use of drones. The issue sparked a conversation among some of my colleagues and me about the whole question of drone warfare. Some were in favor of using drones. They saw it as more efficient war technology which was better than sending our sons and daughters into battle with troops on the ground. Some saw it as no different from the use of bombers in warfare, except there was no danger of the pilot losing his life.  There was some attraction to the clean, efficient use of technology in prosecuting a war at a distance so that our own troops did not come into harm’s way. 

I, on the other hand have a problem with all of the above. My issue with drone warfare is a matter of asking the ethical question. Just because a “new technology” is in place, does not mean that every use of that technology is ethical, however clean and efficient that technology may appear to be. It is up to those within society who see these ethical issues to raise them rather than to acquiesce just because science and technology have made something “better” (ever read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World?).
The issue is not just technology. The issue is the expanded use of drones to the point that there is the dangerous precedent that would lead to no temporal or geographic limits to warfare. I have a big problem with using drones to fire upon suspects in a region where we have not even declared war, and in which innocent civilians are killed, while the operator of said drone sits in a comfortable air-conditioned office somewhere. Furthermore, it is questionable how effective military force is against terrorism. Some of us hold to the ethic of “swords into plowshares” rather than militaristic solutions to every conceivable fear. We can easily get used to technology, but this is a matter of ethics. Science and technology must always be subject to ethics. As long as there is human activity, it is appropriate to raise ethical questions.

In the matter of war, my position is that war is never an ethical choice. It is easy to forgo serious examination of any specific war by saying, “We had no other choice.”  

Modern Warfare and Increasing Brutality

Throughout the modern era,  war has become more scientifically advanced and I would argue, more immoral. During World War II, both Germany and the United States upped the ante of formalized declared war by taking the fighting beyond the battlefield and into the civilian population. Germany did it in London with the aerial bombing of the city, including residential and business areas. The United States did the same thing with the flattening of the city of Dresden in aerial attacks. This was an immoral extension of war because it brought the horror of battle to private citizens.  The U.S. did the ultimate upping of the ante by dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It can be argued, and has, that these strategies were necessary, but the immorality of war cannot be so easily be dismissed. 

Today, the use of drones in warfare brings a new layer to the questions about conduct in war. The argument that using a drone in Pakistan is a better option than sending our own sons and daughters into the conflict is inadequate. We are not just talking about our sons and daughters. There are other sons and daughters (as well as wives and husbands) on the receiving end of those drone attacks.

Since the Enlightenment Period, and especially during the 20th century, we have had this notion that humans are becoming more civilized and enlightened, yet this has coincided with ever increasing use of death-making technology and human torture.  The sad truth is that long as we humans continue to justify war, and think it is better for them to die than us, we won’t make it to any sort of “enlightenment.”

A Foundational Stand against War

We all know the saying of Jesus, “You have heard it said, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you love your enemies and bless them that curse you.” As a rabbi, Jesus could have said, “You have heard it said, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and that is a nobler way because you really shouldn’t go overboard in exacting revenge.” He would have been in line with the extent of the enlightenment of his day, and he would have been justified in saying that according to rabbinical teaching. But, of course, Jesus didn’t say that. He chose to offer another way.

The stand I take in opposing war (and refusing to say it is okay if necessary and if we use highly technical and sophisticated gadgets) is not because I want to sit in the Oval Office and make crucial decisions. It is because that in spite of the atrocities we continue to inflict upon one another, there must continue to be a voice that gives witness to a better way. The Quakers have bravely stood by such a witness. In the past, I have been part of peace & justice groups within mainline churches that offered such a witness.  

Whose Sons and Daughters Do We Send to Fight?

And back to the notion of “sending our sons and daughters to war,” that is another part of our country’s problem. We no longer send “our sons and daughters.” There is no longer any draft and no required national service.  We have a “volunteer” professional army that we send instead.  In other words, we harvest recruits – many of whom are from the lower socioeconomic strata of society  with promises of seeing the world and personal development. These are the young people whom society has offered no better option. They are the ones we send off to fight for freedom, when it is not even freedom that is in danger – it is the coffers of our oil barons and multinational conglomerates that are threatened. We just tell our young people who are pumped with patriotism and testosterone that they are fighting for freedom when they are actually fodder for the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. If all our sons and daughters, including those of the politicians, were part of a national service, maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to go to war. Maybe then we would actually sit down and weigh the ethics of wartime situations.  

We sit in ease discussing this, but there are shattered lives all around us coming back from our current wars. They will never be alright, and to me, that is simply not okay. Recently I was talking to a patient at the hospital where I work as a nurse. We ask every patient upon admission if they have had suicidal thoughts in the last two weeks. The man looked at me with exasperation and said, “What do you think? I’m a Viet Nam vet! You just ask any vet, they’ll tell you – of course I have those thoughts, but no, I am not going to act on them.” 

What is the Alternative?

Having lived through the protests over the Viet Nam War, I have often been nonplussed by our country’s acceptance of war over the past twenty years. I think that acceptance has been based upon three things:  fear, an unwillingness to entertain a change in our affluent lifestyles, and the lack of a draft.  War does not demand much from most people in our society these days. As a result, we seem to be at a loss for visualizing other approaches to outside threats such as terrorism.

In the case of drone warfare, doing nothing is a better alternative. We are fooling ourselves if we think we are reducing the threat of terrorism by drone warfare. So we may kill someone who was on somebody's terrorist list. We also kill other local people. We fan the flames that lead to more terrorist activity. Taking ourselves out of that situation would do more to cool the cause of terrorism. The strength of Empire only furthers the terrorists cause.  Furthermore, the use of drones makes killing easier and in the short run less painful for us - therefore in increases the likelihood of our starting the next war. 

Iraq War Vets protesting the war in 2007
(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In the case of Iraq, that was wrongheaded from the start. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or terrorism on our shores, neither was there an Al Qaeda connection.  But there was oil. And the only fight we knew how to wage was with military action – except you can't fight terrorist with a conventional army. But you can fight a country with a conventional army. Thus the case was made for fighting in Iraq. It had a ruthless ruler, it had Muslims whom we had demonized, and it had oil. We couldn't resist the temptation. We were mad and we had to break something if we couldn't find the terrorists. Our engagement there cost billions of dollars, untold loss of life, and furthered the cause of the terrorists. 

In the case of Afghanistan, we've been there too long already. We punched Al-Qaeda, we made our point.  We do ourselves a greater favor if we leave and stop breaking things.

Most important, I repeat: drones make killing easier and increase the likelihood that we will use war rather than diplomacy in the future. If we have any faith in the potential of humanity, there comes a point where we must say, enough. Those who oppose war seldom win the argument, but they leave a record that it is possible to call upon the better angels of our nature. That is where I prefer to stake my claim. 

We have Sat too Long in Comfort – and Fear

As long as we sit in comfort and support technological gadgets of war and continue to parrot the notions of “terrorism in Islamabad” that have been fed to us by the warmongers to stoke our fears, there will never be any other way except the path of war that we have chosen for too long.  That is why I will continue to say, as did Bill Moyers, it is not acceptable for our country to “kill without caring.” Collateral damage in the form of women, children and civilians in Pakistan in order to “keep terrorism at bay” is no more acceptable than seeing my own neighbor’s bodies littering the street.  (And furthermore, drone attacks will not keep terrorism at bay.)

These are some of the reasons I do not support drone warfare as it is being practiced by our country. Others may disagree if they are coming from a different point of view or a different value system, but these are some of the reasons why I take the stand I take.

                                                                                                                ~ Charles Kinnaird


  1. Of course there's a better way but war is the only "way" this country knows. Remember your history books? It was one war to the next.
    fill sary

    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Fill. I can't argue with you there, but I must keep asking the question.

  2. Charles, reading this post put chills on my arms. Incredible writing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...