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Debating a Drone


Daddy Warbucks: May I have the first word?

Brother Pax: If I may have the last one.

DW: I'm sure you will, and you had the first one too. Before the drones came on the scene, you called them forth. You said "War costs too much money." You said "War kills too many soldiers." Well, here you go. War costs less money. And war kills nobody. And yet you aren't satisfied.

BP: Now, this will be a very short debate if my position is to protest the murdering of people with drones, and your position is that drones kill nobody. There must be more overlap in our worldviews than that if we are even to talk.

DW: You know perfectly well what I meant.

BP: It might be clearer if you tell me.

DW: Drones don't kill pilots or soldiers. They only kill the people who need to be killed.

BP: Let me grant you part of that. We've had pilots and soldiers killed by suicide, by accident, by friendly fire, and by suicide bombings at drone bases. But let's suppose they've been fewer than they might have been in some other form of war.

DW: There's no question.

BP: There is always a question. Sometimes it's a different question than the one being so insistently answered.

DW: Meaning?

BP: If the question is whether to have this kind of war or that kind of war, then we must choose the better kind of war (if we can make out what it is). But if the question is whether to have peace or to have war, then a different answer is available.

DW: Well, of course. We all want peace. But that comes after.

BP: Does it? Let's go back to the "people who need to be killed."

DW: Exactly.

BP: Who are they?

DW: Criminals, terrorists, threats to — in fact — kill a lot more people. Stopping them is the whole point.

BP: May I ask you a few questions that might seem unrelated?

DW: Go ahead.

BP: If the government doubled your taxes, would you trust it to do the right things with that money?

DW: No.

BP: Do you trust government officials' campaign promises?

DW: No.

BP: Are you confident that the inspectors who allowed the flooding of the Gulf of Mexico with oil are doing a good job now?

DW: No.

BP: Do you believe politicians tell you a straight story about their new healthcare reforms?

DW: Not exactly.

BP: When people in various cultures established public procedures, such as courts of law, to try to arrive at the truth in criminal cases, rather than just allowing a king or a magician to declare guilt or innocence, why do you think they did that?

DW: To be sure of being right.

BP: Now, why is it that you trust the government to kill thousands of people with missiles from drones, even though the government won't tell you who they are or why they are killed, nobody is indicted, nobody is prosecuted, nobody's extradition is sought, many cases have been established in which the person could quite easily have been arrested, the government's memos redefine "imminent threat" to mean nothing of the sort, the government's memos redefine "combatant" to mean dead male human being between 16 and 65, people are targeted without knowing their name, many of the victims are known to have been innocent, many have been children, many women, many elderly, many those attempting to rescue survivors of a previous strike, and the people in the places where the missiles land say peace negotiations are ruined, criminals are turned into heroes, hatred is created for the United States, and terrorist organizations are strengthened dramatically, in fact the counterproductive nature of these operations on their own terms is so stark that many speculate that creating enemies is the secret purpose or at least that Washington doesn't mind if new enemies are created considering how profitable war is for certain people, and . . .

DW: Now just a minute . . .

BP: Why? Why do you trust that this secretive government is only killing "people who need to be killed"?

DW: Because there are evil people in the world.

BP: Of course there are, but how can you be sure the government has found them? Has it looked everywhere well and hard? Has it created public procedures of verification? Has it looked into any mirrors?

DW: You can't publicly announce who you're going to kill and still be able to kill him.

BP: Have you heard the name Osama Bin Laden?

DW: Yes.

BP: Didn't they publicly announce they were going to kill him?

DW: Yes, but you can't always.

BP: Can you publicly announce that you're going to try someone in a court of law?

DW: Sure, but not during a war.

BP: Can I ask you another odd question?

DW: Certainly.

BP: Thus far about 80 nations have weaponized drones. Which of those nations are justified in flying them over the United States and murdering people?

DW: No one's doing that.

BP: Let's just think this through, for the sake of argument. Not so many years back, nobody was using these weapons at all. If, next year, a nation flies a drone over the United States and murders someone, will that be justified? And will people in that other country be right to trust that their government did the right thing?

DW: Of course not.

BP: Why not?

DW: It just isn't the same.

BP: I agree.

DW: You do?

BP: Nothing is ever the same. But what are the differences? It's not terribly hard to imagine someone attacking the United States, while an attack on Canada sounds rather comical. But, then, Canada doesn't have troops in 177 other countries and weapons in outerspace and every ocean, doesn't spend as much on its military as every other country combined, doesn't account for 80% of foreign weapons sales to dictatorships and democracies alike, doesn't prop up vicious monarchies to exploit their resources, doesn't view its manhood as entirely dependent on its readiness to bomb anybody who looks at it funny.

DW: And your point?

BP: What if peace doesn't come after war? Is Afghanistan more peaceful now, or before the current war, or before the drawing in of the Soviet Union and the initiation of all of these recent wars? Is Iraq more peaceful now, or before the last war, or before the pair of wars and the sanctions? Is Libya more peaceful now, or before the war? Isn't peace a very hard thing to find during or after a war?

DW: Maybe, sometimes.

BP: But isn't peace right there, right within reach, before you start a war?

DW: We don't start wars.

BP: Is Yemen more peaceful? Is Pakistan more peaceful? Did we replace a ground war with a drone war? Or did we replace peace with a drone war?

DW: It's still a better option!

BP: Better than peace?

DW: No, not better than peace.

BP: Let me ask you one more odd-sounding question. Would you rather have cancer or the flu?

DW: Is this a joke?

BP: Just pick, in all seriousness, and I'll explain.

DW: The flu.

BP: Now, if there were only a few cases of cancer, and doctors were getting close to curing it, but the flu was extremely contagious, it spread rapidly around the globe, it could spring up anywhere with no known cure, and — strange to say — sometimes the flu began turning into a new kind of cancer — Now, in this situation, which is worse, the few cases of cancer or the epidemic of flu?

DW: The epidemic, of course.

BP: You can have the last word.

DW: Let me think about it.

War No More: The Case for Abolition. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook. 

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