Drones are the mechanized versions of assassins in today’s world. They execute highly dangerous tasks with incredible accuracy, and they are able to do so without a trace of humanity.
It is often forgotten that behind those drones are people who will, in time, be overcome by the sense of guilt and responsibility for the deaths they caused; thus, the question of morality is not as far removed than previously advertised.
The argument for drones appeals to logic and a goal to be the most militarily advanced state in the world; however, the argument against drones is equally compelling, and possibly more complex, as it appeals to our humanity and forces us the take responsibility for the lives we end, no matter how far removed we are from the damage done.
The argument for drones has many valid aspects that generate a reason for pause on the idea that drones are purely vehicles of death and destruction. We do not just reserve drones to attack foreign threats. We have targeted and killed at least four known American citizens who threaten our security (4). The whole process must be approved through several levels of our government, including the president, National Security Council, and CIA (4). Drones are not as expensive as many other methods our military uses, which leaves more money to help education, health care, and foreign aid (3). Drone operators watch their targets for hours. They are able to track the presence of civilians around them, and have the ability to change the course of a missile, if the situation changes (5).
Drone operators have said that they are not just heartless killers; they take the time to be as careful as possible to protect civilian life (2).
According to the Long War Journal, 2,706 Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers have been killed by drones in Pakistan, while only 156 civilians were a part of the cost (2). Since the U.S. military refuses to comment on drone activities, the conversation is often dominated by those who oppose the use of drones. This leaves room for many valid reasons for the legality of drones that we may not be able to highlight, as they remain classified by the Justice Department (2).
The argument against drones appeals to humanity and makes any rational person contemplate the destruction that these machines have the possibility to breed. Among the deaths, several have been of children. A Stanford/NYU study showed that the strikes have added to trauma for the residents of Pakistan. The study suggested that relief workers no longer wanted to serve in targeted areas because of the threat of a drone strike and a lack of faith in the government to protect civilians (4). Drones have become a suitable substitute for bombing and capture as shown by the hundreds of terrorist suspects killed under Obama, and one captured (5). The reasons that drones are considered illegal is classified, and for many people that was not an acceptable response. Lawsuits filed to expose these reasons have been unsuccessful (4). Operators have recounted the horrors of killing a person that you have monitored for days. They find they know their victims significantly more than the old bomber pilots used to, so they are more aware of what is at stake (2). They speak on the idea that their targets are presented to them as some sort of a video game in which the object is to kill, but they feel this assumption of an alternate reality is false. They all understand that their targets are real humans and there are real life consequences that their actions will have (2). Many pro-drone activists discredit the notion that the operators will develop severe PTSD from their efforts; however, these claims hold no water, as the operators are still human and are highly aware of the human lives they take (3). The operators watch hours of carnage take place in front of them, while manned aircraft pilots only spend moments in the area of destruction. The drone operators also spend their time in isolation on shifts that take hours; this keeps them from leading a normal, healthy life (5).
The idea that terror groups can push us to the point where we feel justified in becoming the judge, jury, and executioner is a notion that inspires fear in the hearts of people.
While terrorism does generate intense fear in the American psyche, it is imperative that we evaluate the risk versus reward in all of our actions.
Creating fear among the civilians in the countries in which we do our work does not aid our efforts to later pave the way for peace and democracy. All this fear does is create an atmosphere full of animosity towards Americans, and build a barrier between us and a potentially positive relationship in the future with another state.
- Global Issues: Politics, Economics, and Culture by Richard J. Payne