Drone Talk: Matt Taibbi on Looking People in the Eye before Killing them

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Ben Cohen
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Update: Just found this extraordinary chart on the Pentagon's rapidly increasing spending on drones (via Andrew Sullivan):

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One of the major problem I have with drones is that it further removes people from the very personal nature of violence. Here's Matt Taibbi on whether politicians and commentators who support their use could actually go face to face with the people they are advocating killing:

It’s too easy to kill people when they’re just dots on a screen. It’s unpleasantly easier when you’re not even looking at the screen, but just giving an order to someone who is – like the officers in Iraq who told Apache pilots to light up a whole street full of civilians just because one of the pilots thought he saw a gun (it turned out to be camera equipment). And it’s even easier than that when you’re just a politician here at home, taking part by casting a vote in favor of this lunacy, or dreaming up justifications for it.

Would Lindsey Graham be able to look the mother of some dead Pakistani child in the eye and still call for a resolution praising the president for braving the criticism of “libertarians and the left” to kill people by remote control? I doubt it. But that’s what the standard should be. You’d better be able to cast that vote with that grieving mother hanging on your shirt, or else don’t do it. The farther away you are from the blood and the agony of the actual death, the easier it is to endorse the policy.

There's no doubt that drones are just the latest advancement in technology that allows America to fight battles without injury to its citizens - after all, that is the history of weaponry itself. But there is something incredibly sinister about this new development that literally removes the need for soldiers to do anything when it comes to war. No getting in a plane, no tanks, no ground operations, no firing guns, just killing via remote control. At some point, the technology will be so advanced that all wars could be fought through the use of drones alone. The cost will go down, their efficiency will increase, and it will make the most sense to avoid civilian casualties by having unmanned robots taking out whoever the US decides needs killing. For Americans, this is great, but let's imagine the situation was reversed and Iran had drones buzzing around New York City taking out people it thought were a threat to them. Not quite the same thing.

One of the reasons the Bush Administration was able to convince the public that invading Iraq was a brilliant thing to do was that most people wouldn't have to sign up and do any actual fighting. Bush had to get the media behind him, and given 99% of it is composed of rich white people whose children wouldn't be on the front lines, it really wasn't that hard to do. Imagine a time where no one would have to sacrifice anything to go to war. Building public consensus around it would be even easier, leading to more wars with less at stake for those initiating it. And as for getting out of countries America is already in - why bother leaving if it's only bits of metal flying around?

I don't think Obama's use of drones makes him the Devil/Hitler/Stalin incarnate, but there is rightly a lot of concern about the policies he is pursuing that ultimately cheapens life that isn't American.