Selling Drones, Exporting War – Original

The business of America is weapons
. That much is true when you consider the following snippet today from
FP: Foreign Policy:

Drone sales. The United States is looking to make changes
to a major international arms control treaty that would open the door for wider
exports of military drones,
Defense News reports.
The proposed change to the Missile Technology Control Regime would make it easier
for nations to sell drones.

Proliferation of drones: What could go wrong?

America is the world’s leader in drone technology, and the companies
that have developed them see even bigger profits on the horizon if they can
sell them to America’s allies around the globe. The nature of drones is
that they make killing easier — usually bloodless — for those countries
that possess the technology. They promise results, but the American use of drones
in places like Iraq and Afghanistan has not led to any resolution of those conflicts.
Only the body count has increased.

As I wrote
in 2012

A famous
attributed to General Robert E. Lee during the U.S. Civil War
is, “It is well that war is so terrible – lest we should grow too fond
of it.” His words capture the idea that war is an elemental thing – and
also a seductive one. Much like a storm-tossed ocean, war is relentless, implacable,
and unsparing. It is chaotic, arbitrary, and deadly. It is not to be bargained
with; only to be endured.

Given its ferocity, its rapacity, the enormity of its waste and devastation,
war is best to be avoided, especially since war itself has its appeals, especially
since war itself can be intoxicating, as the quotation from Lee suggests, and
as the title of Anthony Loyd’s fine book on the war in Bosnia, My
War Gone By, I Miss It So
(1999), indicates.

What happens when we decouple war’s terrible nature from its intoxicating
force? What happens when one side can kill with impunity in complete safety?
Lee’s words suggest that a nation that decouples war from its terrors
will likely grow too fond of it. The temptation to use deadly force will no
longer be restrained by knowledge of the horrors unleashed by the same.

Such thoughts darken the reality of America’s
growing fondness
for drone warfare. Our land-based
drone pilots
patrol the skies of foreign lands like Afghanistan in complete
safety. They unleash appropriately named Hellfire missiles to smite our enemies.
The pilots see a video feed of the carnage they inflict; the American people
see and experience nothing. In rare cases when ordinary Americans see drone
footage on television, what they witness is something akin to a “Call
of Duty” video game combined with a snuff
. War porn, if you will.

Many Americans seem happy that we can smite foreign “militants”
at no risk to ourselves. They trust that our military (and the CIA) rarely misidentifies
a terrorist, and that “collateral damage,” that mind-numbing euphemism
that obscures the reality of innocent men, women, and children obliterated by
missiles, is the regrettable price of keeping America safe.

But the reality is that sloppy intelligence and the fog and friction of war
combine to make seemingly antiseptic drone warfare much like all other forms
of war: bloody, wasteful, and terrible. Terrible, that is, for those on the
receiving end of American firepower. Not terrible for us.

There is a real danger that today’s drone warfare has become the equivalent
to the Dark Side of the Force as described by Yoda in The Empire Strikes
: a quicker, easier, more seductive form of terror. It is indeed seductive
to deploy the technological equivalent of Darth Vader’s throat-constricting
powers at a safe distance. We may even applaud ourselves for our prowess while
doing so. We tell ourselves that we are killing only the bad people, and that
the few innocents caught in the crosshairs constitute an accidental but nonetheless
unavoidable price of keeping America safe.

In light of America’s growing
affection for drone warfare
combined with a disassociation
from its terrible results
, I submit to you a modified version of General
Lee’s sentiment:

It is not well that war grows less terrible for us – for we are growing
much too fond of it.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history
for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing
. He can be reached at [email protected].
Reprinted from Bracing Views with the
author’s permission.

Read more by William J. Astore