THE ancient Greeks, unlike the Jews or the Christians, invested their gods with human failings. Divine judgment, they believed, was neither flawless nor dispassionate; it was warped by lust, vengeance and self-interest. In the hands of Zeus, the thunderbolt was both an instrument of justice and a weapon of jealousy and revenge.
Those now dispensing judgment from on high are not gods, though they must feel like it. The people striking mortals down with drones are doubtless as capable as anyone else of self-deception, denial and cognitive illusions. More so, perhaps, as the eminent fictions of the Bush years and the growing delusions of the current president suggest.
Barack Obama began last week’s State of the Union address by claiming that the troops who had fought the Iraq war had “made the United States safer and more respected around the world”. Like Bush, like the gods, he has begun to create the world he wants to inhabit.
These power-damaged people have been granted the chance to fulfil one of humankind’s abiding fantasies: to vaporise their enemies, as if with a curse or a prayer, effortlessly and from a safe distance. That these powers are already being abused is suggested by the mendacity of those who are deploying them. The CIA, which is running the undeclared and unacknowledged drone war in Pakistan, insists that there have been no recent civilian casualties. So does Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. It is a blatant whitewash.
As a report last year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed, of some 2,300 people killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 until August 2011, between 392 and 781 appear to have been civilians; 175 were children. In the period about which the CIA and Brennan made their claims, at least 45 civilians have been killed. As soon as an agency claims “we never make mistakes”, you know that it has lost its moorings, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested in his story of that title. Feeling no obligation to apologise or explain, count bodies or answer for its crimes, it becomes a danger to humanity.
It may be true, as the US air force says, that because a drone can circle and study a target for hours before it strikes, its missiles are less likely to kill civilians than those launched from a piloted plane. With these unmanned craft, governments can fight a coward’s war harming only the unnamed.
The danger is likely to escalate as drone warfare becomes more automated.
— The Guardian, London