Drones: Our Invisible Shame


Do you ever look back at a historic period and say, “How could those people not have done something?”

For example, we all know how evil slavery was. It’s easy to wonder, “How come more people from the North and South didn’t speak out against slavery?”

Or take Nazi Germany. Maybe you’ve wondered, “How did the citizens of Germany let such an evil regime to rise to power?”

There was also the civil rights movement, which happened within the lifetimes of many Americans. As someone who believes in civil rights, I myself have wondered, “How could any American not march at least once for the basic rights of their fellow citizens?”

It’s easy to look back and say, “I would have done something. I would have stood up and made a difference.”

But the truth is that most people don’t make a difference. Most people prefer the status quo or lack the will or energy to make a difference. They read about history in the newspaper instead of participating in it.

I don’t think we’re all that different today. Just as we now look back and wonder why more people didn’t work actively to promote some greater justice or fight evil, I think future Americans will look back on us right now and say, “Wow, my fellow Americans at the start of the 21st century were really asleep at the switch.”

Our invisible shame is the endless, direction-less, goal-less, limitless “War on Terror.” Future Americans are going to look back and say, “In the name of fighting ‘terror,’ America sure terrorized and killed a lot of innocent people.”

When it’s all over, many years from now, a good and important book will be written about the many ways some–not all, some–American forces assaulted, jailed or killed innocent people during the War on Terror. There’s a lot of ground to cover on this topic, so for here and now let’s focus in on one facet—the one that disturbs me the most—drone strikes against innocent civilians.

We turn a blind eye to our government’s drone attack program at our peril. If problems with our drone strikes overseas are news to you, perhaps you will be surprised to learn that our armed forces, funded by your tax dollars, fighting in your name, have:

These are not surgical strikes, as we have been led to believe. Neither are we only targeting high-level terrorist operatives. Some of our drone victims merely match a demographic/behavioral profile rather than a verified terrorist identity. That means we’re killing people, and we don’t know even who they are.

If you want to know what it’s like to live in crippling fear every day, then read the ”Living under Drones” report from Stanford and NYU. It will shock you.

This is what it’s like to live in a part of the world where American drones patrol, according to the Stanford/NYU report:

“Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.”

Not knowing whether or not you or your family will be killed by a drone every day is a terrifying way to live. It’s easy to shrug this off because it’s not us, and it’s not happening here. But put yourself in their shoes. Would you send your kids out onto roads and into buildings patrolled by drones that are manned by a hostile force? That is the world these people live in.

And this is where it does become our problem. Drones don’t eliminate terrorism. The evidence suggests drones create more terrorism. We’re making the problem we’re trying to solve worse with the tools we’re using to solve it, and we’re inviting blowback.

So what can you and I do about it? We can start by finding out where our elected representatives stand on the War on Terror. If they’re not questioning everything about the War on Terror—and most of our elected pols are not—it’s time to get some new people in office, the kind that will hold our president and armed forces accountable for their actions.

If you’re a United States citizen, unless you’re an immigrant, it is by sheer, random luck that you were born in this country. But what if you had been born in Pakistan 20 years ago, and even though you did not wish the United States harm, what if you matched the profile of a terrorist? How would you feel about America’s drone policy? Would you still be sympathetic to Americans, or would you wonder why more of these supposedly decent citizens were not calling on their government to stop killing innocent people?

It’s a question our ancestors will ask as well.

Joe Donatelli is a freelance journalist.

Photo by World Can’t Wait 

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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