Drones, or Boys and Their Toys: The USA’S Latest Strategy for Unending War

by Kathleen Barry 

The work of the US military is to kill, its pretext – defense of the homeland. It has succeeded in training soldiers, mostly young men, to kill without remorse, that is until they leave the military with flare-ups of psychological trauma or PTSD.

But neither the military nor the White House has convinced a war weary American public to accept men returning home from war in caskets or deeply wounded physically and psychologically. Americans’ increasing distaste for war presents serious problems for a state committed to on-going, unending war which includes feeding military industries, a mainstay of the American economy. What to do?

Drones to the rescue! With drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, Americans need not worry about their own soldiers being killed. Those who drop the bombs do so from any one of a number of military bases somewhere in the United States. Research and common sense show that the further away soldiers are from those they kill, the less likely they are to feel guilt or remorse. Drones, it seems, solve the PTSD problem.

Since so many Americans now turn off the news of war, they will not know of how, as they do not know about combat on the ground, of the many civilians killed in drone attacks – most are women and children. But those victims are not Americans, specifically, they are not American men. So who cares? As John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, in the cold sociopathy of an increasingly US militarized stated, “Sometimes you have to take lives to save lives,” and I would add, as long as most of the lives you take are of brown people and are not American men. War is, after all, gendered and racist violence.

The day after Brennan announced that the USA is conducting CIA drone warfare, on May 1 President Obama spoke to Americans in what most pundits agreed was a campaign speech from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where he and President Karzai had just signed a Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement. So you might wonder what is all the fuss about drones anyway. Aren’t Americans on our way out of Afghanistan? Looking closely at the details of the agreement that Obama did not mention in his television broadcast, we find that it actually “commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond. … for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda” (White House, Office of the Press Secretary. May 1, 2012.)

There is every reason to believe that not only the US war in Afghanistan, but the US policy of ongoing, unending war is, under Obama’s leadership, morphing into a drone war. For years the USA has been launching drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia even though the US Congress has not declared war on those states. Since 2002 the CIA has conducted up to 321 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing up to 3,100 people. In December, 2009 US drones dropped cluster bombs on a village in Yemen and killed 40 people, 21 children and 14 women, 5 of whom were pregnant were killed.

Killing women and children and killing brown people intersects misogyny and racism upon which the military is built. A few weeks ago, a case opened in British courts of a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people in an open air meeting of the local jirga (parliament) in that region. US intelligence that directs drone strikes is focusing not on specific people anymore. Rather as journalist Jeremy Schahill exposes, they study the “pattern of life” of groups of people who gather in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia That is exactly how the CIA defended its drone strike: ‘The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed,’ even though Al Qaeda’s not known to hold its meetings in public, open air places.

Drones are a growth industry but the chief companies are familiar in the military industrial complex: Northrupp Grumman, Raytheon, and General Atomics with a powerful lobby in Washington. In February, 2012, Obama, the President most responsible for escalation of drone warfare, brought war home when signed into law a Federal Aviation Reauthorization Bill, heavily lobbied by the drone industry which stands to gain between $12 and $30 billion in sales, for the use of drones for surveillance in the U.S.A.

For years Americans were told that drones were only used for surveillance, for intelligence gathering, in places like Pakistan, all the while the US military is making enemies they then have to kill and labels them insurgents or Al Qaeda when the CIA drones bomb them to smithereens. Now the CIA turns its drones on us. So Americans (or anyone anywhere on the earth) watch your “patterns of behavior” for on our home ground, ‘we have met the enemy and they are us’.

Kathleen Barry, Sociologist and Professor Emerita of Penn State University is the author of Unmaking War, Remaking Men (2011). www.unmakingwar.net