Still Droning On

Clearly I’m missing something. I hear a lot of objection to the use of military drones and I don’t quite understand why.

If people’s objections are based on incidents where civilians have been killed by drones, that is not an issue related to technology, but a moral objection. Civilians have always been killed by warfare and the area (blanket) bombing tactics used in World War 2 are surely more objectionable than the use of precision weaponry.

If the objection is a generic objection to war, again, that is a legitimate point of view, but that does not relate to drones, but to a pacifist point of view. It’s not one I share, for reasons of history and realism, but I can understand it. However, if the objection is war per se, I wish people who decry the use of drones would declare their position honestly at the outset; otherwise, they’re just muddying the debate.

So, excluding those two standpoints leaves us with the objection that using drones just ‘isn’t cricket’ when it comes to killing people in wars.

These same objections have been raised in the past, from the original objections to the use of long-distance weapons, notably the church’s attempts to ban use of the crossbow, longbow, and gunpowder at different points in history. It’s odd, really, but if your objection to drones is based on the remoteness or desensitisation of the nature of combat, are you saying that you’d prefer good, honest, hand-to-hand combat with axes, daggers, pikes, spears, claymores, or swords? And why isn’t there more general moral outcry about the use of guns and conventional missiles, which can kill from hundreds of metres to continents respectively without any need for the person responsible for firing/launching to come face to face with the recipient(s) of said lethal force?

Personally, I welcome the move in recent decades away from area bombing of cities. I’ve lived in Coventry and been to Dresden. I know full well the effects (both actual and psychological) that the raids had on civilian targets and they’re far, far more horrific than any modern audience can truly grasp. My own mother was almost six when war was declared and was never again able to hear the air raid siren on television or even hear German voices comfortably without recalling bad memories of her early years growing up in Brixton during the Blitz.

No, precision weaponry, in the grand scheme of things, has to be welcomed. If we are going to fight wars (and unfortunately, when civilisations clash and we wish to defend our values, wars must be fought), I am glad that we no longer target civilian areas en masse, but are able to deploy weapons to precise targets.

The use of drones takes the risk away from at least one set of combatants – i.e. those we should be supporting in these struggles, since they are on OUR BLOODY SIDE! I don’t quite understand a mentality which says we should put our military personnel at risk to fight fairly. Most of our military enemies in recent years have not ‘fought fairly’ in any case, choosing instead to hide amongst civilian targets, from schools to mosques, because they know full well that public opinion will not tolerate ‘collateral damage’ or damage to what are ‘holy places’, despite their own disregard for the sanctity of their own people or places of worship.

Indeed, operating drones from remote locations means that those involved in operations can be overseen by senior officers and there are fewer opportunities for rogue actions by individuals who are operating out of sight.

There are of course the stories of wedding parties hit by drone strikes. Again, there’s little to suggest that similar mistakes wouldn’t be made by conventional, battlefield decisions. Indeed, such mistakes have always been made and operative stresses are surely more likely to lead to collateral damage than decisions made in the safety of remote locations, where all the focus can be placed on selecting the correct target rather than defensive concerns.

Warfare has always involved one side striving to get the upper hand on the other side, through better weaponry, technology, tactics, or superior numbers. Our enemies are free to advance technologically, if they choose to do so, but while the self-loathers among us appear to infer that our enemies have the moral high ground, there is something they must consider seriously…

We could utterly destroy our enemies using WMDs if we chose to do so. Isn’t it at least a mark of our civility that we choose not to do so? And if your response to that involves Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I invite you to read up on casualty figures involved in taking just the remote, outlying Japanese islands as a prelude to the mainland invasion of Japan, and extrapolate, as Truman must have done when he made that fateful decision in Potsdam, on how many lives would in fact be saved by that decision, as horrific as the outcome was.

I also invite you to consider carefully what some of our nihilist, religious enemies would do, given the same opportunity to use WMDs, and given that they already proudly and openly declare that they ‘love death more than we love life’.

We may yet live to find out.

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