Drones and Collateral Damage

Since September 11, 2001 the United States has conducted a War on Terror. This war is fueled by the fear that our homeland and all we hold dear is under relentless assault. This fear led to the invasion in Afghanistan (our nation’s longest running war); invasion of Iraq and the use of Drones. President Obama has dramatically increased the use of Drones to attack those deemed a threat.

In the seven years of his presidency (as of February 2016) Mr. Obama has authorized 423 drone attacks (according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism), resulting in an estimated total kill of 2498 – 3999 persons. Of this total it is estimated that 423 – 968 were civilians of which 172 – 207 were children. Estimates for injured 1161 – 1744. It is impossible to get exact numbers as there are no U.S combatants on the ground. This past week another drone attack in Somalia is estimated to have killed 150 al Shabab terrorist fighters.

photo of Drone warfare

Proponents argue that Drone warfare does not put U.S personnel in harm’s way. They also point out that a strict protocol is in place to minimize collateral damage to non combatants. It is further argued that we live in a dangerous world and that war while ‘messy’ is necessary to keep our nation and our allies safe.

Yet, some in the military point to the innocents killed (such as a large wedding party in Afghanistan mistaken as combatants) as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. I wonder too about the emotional distancing that happens when U.S military are making the determination from their computer screen, whether or not to bomb a target half way around the world. It is one thing to see an explosion on a computer screen and another to see and smell the carnage in person.

I am also deeply troubled by the term ‘collateral damage’, to reflect the killing of innocents. Surely such killing isn’t intentional yet the use of a the term ‘collateral damage’ is a profound insult to the lives that have been lost in the midst of our nation’s war on terror. Drone warfare is an inexact form of violence. It is the responsibility of those in our government and military to wrestle with the ethics. And, it is the responsibility of we as citizens to debate the ethics of just how far we will allow our government to go in this so-called war.

As a person of faith I believe that each person is created in the image of God. In believing this I have a responsibility to insert myself in our national debate. And, if a serious debate doesn’t seems to be taking place, then it is incumbent upon us to get it started. Drone warfare should trouble us all. Since 9/11 our nation and much of the world has been led by fear. Are there values that we hold dear that not even fear can take from us?