“So you’re saying there’s no risk to American lives?”
Someone recently asked me what drone strikes were, and when I told them what they were and how and why they were used, the sentence above was how they responded. It was hard for me to answer this follow-up question—much harder than to answer the initial question that sparked it—because when it comes to whether drone strikes risk American lives, there are actually two diametrically opposed answers.
In the short-term, no, there are no such risks. Unmanned drones are controlled remotely. Someone hits a button halfway around the world (or wherever), and the target in question is fired upon without any American life for the target to fire back at. This lack of an immediate risk to American lives is the drone program’s great advantage. Overseas lives mean nothing. American lives mean everything. When we can take out one without losing the other, everything works out politically.
But that’s in the short-term, not in the long-term, and the long-term answer is a much different animal. Everything that seems great about drone strikes in the short-term makes them horrible for long-term America.
Drones are not human. They are soulless machines. And they make us look like soulless machines when we use them. Drones shoot first and ask questions of dead people later. Sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they miss. Sometimes—often times—they take out the bad guys, but also take out innocent civilians.
And they make us look exactly like cowards—like ruthless, cunning, technologically-advanced cowards, unwilling to get down and get dirty and die, even as we kill and maim and bomb and torture. Drone strikes, by virtue of being unmanned, make us seem unmanned, make us seem inhuman.
And to say that drone strikes pose no risk to American lives is to ignore the perception they’re building around the world amongst people who, face it, already don’t like us. The truth is, they do pose a risk to American lives. But not just soldiers’ lives overseas. I’m talking about our lives right here at home.
When we go to other countries, and bomb other countries—much less bomb them indiscriminately, remotely—there is such a thing called blowback. It’s what happened on 9/11. And if we keep it up, it will happen once again. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, hopefully not for a long, long time. But make no mistake about people in other countries: They’ll see our drone strikes, and raise us something terrible.
Let’s get to the point in this country where we can be honest and we can assess what’s really coming for us. Does anyone really think these drone strikes aren’t going to be met with a significant terrorist event on American soil, eventually? And what’s it going to take to stop such a thing? More curtailing of our own freedoms? More “free speech zones?” More Patriot Acts? More friskings at the airport?
And how will we react when another terrorist attack does happen? Are we really going to sit here and act all surprised? Will we wear our yellow ribbons and our little flag pins? Watch cable news and get riled up? Will we pepper our cars with fresh Never Forget stickers? Hold candlelight vigils? Write country songs?
When it does happen, will we be shocked?
When it does happen, will we be awed?
When it happens, will we sit back and call these people who attacked us “soulless?” Will we wonder how they could be so callous? How they could go after innocent lives? How they could kill random mothers and fathers? And businesspeople? And people on the street?
Drone strikes are how. Torture is how. Prison camps are how. Kill lists are how. We elected the leaders who are doing these things. They’re doing these things for us. If our leaders are the cowards firing these drones, we are the cowards behind those cowards. If we send soulless drones to take out our enemies, we are the soulless drones behind those soulless drones.
Do I want to see another 9/11 happen? Of course not. Do I think we deserve it? No one deserves it. But are we asking for it, though? For another 9/11? If we weren’t before, we clearly are now. We’re asking for it every time a poll says Americans support drone strikes. We’re asking for it when we elect presidents like George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama.
Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture, available now for Kindle and Nook, as well as in paperback. Send him mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.