Assoc. Opinion Editor
It’s never easy when someone dies. Unless we didn’t know them.
This past weekend I attended the funeral of my late grandmother, something, as most of us know, that is not the most pleasant of experiences. It’s never easy when someone dies, especially if we’ve known them since birth.
Amidst my mourning my thoughts drifted towards areas of the world where loved ones are lost on a daily basis, not because of strokes, cancer, heart attacks, or old age, but because of unmanned aircraft that silently launch missiles from the clouds.
Imagine you are a child living in a small village in Northwest Pakistan along the Afghanistan border. In my ignorance, I’d imagine that there isn’t much to do there in the way of fun, so pretend you’re outside amusing yourself by sneaking around the buildings of the village when you hear an odd buzzing sound overhead. As you stare dumbstruck at the sky, your mother hollers for you to return to your home.
Confused, you stand there looking back and forth from your mother to the sky. In the blink of an eye, you hear a screaming whistle followed by a great explosion. Fire, rock, dust and screams are everywhere. As the dust settles, you realize that where your home once stood is now a pile of rubble and fire. Your whole family (mother, father, sister, and brother) has been killed.
We hear on the news all the time of the ever-increasing number of civilians killed by U.S. drone attacks in the Middle East (particularly Pakistan), but we never seem to care very much. To us, they are just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or worse, we try and justify their deaths by assuming they were harboring terrorists.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that from June 2004 through Sept. 2012, of the 2,562-3,325 people who were killed by drone attacks in Pakistan, 474-881 were innocent civilians, 176 of which were children. Though these numbers are appalling, I’ll bet they still don’t effect you? Is it because we don’t know these people that we don‘t seem to care very much when they die?
Perhaps we could ask the operators of the drones themselves who, from afar, control the unmanned aircraft and are able to make decisions of life and death from the comfort of a desk chair with a cup of coffee as if they’re playing a video game. I suppose the shame in taking another life can be slightly alleviated if you never really see or meet your target face to face. After all, the decision to kill is not really in the hands of the “pilot”, but in those of the president.
The problem with drones is not that they take out enemy combatants; that’s what they’re supposed to do. The problem is that once you remove the human being from the action there is less of a chance for compassion and understanding. We become desensitized to the killing. We don’t care about the civilians that die in drone attacks because they were killed by a machine, but I am sure that the mother who loses a child or the husband a wife feels the same grief we all feel when we lose a loved one.
How is it that we don’t seem to have a problem killing hundreds of innocent people in other countries, not to mention the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan during our military conquests there, yet we are appalled by two people being shot in a mall by an insane man?
Why is there an emotional response to the deaths of people we don’t know in this country, but a total lack of empathy for those we support murdering overseas? Is it just because we’re scared it could happen to us? “There’s no way we could be bombed from above by drones while we’re peacefully living out our lives in a third-world country, but getting shot at the mall could happen.” Is it that simple? That we really don’t care about anyone at all, but instead show sympathy because we’re afraid it could happen to us?
If that’s the case then Americans should be a lot more concerned about those dying overseas, because it is not unimaginable nor difficult to see drones being used here in the United States against its own citizens, whether for surveillance needs or otherwise. In fact, just last week a drone was considered to take out Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop cop killer, in California.
People need to require better oversight of the drone program in this country. Though senseless killing is not foreign to Americans, this brand of detached murder is unethical and inhumane. If it is not enough to look at the citizens of the world as human beings like ourselves then let fear motivate you. If there is no oversight of the drone program in the near future I don’t think we’ll need to wait very long before a small town in Pa. or a suburb of Los Angeles starts looking like that village in Pakistan.