Editorial: Drones like any other weapon

Editorial Board

It only takes $25 to obtain an ‘official’ drone hunting license from Phil Steel, the man who authored a headline-grabbing ordinance for the Colorado town of Deer Trail. However, since the town has yet to accept or reject the ordinance, licenses sold by Steel do not actually carry the approval of the municipality. So just why does Steel already have the licenses available for sale? In the words of Steel, “My intent is to encourage people to shoot back. We’ve lost our patience.”

He’s certainly lost something.

Drone hunting licenses are not, by any stretch, a serious approach to the issue, but they do remind us that the discussion on the use of drones is by no means settled.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, as they are also known, have technically been in use since the mid 1800’s, although the familiar, missile-wielding drones we think of today have come about only recently. With that increased combat usage comes a question of morality that currently divides both our nation and the international community.

Drones themselves are not completely automatic: they are flown remotely by trained pilots and the use of their weapons requires human authorization. Despite this, the idea that machines are present on a battlefield—and committing deadly acts—without humans actually present is unsettling to a great many people, as it further dehumanizes warfare.

On top of this, drone strikes, while a relatively life-efficient form of warfare, if any form of warfare can be considered such, are not perfect. There have admittedly been innocent deaths associated with drones.

According to the Yemeni government, the list of civilian deaths attributable to the remote strikes even includes those killed in an attack on a wedding convoy in Yemen this past December. At least one US official disputed this, however, claiming that the convoy which was hit contained armed militants, and that no civilians were killed.

With these objections in mind, it is not difficult to imagine that there is strong opposition to the use of drones in combat circumstances. However, the problems that plague drone strikes are by no means unique.

Dehumanization of the enemy in warfare is nothing new. Propaganda posters from all eras depict opposing soldiers and civilians as less than human in any number of ways. Combat training itself is specifically designed to remove aversions a recruit may have toward taking the life of an enemy.

Collateral deaths have also been a tragic part of war for the entirety of its existence. Innocent deaths are by no means new, particularly in today’s world, where conflicts between actual armies are rapidly disappearing and the line between civilian and soldier is little more than a murky haze.

In these respects, arguments against drone strikes are effectively arguments against war and killing generally. Drones themselves are, after all, tools. They are very advanced, very deadly tools, but they are tools nonetheless.

It is up for debate whether or not our government and other military forces in the world should engage in the types of missions they currently utilize. If it is to be ceded that they are making these deadly choices, though, one can hardly be contend that it is wrong to fire a missile merely because the machine’s operator is located somewhere else.