Droneland, the Unhappiest Place on Earth


 by Vijay Prashad, July 19, 2011

“Bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended, is prohibited.”    (4th Hague Convention, 1907).
A new continent has emerged on our atlas: it is Droneland. The borders of Droneland run from Libya to Somalia to Yemen to Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Reaper and the Predator stalk the air, driven by young people in distant bases. A necklace of American power, these bases throttle the globe in a silent embrace. The New America Foundation estimates that the U. S. drone attacks in Pakistan alone have killed between 1,579 and 2,490 civilians since 2004. Last year, the UN investigator on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston noted that these attacks might very well be illegal. The UK-based Reprieve is seeking an international arrest warrant against John Rizzo, acting general counsel for the CIA, who told Newsweek in February that he approved at least one drone strike per month. This would be a minor earthquake on Droneland, if the accusation were not shelved somewhere in the topsy-turvy offices of Scotland Yard.
In 1922, the head of the British Empire’s Northwest Provinces (roughly Pakistan and southern Afghanistan), Sir John Maffrey wondered aloud about the bombings of the civilians, “What are the rules for this kind of cricket?” His betters in Delhi responded that international law did not apply “against savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilized warfare.” It would be unwise to warn the assailants, and better to use maximum force. After all, it was the ferocity that would break the morale of the savages. Any solicitude toward women was also dismissed. Afghan women, the imperial headquarters noted, are treated as “a piece of property somewhere between a rifle and a cow.” The Air Officer Commanding, India, Philip Game wisely put it in another dispatch, “I expect that in a short time, if we use our Air Force wisely and humanely, such outcry as there is will cease and air action will be regarded as a normal and suitable weapon for enforcing the just demands of government” (October 18, 1923). Games’ hope has come to pass. Apart from Reprieve and the families of those killed by the strikes, few are upset by the creation of Droneland.
This is an excerpt of an op-ed by Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. The complete article can be read in the Eurasia Review, July 19,  Droneland Op-Ed.


This is a new kind of warfare–and is one that is growing. The use of unmanned drones makes war easier and more palatable for the nations who wage it. Right now, because only we have it,  that would be the American people.*

With drone warfare, our soldiers attack people in other countries from a safe and secure distance. There is no risk to our men and women in uniform, no limbs blown off or massive brain injuries to our soldiers as a result of these airstrikes. To many Americans, drones are the perfect weapon To the people who live in the countries attacked by the drones, their feelings are different. The civilians killed and injured by unmanned airstrikes do not celebrate. The enemies we create–and there are more of them all the time– will not forget who sent them.

There is a word for attacking another country in which there is no risk, where the attack is so one-sided that the targets cannot fight back even if they had the weapons to do so: the word is cowardly.

And even if it is easy for us, the good guys, to attack the bad guys (or enemy) without having to worry about us getting hurt, we have to ask one more question: who decides who are the good guys and the bad guys? Is the United States military always the good guys?  Are the civilians that we inevitably kill the bad guys?  Are the soldiers and insurgents defending their country against foreign invaders the bad guys? These are important questions that rarely get asked in this country.

As far as I’m concerned, any weapon that makes war easier to wage fits my definition of evil.

*For the sake of argument, I am making the assumption that the American people have a say on whether we wage war on other countries. But in truth, we have little say in the matter.
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