Drones – Civilian Casualties A Moot Point

Battles used to be fought on foot with soldiers staring icily at their foe across a field waiting for the cry to “GO”. They saw the whites of their enemies eyes and the ensuing battles were horrifically bloody and psychologically devastating. Many stories rose of soldiers realizing that they were killing another human being whom they didn’t even know and questioning the order.  More soldiers lived a nightmare that never ended.

Now we use drones. There is no psyche involved because the act now takes on more of a game-like phenomena. Piloting a drone from a distance takes away the reality. And taking away the reality alleviates the ethical and moral feelings that are associated with killing.

The biggest, most controversial consequence of drones is the civilian casualties. No one really knows any true ‘count’, the numbers are simply not available, but we do know that it is a common occurrence. We can be sure that numbers released by the government have been well scrubbed. The offsetting argument in favor of drones is that fewer soldiers are injured or killed. But drones are hardly as accurate as we are led to believe and frequently target the wrong people. That’s called ‘human error’. And sometimes, entire peace loving families become the unintended casualty.

The media rarely report about the negative aspects of the the drone program. It’s called censorship.

Two drone targets: Ayman Zawahiri and Qari Hussain. Two attempted strikes on Zawahiri left 76 children and 29 adults dead. Casualties. Zawahiri is still alive. Six drone strikes on Hussain have left him dead, but additional casualties included 115 adults and 13 children. Sacrifices? Or sacrificial lambs? Either way you look at it, these people were according to Hillary Clinton’s heart wrenching compassion – ‘casualties of war – it happens’.

In Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, the strikes are reported but rarely are the ‘casualties’ identified. As of November, attempts to kill 41 ‘targets’ resulted in the death of nearly 1150 civilians. It’s easy to sit in the White House and offer condolences, but the Play Station module is making death a robotic unemotional act. As for the media, each time a drone targets a particular ‘Player’ the press release states that the ‘Player’ is dead, only to have him come alive again – oops.

Because the strikes need to be supported, the government and the press don’t discuss the misses, the children, the women. Instead they merely relay the information from a purely war worn statement indicating ‘target’ or ‘signature strike’ or some such military definition. Convoys are typically targeted, but wedding parties have become the casualty as they resemble a convoy from thousands of miles away in a small room where Play Stations take out their orders.

And while breaches in information have given us some insight into the killings, there is still much more that is not disclosed. A few legalities have surfaced in that drones have accidentally killed a number of Americans, but shouldn’t the legalities extend to ALL casualties? Shouldn’t concern be more widespread? How many have died? We don’t even know, we have no names, but we can be sure it is multiple thousands. Injuries are not even tallied. Maiming.

The other casualties are the homes, the farms, the oilfields, the animals, the infrastructure, the antiquities, the historic. Cities lay in ruble. Livelihoods are decimated. Food becomes scarce. Water a shortage. Deaths rise as these costs take their toll as well. But we don’t think about it because it isn’t happy news, it isn’t in our neighborhood, it isn’t our children.

At $6.5 million for the Reaper drone, they are roughly 1/3 the cost of their piloted counterpart. But that doesn’t bear the entire picture. Engines of drones, like all aircraft, have a lifespan. Drone hours logged in are spectacular, for example the MQ-1’s have logged in over a million hours of flight time. The newer MQ-9 Reaper has logged in over 220,000 hours already. To put that in perspective, the operational lifespan of the Predator drone engine is 1080 miles. Between 2009 and 2011, 31 drones crashed due to ‘joystick’ errors. The cost per hour to fly a drone ranges from a low of $3700ish to a high of nearly $50,000 for the RQ-4B Global Hawk Drone. Perspective: on the low side, 1 million hours of flight time for one class of drones x the lowend cost of $3700 per hour = $3.7billion.

Lastly, while the US is ignoring the casualty losses, the countries hit are not. Anti-American sentiment has grown considerably. And one military advisor to the WH speaking at a Congressional hearing stated that drones will never win a war, only troops on the ground.

War is supposed to be horrific so that we learn it must be avoided at all costs. That’s changed, and the casualties are the fault line.

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