Death-Dealing Drones and a Dog Called Waldo

We are living in a planet-sized electronic war game. Those early Space Invaders have a lot to answer for. “Just harmless fun”, we may have thought while indulging in make-believe slaughter. But now we are all potential targets of Drone vehicles.

Drone aircraft, especially, make killing missions easy and ‘safe’ for their controllers. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are still too expensive to be used routinely against nuisance civilians – a nuisance to the powers-that-be, that is – but the frequency with which the US military uses drones to kill ‘targets’ in remote regions is chilling, all the more so because President Obama apparently regards the whole world as a legitimate killing field for the individual assassination targets that he approves. Drones give their possessors global reach.

The military seems able to depersonalise all the victims, as if they were no more than digital dots without a real existence. The US Air Force website had a story back in 2006 about the “hunter-killer role” of the MQ-9 drone, called the Reaper, which drops 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.[1] Wide-area surveillance systems are also carried by drones, video systems that watch whole cities, wide landscapes, areas where ‘hostiles’ might be located. The US Air Force has a surveillance system called Gorgon Stare[2], which brings a whole new and terrifying meaning to Big Brother.

No wonder the US and UK are ‘withdrawing’ from Afghanistan, because their arsenals of drones can be controlled from back home, by the CIA as well as the armed services. Drones are being adopted by other arms of government, so that any location can be scrutinized in real time.[3]

There doesn’t seem to have been much public debate about the uses of drones, although they have taken armed conflict to a new and even more alarming level, allowing a very few controllers to dominate everyone else. That means it will be easy for anyone in power to decapitate dissent. Not a world I want to live in.  Not ecological at all, as healthy ecosystems tend to be diverse and flexible enough to change. The only consolation is that attempts to impose permanent dominance always fail, often because of events that were not predicted. The most ferocious dinosaurs probably didn’t worry too much about eating everything in sight, but in the end they ran out of food.

Drones conquer distance and negate the human worth of military ‘targets’, and it seems strange that in this world of making God-like decisions without any apparent comeback on yourself as controller, a dog can be given a memorial service while zapped targets are left on the ground where they died. I read about a service in Charlston, South Carolina, for a military dog, Waldo, which died, not in active service but of illness at 11 years old.[4]


[1] www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123027012, September 14 2006.

[2] www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/01/AR2011010102690.html January 2 2011.

[3] See http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Drones-are-Ready-for-Takeoff.html June 2011.

[4] http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123305264 June 8 2012.

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