Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for The Washington Post, got me pondering this morning. His column was on the morality of targeting (and killing) perceived enemies using drones, those “robots of the air” that are remotely controlled. They are currently used by the United States in at least six countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
This is not warfare, Robinson contends; it is assassination. I agree: Assassination by remote control.
Clearly, we use drones because it is a way of striking a perceived enemy without endangering American lives. Those of a pacifist persuasion will naturally be opposed to using drones. But even if someone believes it is morally permissible to go to war, this method raises a lot of serious questions and Robinson raises several:
- Given public outrage at the use of drones in Pakistan (because they’ve killed so many innocent people), won’t this method earn us new enemies?
- Doesn’t this robot system increase the chance of deadly mistakes?
- What “crimes” justify assassination from the skies? Does a person have to have acted against the U.S., or does merely wishing to do us harm satisfy the requirement?
- What justifies the use of drones in Libya where no one has done us harm?
One question that Robinson merely alludes to is this: if we can fight future wars by remote control, won’t we be more likely to resort to the use of force?
If we do not risk life and limb, will we be more reckless? Will our reasons for using deadly force become less urgent over time? Indeed, is this technology a way to make war almost “routine?”
Serious issues. And we have Eugene Robinson to thank for raising them. Take a look at his column.