Gyges and his magic ring
July 23, 2012 4:24 AM   Subscribe

"Assassination and targeted killings have always been in the repertoires of military planners, but never in the history of warfare have they been so cheap and easy. The relatively low number of troop casualties for a military that has turned to drones means that there is relatively little domestic blowback against these wars. The United States and its allies have created the material conditions whereby these wars can carry on indefinitely. The non-combatant casualty rates in populations that are attacked by drones are slow and steady, but they add up. That the casualty rates are relatively low by historical standards — this is no Dresden — is undoubtedly a good thing, but it may allow the international media to overlook pesky little facts like the slow accretion of foreign casualties." -NYT Opinionator: The Moral Hazard of Drones
posted by flapjax at midnite (271 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
1) Killbots save the lives of our soldiers. Instead of losing life and limb, our drone operators only have to worry about carpal tunnel syndrome and video gamers thumb.

2) Any loss of innocent life is regrettable, but our religious infrastructures remind us that the innocent will be rewarded in the after life, so it's win-win for all parties concerned.

3)The underlying premise of the article seems to be a flavor of "If we really wanted to make wars fair and ethical, we should make sure all parties are equally armed" and there's no way that's ever going to happen.
posted by Renoroc at 4:31 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The idea that a government would be more judicious in its use of troops if said troops were in physical danger only holds up against the risk of bad press. Old rich men have sent poor young men to die in war for thousands of years. I can understand the moral doubt at making such a thing easier, but the limitation of money seems to be an even tighter constraint than the limitation of lives. This isn't to say that the use of drones is necessarily a good thing, it's simply that waging war has more natural limitations than fear of losing troops, so perhaps it's not as much of an enabler as it appears.
posted by Saydur at 4:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In this argument, are we accounting for the aspect of the drones keeping groups pinned down who would otherwise kill much more civilians than the drones do? After one of the drone attacks with heavy civilian casualties, I think it was Petraeus who ordered stricter conditions for when drone attacks are permitted -- with fever attacks, civilian death rates went up. I've brought this up a couple of times here and I don't think I've seen anyone give much of a refutation.
posted by Anything at 4:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is “bug splat”, since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed."
posted by elgilito at 4:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drones are somewhat hitech, but I suspect not rocket science... if any non US drones start operating in US airspace in a similar way, be interesting to see if they are portrayed in the same bland way...

.. I was considering this today as I watched a guy playing with those el cheapo remote controlled helipcopters that are available for not much in every shopping mall and discount shop.
posted by zog at 4:50 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


zog: if any non US drones start operating in US airspace in a similar way, be interesting to see if they are portrayed in the same bland way...

It would be a declaration of war on the United States by the perpetrating country, unlike when the US does it under the guise of a "War On Terror".
posted by gman at 5:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is not by secret treachery but openly and by arms that the people of Rome avenge themselves on their enemies.

- Tiberius, Emperor of Rome, responding to an offer to poison the Germanic chieftain Arminius.

In other words: we would not stoop so low.

Who in power is saying that today?
posted by edguardo at 5:02 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how long it will be until there is a civilian murder committed with a drone. It could be untraceable.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


if any non US drones start operating in US airspace in a similar way, be interesting to see if they are portrayed in the same bland way...

To any ten-year-olds reading this thread who like watching cop shows, you're going to want to major in "Drone Forensics" at university.

on preview - bah, you beat me to it charlie don't surf.
posted by XMLicious at 5:08 AM on July 23, 2012


In other words: we would not stoop so low.

Who in power is saying that today?


I'm not sad that the time when it's considered more acceptable to send thousands of soldiers to "honorably" attempt to murder thousands of other soldiers in order to defeat one tyrant than it is to just kill that tyrant is coming to a close.

On the other hand, no doubt part of that was an unofficial Golden Rule among political leaders. Tiberius would rather have war declared against Rome than to be poisoned by a spy himself, I'm sure.


I wonder how long it will be until there is a civilian murder committed with a drone. It could be untraceable.

There was a book, Coding Isis, about this very thing. It was poorly written, desperately needed an editor, and had the most regrettable reference to Angry Birds ever in the history of humanity. But it was a free Kindle book. :P
posted by Foosnark at 5:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also there was a short film on the subject in 2003 - Whistle by Duncan Jones which is an extra on the DVD of Moon.
posted by XMLicious at 5:21 AM on July 23, 2012


It is not by secret treachery but openly and by arms that the people of Rome avenge themselves on their enemies.

Eh, as honorable as may sound when coming from the lips of a Roman emperor, I have to call bullshit. I think the world would be a much better place if heads of state were the ones who ended up paying the ultimate price for foreign policy failures, rather than the poorest of their countrymen.

I understand the human impulse to vengeance, but I think it's a thing to be overcome, not glorified.
posted by Mooski at 5:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm sure murder-by-drone will be a thing sometime but really if you want to off someone deniably there's lots of other, much less complex ways to approach it.

Honestly, though, premeditated homicide investigations don't often get convictions with just the weapon but rather "who would want the victim dead" and following things through from there.

It's so much easier to start at the beginning than at the end.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:30 AM on July 23, 2012


if any non US drones start operating in US airspace in a similar way, be interesting to see if they are portrayed in the same bland way...

Of course, zog, the answer to that question is sort of obvious. When it happens it will be the greatest evil ever known and an existential threat that justifies anything done to eliminate it. And it will be about time.
posted by three blind mice at 5:36 AM on July 23, 2012


It would be a declaration of war on the United States by the perpetrating country, unlike when the US does it under the guise of a "War On Terror".

Might makes right. You got a problem with that, we can step outside.

And find a good bistro to argue about it over lunch. But not in the US, 'cause guns might be put in play.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 AM on July 23, 2012


charlie don't surf: "I wonder how long it will be until there is a civilian murder committed with a drone. It could be untraceable"


well there have been 3 US citizens including a child executed so far.
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder how long it will be until there is a civilian murder committed with a drone.

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:05 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


So what differentiates a terrorist from a civilian?

The government's definition.

In this world, you're a terrorist because they say you're a terrorist. They don't have to prove it. They could have flawed, faulty evidence. They don't have to actually have any evidence whatsoever. All they have to is point the finger, and you die.

And it's already been used against our own citizens, including a child.

This is not a war we should be fighting. This is we-had-to-destroy-the-village-to-save-it thinking. We are defining civilians as 'bad' without giving them the chance to dispute that finding, and we are imposing the most severe penalties possible -- not only their death, but everyone physically close to them at the time, which is most frequently their family.

So not only will the U.S. government just kill you arbitrarily, there's a good chance they'll kill everyone you love the most. That old woman in the diner who died right after meeting Obama? She got off lucky.

This is the worst idea we have ever had as a putatively free country. This is as un-American as any idea could ever be. Not even McCarthyism or the Japanese internment camps were this terrible.

In a word where you can't tell the difference between civilians and 'enemies', you can't use soldiers anymore. This is what police are for. Terrorism isn't committed by soldiers, it's committed by criminals.

George Herbert Walker Bush, by getting this framing wrong and selling the nation on it, was the man who destroyed this country's soul.
posted by Malor at 6:28 AM on July 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


This is the worst idea we have ever had

Not slavery, the bombing of Hiroshima, Native American genocide, or the war in Vietnam?
posted by swift at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Malor]: In this world, you're a terrorist because they say you're a terrorist. They don't have to prove it. They could have flawed, faulty evidence. They don't have to actually have any evidence whatsoever. All they have to is point the finger, and you die.

True terrorists don't want to participate in our legal system and won't respond to subpoena's. Perhaps you would be willing to go knock on doors in Yemen and serve papers to AQAP etc.?

And the killing of family members is frightening, but if I myself went terrorist I would probably make it a point of cutting off contact with family members and friends who I didn't want to hurt. Making your family home your military HQ seems to maybe put some of the responsibility on the terrorists.

And I haven't seen the details of every case, nor am I going to defend every case, but I don't think drones have re-written warfare the way others do. It just another example of advancing military tech. changing the battlefield, something that has happened over-and-over throughout history.
posted by rosswald at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not slavery, the bombing of Hiroshima, Native American genocide, or the war in Vietnam?

Those were all bad too. Really, really bad. But I don't think it's a contest, exactly. At any rate, the drone thing, and the war on amorphous "terror", is what's happening now, so maybe it's worthy of our attention in a different way. Cause it's happening now and all.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


rosswald: True terrorists don't want to participate in our legal system and won't respond to subpoena's.

That doesn't give the United States the right to play judge, jury, and executioner, especially considering the values they claim to champion. We have no idea whatsoever if the people they target are "terrorists" or not, other than what the US government tells us, and, well I have no reason to believe them.
posted by gman at 7:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


At any rate, the drone thing, and the war on amorphous "terror", is what's happening now, so maybe it's worthy of our attention in a different way.

Oh yeah, totally agree. It's just that hyperbole ("the worst idea we've ever had") diminishes, rather than enbiggens, the seriousness of the matter.
posted by swift at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


"How to create more terrorists for Dummies" also known as the Hydra.
posted by infini at 7:22 AM on July 23, 2012


106 different government agencies have already been granted permission to fly drones in US airspace.

As Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office pointed out, “Currently, no federal agency has specific statutory responsibility to regulate privacy matters relating to unmanned aircraft systems."
posted by hermitosis at 7:25 AM on July 23, 2012


gman: That doesn't give the United States the right to play judge, jury, and executioner

I don't disagree. It has been somewhat heartening to hear that there does seem to be a relatively robust, albeit secret, process for these things. I do wish though that we would have a large discussion (nationally, and in congress) about this process, and the checks that should be in place.

But I do also feel that terrorists are purposefully exploiting a gap in the international legal system. If the terrorists were in Canada then using the existing legal framework would be relatively easy. There is a reason that terrorists have based themselves Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc.: there is no (fully-accountable) government with which to engage.
posted by rosswald at 7:29 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not slavery, the bombing of Hiroshima, Native American genocide, or the war in Vietnam?

Well, I don't think of slavery as being an idea of the government -- rather, it was (wrongly) grandfathered in during the creation of the Constitution and the forming of the country. We should have hashed it out at the time, but chose to punt, and paid dearly for it. But it wasn't an idea being promulgated by the national government in the same way.

And yes, I think knowingly mixing up civilians and soldiers, and assassinating people on the street based on allegations, is worse than those other things, much worse. It directly attacks our foundational principles in a way those other tragedies did not.

It's easy to understand how people at the time, even principled people, could get those other ideas wrong. Attacking civilians with air power is not so forgivable. You can at least define all those other problems as fundamentally a problem of 'othering' people we shouldn't be othering, but in this case, we can make anyone an unperson. It completely violates our entire justice system.

This is, in my view, the single most corrosive and toxic idea we've had, and I believe that it will spread through the government like cancer.

As humans, we've been doing this in low-tech ways since at least the 1930s, via death squads. We know that death squads are horrific crimes, the hallmark of an evil government. Read that definition, and consider: what real difference is there between that and a drone strike?

I see zero difference. Drones are just mechanized death squads.

Ethical people have considered the use of death squads to be one of the foundational definitions of evil governments. The U.S. has found a way to automate them.
posted by Malor at 7:37 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Home taping is killing the musics indus....sorry, drone warfare is killing the military industrial complex. No need for expensive retail outlets/base camps, no need for an expensive distribution channel move tiny plastic discs/troops & gear across the world.

I'm just waiting for a drone mothership that can fly across the world, deploy a swarm of exploding quadrotors which will fly in windows then self destruct taking freedom haters with them. None of the expensive training and pensions we have for the special forces dudes.
posted by Damienmce at 7:42 AM on July 23, 2012


Malor: Drones are just mechanized death squads.

Couldn't you just as easily say they are mechanized battalions? Mechanized special forces? I think part of your comparison has merit, but I feel like you are also ignoring counter-evidence/examples.
posted by rosswald at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And of courses there'll be that momentous day when a private military contractor off shores drone piloting to a 3rd party tech consultancy leading to a Chinese state owned company attacking the PLA for profit.
posted by Damienmce at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


rosswald: But I do also feel that terrorists are purposefully exploiting a gap in the international legal system.

And I imagine some do, BUT that still doesn't give the US the right to kill them and all the people in the vicinity without a trial. It makes the United States no better than "them", and I assume the US doesn't want to be lumped in with terrorists. It's like when a sniper takes refuge in an Iraqi hospital - I don't think it would be legal to bomb the hospital, even if the man they want is in there.
posted by gman at 7:55 AM on July 23, 2012


...off shores drone piloting to a 3rd party...

Paging Lt. Minderbinder...
posted by j_curiouser at 7:58 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


100 years ago, the idea was to throw an entire generation at each other. How many English, French, and Germans died for the plans of the German and French high commands?

Targeted assassinations are better than a war. I can't believe some people think otherwise.

That said, my government does owe me something better than "take my word for it" when they want to use my vote as support of any kind of military action, drones included.
posted by BeeDo at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


BeeDo -- wars end.
posted by Malor at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honour is apparently a dead idea. Where is the honour in sending some automatons to kill some poor people? Nowhere. Yes, it's a continuation of a theme, of course. There isn't much honour in sending poor people to do the job, or dropping bombs from the sky.
posted by iotic at 8:02 AM on July 23, 2012


Couldn't you just as easily say they are mechanized battalions? Mechanized special forces?

When used "on the battlefield," sure; but with the extension of the battlefield to virtually anywhere the USA goes, drones are heavily used in countries the USA is not at war with, such as Yemen and Pakistan.
posted by mek at 8:06 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course it all depends, there are folks for whom the word honour doesn't contain U
posted by infini at 8:10 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


George Herbert Walker Bush, by getting this framing wrong and selling the nation on it, was the man who destroyed this country's soul.

This is kind of silly. We have had a war on drugs for years, in which we have used the military (our own, or by proxy) to fight criminal activity. We also fought two wars against the Barbary pirates.
posted by moammargaret at 8:14 AM on July 23, 2012


mek: drones are heavily used in countries the USA is not at war with, such as Yemen and Pakistan.

Under the authority of the govt. of both of those countries. We are not at war with Y/P, but with groups hiding in those countries. Ostensibly the Yemenite and Pakistani govts. are themselves also at war with these groups.
posted by rosswald at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2012


BeeDo -- wars end.

True, and I totally understand and agree with your point. I was refuting the idea that "number of casualties" ever stopped a government from fighting. It didn't stop WWI or the Iran-Iraq war, which are probably top two for "most horrible".

The US in Vietnam is the prime example, but I think it is misinterpreted. I think it was the feeling that the war was unwinnable for the US that dropped support, not the number of casualties. Otherwise Tet would have been seen as a victory, not a defeat.
posted by BeeDo at 8:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Under the authority of the govt. of both of those countries.

Not officially. Which is kind of the whole point: there would be too much public backlash against actual American death squads in Yemen. Drones provide just enough plausible deniability.
posted by mek at 8:38 AM on July 23, 2012


You mean officially but not publicly I think?
posted by rosswald at 8:58 AM on July 23, 2012


The question of whether to use drones or not seems absurd on the face of it. Of course we don't want to have sneaky little angels of death flying around. Let's strengthen the UN and fight global corruption and poverty using institutions that promote dialogue, transparency and mutual respect. I mean is there really any other choice?
posted by deo rei at 9:17 AM on July 23, 2012


The long loiter time of drones as opposed to an F-16 or F-15E means that we can be much more certain who is in what building, where the building is, and we can wait for non-combatants to clear the area.

In short, drones make it easier to avoid civilian causalities.

And the evidence demonstrates that this is true. The go-to independent source on this is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. Their stats are as follows:

Total US strikes: 335
Obama strikes: 283
Total reported killed: 2,513-3,226
Civilians reported killed: 482-835
Children reported killed: 175
Total reported injured: 1,198-1,324

These stats are not based on US government numbers, they are based on independent research.

At maximum, this works out to 2.49 civilians killed per strike. That's a really low number. The minimum range is 1.43 civilians killed per strike. Compared to prior wars, this is a much lower number.

Look at what regular aircraft do:

"From 2006 to mid-2008, US/Nato aerial attacks killed 1,488 Afghan civilians with 1,458 tonnes of bombs, whereas between October 7 and December 10, 2001 US war planes dropped 14,000 tonnes of bombs resulting in 2,569-2,949 dead Afghan civilians (or 18-21 civilians killed per 100 tonnes of US bombs). . .

The lethality of close air support air strikes to Afghan civilians as measured by the ratio of civilians killed per 100 tonnes of bombs dropped is:

• 2006: 125-148
• 2007: 119-153
• 2008: 29-36"

Drones are better at lowering risk to civilian populations on the ground. Flat out. A large fighter-bomber has only a few moments to decide on a target and hit it. Helicopters cannot loiter long, as they are easily detected and can be shot down by ground fire. A drone can stand off for long periods of time, make detailed observations of a target and strike when fewer civilians are present. These are facts. We need fewer airstrikes by manned aircraft and more strikes by remote aircraft.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


So what differentiates a terrorist from a civilian?

The government's definition.


This is the general problem with asymmetric war, defining who is a combatant and who is not. Is killing a "general" not engaged directly in combat (i.e., not firing a weapon but merely giving commands) okay? And that in these asymmetric wars, lots of civilians get hurt.

I don't think the problem is with drones, but with war in general and these "wars" in particular. If you are going to fight a war, it seems that drones are a pretty good tool, but it would be much, much better is we had avoided the war in the first place.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:28 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In this argument, are we accounting for the aspect of the drones keeping groups pinned down who would otherwise kill much more civilians than the drones do?

Are we accounting for the radicalization of people who see innocents being killed leading to more terrorist strikes? You know, since the number of terrorists in Yemen is rising along with the strikes?

You mean officially but not publicly I think?


Officially, for all the United States government knows, Awlaki may have been killed by Yemen and we had nothing to do with it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2012


At maximum, this works out to 2.49 civilians killed per strike. That's a really low number.

...is an easy thing to say for someone who doesn't have to worry about their children becoming collateral damage.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey, we're not massacring civilians and children here! We're just... killing them a bit!
posted by Drexen at 9:40 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


In other words: we would not stoop so low.
Oh yes he would. Bastard tried to have me whacked.
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


We need fewer airstrikes by manned aircraft

Yes.

and more strikes by remote aircraft.

No.
posted by Drexen at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


At maximum, this works out to 2.49 civilians killed per strike. That's a really low number.

...is an easy thing to say for someone who doesn't have to worry about their children becoming collateral damage.


The question presented is the morality of drone strikes relative to other methods. This saves lives relative to the other methods.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The question presented is the morality of drone strikes relative to other methods.

Says fucking who? Is peace not even allowed to be part of the conversation now?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Even if every "bad guy" was taken out with a single well placed shot with zero collateral damage, it is still a separate question about whether that trigger should be pulled.

Ironmouth gave a well-researched comment about the method of the killing.

On preview: It is big conversation, with room for many parts. This is just one part. Not everyone who wants our armed forces to be good at their job is a monster.
posted by BeeDo at 10:13 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what differentiates a terrorist from a civilian?

WE are versus THEY ARE I would think...
posted by a3matrix at 10:19 AM on July 23, 2012


Don't try to claim that the decision is between "sending in the troops who might get hurt" and drones.

The US simply doesn't have the political or logistical ability to make anywhere near this many ground attacks on specific locations. If they didn't have drones, they simply wouldn't be able to make most of these attacks at all.

So please don't snow us with the claim that the choice is between drone attacks and a much more lethal attack - in reality, the choice is nearly always between drone attacks and no attacks at all.

And, you know, if I were guaranteed that the US would never again go into full warfare mode because drones made it unnecessary, I might love drones. But that's not what we're going to get. We're going to inevitably get more warfare (until The Collapse happens), and then on top of that we'll have drones. There will be no point when the amount of "other weapons" decreases - we'll get more "other weapons" and more drones.

Until the United States collapses, of course. Let us hope that that Collapse is soon, and something that can be recovered from...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This saves lives relative to the other methods.

Saves baby Paki and Afghan lives too?
posted by infini at 10:26 AM on July 23, 2012


So what differentiates a terrorist from a civilian?

Those who write history. My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was considered one such by teh British adn thrown in jail. I believe she was marching to protest their continued occupation of her home country back in 1929. Later, she was granted a lifetime pension as one of the nation's Freedom Fighters. But is an entirely different history book.
posted by infini at 10:28 AM on July 23, 2012


Old rich men have sent poor young men to die in war for thousands of years.

Bit of a cliche, that, and a half-truth at that. Poor young men for thousands of years have been eager to drop the plow and pick up the sword. A general wants motivated troops, after all, not reluctant conscripts. (Half of Napoleon's genius was getting conscripts to think his ambitions were a good idea.) War's an adventure and potentially a way to get seriously rich (vide the English invasions of France during the Hundred Years War which financed any number of medieval castles in England).

The downsides even for the victors are apparent only after the initial euphoria, and take about a generation to fade, or become shaded as something glorious. But once they have, young men tend to sign up willingly, even eagerly (vide the US Civil War, both world wars, even Vietnam at the beginning: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, yadda yadda.").

And there are plenty of rich old men who are reluctant to send their sons to the next squabble. JFK's father was an isolationist/appeaser, Chamberlain bent over backwards to avoid WWII. The interplay of will-we won't-we on the eve of WWI makes for sad but fascinating reading. Even on the eve of the US Civil War, there were plenty on both sides who wanted to just let the south go, to avoid the horrors, General Sherman among them.

Anyway, all decisions to go to war are morally hazardous. Like that box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get, but you can be pretty sure it's going to be nasty.

The question presented is the morality of drone strikes relative to other methods. This saves lives relative to the other methods.


It does, but as with anything, at a cost. The fellows in Arizona flying the drones at a remove, they pay a heavy psychological toll (assuming of course that this isn’t just some journalist hyping the story). It goes to the honor thing, I suppose. Even a knight in full armor could be pulled from his horse and get a dirk shoved into his brain. The guy at the console in Arizona – maybe some carpel tunnel. I can see how it might disturb you more than if the enemy had at least a theoretical chance of striking back up close and personal.

That, and of course this kind of war reduces the incentive for our side to wrap things up quickly. A long drag out war perhaps leaves deeper wounds and longer lasting resentments, arguably even more so if it is as one sided as drone war. People remember defeat and humiliation.

Generally speaking, best to mind one’s own business. But governments will never learn. Just like eighteen year olds.
posted by BWA at 10:28 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Not everyone who wants our armed forces to be good at their job is a monster.

Could you rephrase that statement so it makes sense?

I personally want the Armed Forces to be good at their job, and I'm quite far on the pacifist scale.

My claim is not that I want them to be incompetent, but that I feel in many cases their "jobs" would be considered war crimes or supporting war crimes if they weren't Americans - say, someone from Cambodia who was making drone strikes on Washington to try to kill Henry Kissinger.

There is definitely a place for the Armed Forces of the United States of America, and that place is within the United States of America, their own country, in exactly the same way as the Armed Forces of (almost) every other country in the world.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:28 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What distinguishes a smart, well thought-out analysis from a dumb, lazy analysis is that a smart analysis is generally prescriptive rather than descriptive. For example:

Dumb Analysis:
"Foreign Policy A causes real-world result B, which has a negative impact."

Smart Analysis:
"Foreign Policy A causes real-world result B, which has a negative impact. A better alternative would be Foreign Policy C, which has practical result D."

Pointing out flaws in something is both easy and lazy, since everything in life has flaws. The author says using drones to assassinate people might cause problems? Really? And he actually needs to explain it, like it's some kind of news flash? Yes, I agree that killing people generally does cause problems, with or without drones. If I needed somebody to tell me that, I'm not sure I'd be a functional member of society. The way the writer states the obvious and then acts like he hit us with the Clue Bus is a clear mental failure on his part.

Now, if he had written an article that actually evaluated viable alternatives, then I would be impressed. As it stands though, the author did only half the work - the easy half.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


furiousxgeorge: Says fucking who? Is peace not even allowed to be part of the conversation now?

I feel like you are getting emotional. Ironmouth is right, we are talking about the use of drones in combat. Peace is obviously the ultimate goal, but in this conversation you are just derailing.

lupus_yonderboy: So please don't snow us with the claim that the choice is between drone attacks and a much more lethal attack

I found the counter-argument that AQAP, Boko-Haram, etc. etc. would just be ignored if drones didn't exist strange. I don't believe that is a serious option.
posted by rosswald at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I found the counter-argument that AQAP, Boko-Haram, etc. etc. would just be ignored if drones didn't exist strange. I don't believe that is a serious option.

You're saying that refraining from pre-emptive killing of citizens and non-citizens in foreign lands is not a serious option. And yet the United States has (mostly) avoided doing this for most of its lifetime.

The fact is that if there were no drones the United States would not have the manpower and would not have the political capital to engage in literally hundreds of small invasions into foreign countries a year. There's no possible way to get around this - the US simply couldn't do it.

Drones enable many missions that could never otherwise occur - as countless government officials have said in every newspaper in America.

By the way, another idea that's tired and essentially a lie is to declare some idea that you personally don't like as "not serious". If you remember the Iraq War, a lot of people like me said that it might cost quite a bit more than the three months and $50 billion it was originally budgeted for - but people who said this were labelled "not serious", people who bought into the official estimates were labelled "serious".

Now, you'd think when it came out that the war was well over ten times larger in every dimension that the "serious" people would be discredited, and the "un-serious" people who'd accurately predicted the extent of the debacle would gain credit. You'd think wrong - exactly the same "serious" people are writing the "serious" analyses - if their dramatic failures are even mentioned, the only argument is "How could anyone have possibly known?" - and the non-serious people continue to be non-serious and not worth of mention in any mainstream American publication.

Do yourself a favor - drop the term altogether. If you have a logical or factual rebuttal, let us have it. But don't call ideas "non-serious" and leave it at that, particularly when your fucking serious ideas have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The question presented is the morality of drone strikes relative to other methods.

This is a false dilemma, much like the one offered by taser advocates: Tasers are safer than guns, therefore we should use more tasers. Drones are safer than bombs, therefore we should use more drones. Of course, it isn't an either-or proposition, and in both cases the argument that is actually being made is that because of the nature of the weapon, it is much more likely to be wielded with greater frequency, in situations where it is not appropriate or called for. And therefore we find ourselves in situations where people are tasered for traffic violations, or American citizens are assassinated by drone strikes for protected speech.

This false dilemma erases the possibility of overuse of these technologies, which is why it's so very dishonest. There are many scenarios where a bomb strike would be an atrocity, but a drone strike is acceptable. The USA cannot bomb entire restaurants of civilians, or entire funerals; not without being considered even more terroristic in its disposition than usual. But it can use drones in these same environments with minor, regrettable, but "necessary" civilian casualties.

The question in both cases should be about outcomes: is there a real and tangible benefit which outweighs the intrinsic costs and possible blowback? The answer is highly politicized and in the current environment, probably unknowable.
posted by mek at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


furiousxgeorge: Says fucking who? Is peace not even allowed to be part of the conversation now?

I feel like you are getting emotional. Ironmouth is right, we are talking about the use of drones in combat. Peace is obviously the ultimate goal, but in this conversation you are just derailing.


Yes, dead children make me emotional.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


RE: Tasers.
I think a lot of bottle and knife wielding suspects (many drunk) are alive today, because the police had tasers at their disposal--instead of having to defend themselves by killing someone (no one is taught to shoot to wound).

It's true they can be and have been abused. My point is, Tasers have saved a lot of lives.
posted by whatgorilla at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2012


I think the pro-Taser argument is just as sound as the pro-drone argument, BUT the potential for abuse is always there--and arguably increased (since the repercussions decrease).
posted by whatgorilla at 11:08 AM on July 23, 2012


Absolutely whatgorilla, which is why a black-and-white treatment of these issues can be so obfuscating. It can be true that a weapon both saves lives, while also true that it is prone to abuse and results in unnecessary deaths.
posted by mek at 11:13 AM on July 23, 2012


Says fucking who? Is peace not even allowed to be part of the conversation now?

You know, for most human beings it's possible to think multiple thoughts at once, so it's entirely possible to simultaneously push for peace and say that targeted drone strikes are a vast improvement to the alternative.

So nuanced is the human mind that it can say this even while acknowledging that new human rights violations have been introduced alongside drone warfare.

How many children fucking died under Bush? It's not like dead fucking children are a new fucking thing. Dead children are fucking abominable. But if fewer children are killed with drones than with outright warfare, I prefer drones to war, and eagerly await the day when we can do away with drones as well.

(See? I can use the word "fucking" rhetorically too! I feel like we are speaking to each other as equal Philadelphians now.)

If you think America's response to not having access to drones would be to declare peace and stop killing things you must not have been around for any of the last, oh, two and a half centuries of American history. While peace in the abstract is a very simple concept, peace in the reality of the modern world is enormously complex, and although calls for peace are welcome and necessary, at some point you have to look at the world as it is and has been and decide that the lesser of two ghastly crimes is a welcome step.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I mentioned this in the last drone thread, but anyone interested in drone warfare should read Kill Decision, a brand new novel by Daniel Suarez. Much like his previous Daemon books, it's pretty terrifying.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2012


Comparing drones to Tasers is highly inaccurate.

The Taser gives the policeman on the beat a non-lethal alternative to a gun. He'd be there anyway - the question is whether to give him a stick, a gun or a Taser, or some combination. I think very few people would pick "A policeman with just a gun" over "A policeman with a gun and a Taser."

Without the drone, there would be, most of the time, no one there at all.

I would note that a Taser is (usually) a non-lethal weapon, whereas the drones we're talking about are lethal. Big difference!

And I would also note that a Taser hits just one person. A drone blows up "everyone around". Big difference!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The question presented is the morality of drone strikes relative to other methods.

This is a false dilemma, much like the one offered by taser advocates: Tasers are safer than guns, therefore we should use more tasers. Drones are safer than bombs, therefore we should use more drones. Of course, it isn't an either-or proposition, and in both cases the argument that is actually being made is that because of the nature of the weapon, it is much more likely to be wielded with greater frequency, in situations where it is not appropriate or called for. And therefore we find ourselves in situations where people are tasered for traffic violations, or American citizens are assassinated by drone strikes for protected speech.


Again, this is what the article in the FPP was about. Listen, if you feel it is wrong to strike terrorists, that's fine. But thinking it would be better if we do it with a laser-guided 1000 lb bomb is ridiculous.

I don't get this idea--somehow, a less-lethal response is worse? Assuming your hypo that a lot of people are getting tasered in traffic stops is true, isn't that better than even a single person being killed? In my book it is.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Without the drone, there would be, most of the time, no one there at all.

We'd be bombing with jets.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I don't get this idea--somehow, a less-lethal response is worse?

Ironmouth: as I pointed out above quite clearly, the choice is usually between drones and nothing, because the US does not have either the logistical or the political strength to be carrying out hundreds of bombing or ground missions over countries with which it is not at war.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2012


But as lupus_yonderboy has already observed, you can't take the analogy that far, because drones are killing machines, and are always intended to be lethal. The question is whether or not their lethality is serving its purpose in the larger scheme of foreign policy, or whether their convenience renders them ripe for abuse: the "moral hazard" in the linked article. Which is what the article is actually about - not how great this new technology is at reducing fatalities.
posted by mek at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2012


Hundreds of missions a year? Over countries we're not at war with?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:28 AM on July 23, 2012


the modern world is enormously complex

It's not that complex. How many people has France assassinated recently? Or Switzerland? There is no requirement that we engage in these activities. Most countries figure out this impenetrably complex puzzle!

"Just stop doing it" is an entirely practical and reasonable and achievable alternative. Especially considering that, and it would be nice if someone addressed this for once, the number of terrorists in Yemen is growing amidst our efforts. Western military adventurism is, undeniably, a major reason we are in conflict with Al Qaeda in the first place.

Even so, a nut in a movie theater has claimed more lives on American soil in this decade than our enemy.

If you think America's response to not having access to drones would be

Who is talking about imaginary erasure of drones? I am talking about changing our response to perceived threats.

It reads as somewhat psychopathic to me that we are talking about killing people but it's considered a derail to express emotion at that fact. Just everybody remain calm and let us do our murder math. If we get the equation just right, it will get us closer to our ultimate goal, which is of course peace! Now if we just drop murderous death from the sky here and here and here....
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:33 AM on July 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


There's a psychological point I intended to make before... and that's if you wanted to encourage people to strike back violently against the general populace of America, I can't think of any better way to do it than to attack people with faceless, unmanned drones where the operator is completely safe and even bringing down the drone results only in property damage.

And just to be clear:

There's no evidence at all that drones are "replacing" anything at all. Whether you look at budgeting, at medium-term strategic plans, at short-term tactical plans, or at the specifics of attacks that get reported, it's clear that we're getting all the same old things and the drones. Only in the longest-term planning does the Pentagon et. al. expect any contemporary machinery to be actually replaced by drones.

If you really gave us a choice between "drones" and "everything else" we'd take drones. But what we're getting is "drones and everything else."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not that complex. How many people has France assassinated recently? Or Switzerland? There is no requirement that we engage in these activities. Most countries figure out this impenetrably complex puzzle!

Just ask the Norwegians... they were able to let go, grieve and begin to move on in just ONE year, not even a decade!
posted by infini at 12:06 PM on July 23, 2012


Could you rephrase that statement so it makes sense?

I thought it was clear, but I'll try: We say to our Air Force, go kill this guy with as few civilian casualties as possible. The Air Force comes up with a new way to do this with fewer civilian casualties than ever before. This article says that is bad, because something something war weariness? You say it is bad because peace is better than war, as if that were not an answer to a different question?

Until the United States collapses, of course. Let us hope that that Collapse is soon, and something that can be recovered from...

Have a good day, I think the chances of us seeing eye to eye are slim. We agree on a lot, but certainly not that.

Just everybody remain calm and let us do our murder math.

Always wanted to do one of these: Metafilter: Just everybody remain calm and let us do our murder math.
posted by BeeDo at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


> We say to our Air Force, go kill this guy with as few civilian casualties as possible.

As I have made clear several times above, drones make kills possible that would not have been possible before.

As I have made clear several times above, claiming it is a choice between air strikes and drones is inaccurate. To repeat myself for the third time, the US does not have the resources to put up hundreds of air strikes a year on countries we are not, at fact, at war with, and doesn't have the political capital to do that either.

As I repeated before, the choice is nearly all the time not between a drone and air strikes - it's between a drone and nothing.

> You say it is bad because peace is better than war, as if that were not an answer to a different question?

Actually, I say "bad" because it's a violation of international law, because it's a war crime, and because assassinating people who might possibly cause an American harm some day is cowardly - particularly since terrorism is not a significant threat to any American.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually, I say "bad" because it's a violation of international law, because it's a war crime, and because assassinating people who might possibly cause an American harm some day is cowardly - particularly since terrorism is not a significant threat to any American.

As I have made clear several times above, claiming it is a choice between air strikes and drones is inaccurate. To repeat myself for the third time, the US does not have the resources to put up hundreds of air strikes a year on countries we are not, at fact, at war with, and doesn't have the political capital to do that either.


Pakistan consents to the strikes. That's why they're offering to do them themselves now, but are asking for JDAMS to do them with F-16's.

And as for your claims that the strikes would not be done, just asserting "making it clear" that is true isn't enough.

As my old instructor used to say, any time anyone asserts something is clear, it most likely is not. Your opinion regarding what we would or would not do is just that, an opinion. We have the aircraft, Pakistan is consenting (they sure like it when we hit their own Taliban), and we would do it. Pakistan plays a double game acting angry in the press while consenting to the strikes and providing target lists of their own enemies they would like us to strike.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As my old instructor used to say, any time anyone asserts something is clear, it most likely is not.

Thanks for clearing that up.
posted by mek at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth:

But we weren't doing those attacks before, were we? I mean, we are talking as near as I can see about a hundred drone attacks already in 2012 (about 80 we can find reports of in the media and probably at least 20 more - I personally would guess a lot more...)

Were we really making hundreds of bombing sorties a year before drones came along?

> Pakistan plays a double game acting angry in the press while consenting to the strikes and providing target lists of their own enemies they would like us to strike.

This is not a good reason for drone strikes - the fact that we have shitty information is a reason for not doing drone strikes. (Frankly, if the US wanted to demonstrate it was "serious" about Pakistan's bullshit, they could simply withhold a month's aid to the country - a billon or two dollars, chump change really! I guarantee the PPP would be weeping if they weren't able to pay bribes to their army of cronies for even two weeks.)

And it's not just Pakistan - there's Somalia, there's Afghanistan, there's Yemen.

Again, I repeat - if we were just getting drones from now on, I'd be happy. But we aren't. We're getting all the old shit, and drones. So please stop claiming it's some choice between drones and even more nasty shit - because it isn't - it's drones and it's the nasty shit.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:58 PM on July 23, 2012


Ironmouth: I'd also like to ask you a question.

Quite a while ago you mentioned that you had, at least in the past, done some sort of PR or other paid work for the Democratic Party... and it wasn't clear if you were still doing it.

Since you do always seem to argue very strenuously for what appears to be exactly the mainstream Democratic policy, I'd like to work out exactly what role you had or have with them.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pakistan consents to the strikes.

Sometimes.

U.S. Drones Make Peace With Pakistan Less Likely, The Atlantic: There is a surprisingly simple explanation for this seeming contrast between public statements by officials and what happens behind the scenes. Pakistani authorities don't mind it when U.S. drones kill off people like the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mehsud. They do, however, mind when U.S. drone strikes happen without their consent or involvement, such as one in North Waziristan in May of this year.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2012


Oh, and just a note:

As my old instructor used to say, any time anyone asserts something is clear, it most likely is not.

The reason I used the word "clear" is because I was trying to politely say, "I have addressed this point three times now, please stop dodging and respond."

Next time I, myself, will be more clear.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2012


Quite a while ago you mentioned that you had, at least in the past, done some sort of PR or other paid work for the Democratic Party... and it wasn't clear if you were still doing it.

I have never, ever been paid by the Democratic party. In the last election I monitored a polling place in central virginia so that black people would be guaranteed to vote.

That's the extent of my entire "political career."

I don't know where this crap comes from. I'm a lawyer. That's it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


One more point.

Would anyone here be so happy with drone attacks if they were being perpetrated on the United States?

Suppose the United States were shown in an international court of war to be harboring a war criminal, say, one who'd masterminded the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people, but refused to try this criminal or give him up.

For those of you who are so happy with US drone attacks on other countries, would you be happy with drone attacks by other countries on the United States, if they were specifically targeted only against proven war criminals?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


>I don't know where this crap comes from. I'm a lawyer. That's it.

Hmmph, I'm sorry if I misremembered. I'll try to find the original post - or if anyone else finds it...?

I did honestly remember you claiming something of the sort, however - my apologies.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:13 PM on July 23, 2012


One more point.

Would anyone here be so happy with drone attacks if they were being perpetrated on the United States?

Suppose the United States were shown in an international court of war to be harboring a war criminal, say, one who'd masterminded the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people, but refused to try this criminal or give him up.

For those of you who are so happy with US drone attacks on other countries, would you be happy with drone attacks by other countries on the United States, if they were specifically targeted only against proven war criminals?


Let's be clear. These are not war criminals. They are not under prosecution. This continues to be a cross-border military operation against both the Taliban government of Afghanistan, who still controls territory in Afghanistan, and a group of people who acted in concert with the Taliban government of Afghanistan to conduct the largest terrorist attack in history, on anyone.

Like it or not Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden declared war on the US. Bin Laden in 1996, and Omar in 2001. In Omar's own words:

You (the BBC) and American puppet radios have created concern. But the current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause - that is the destruction of America.

And on the other hand, the screening of Taleban [for those who are or are not loyal] is also in process. We will see these things happen within a short while.

What do you mean by the destruction of America? Do you have a concrete plan to implement this?

The plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented.


These persons made war on the United States. You can say that the destruction they caused was not war, but I disagree most strongly. And we made war upon the Taliban and al Qaeda as well. I have no problem with that.

To answer your question, if the US made war on another country, and they attacked us with drones, I would want those drones shot down. Because I come from the US and I don't want other countries to make war upon us. This is war. It is not "war crimes" or anything else of the sort.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:03 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


>I don't know where this crap comes from. I'm a lawyer. That's it.

Hmmph, I'm sorry if I misremembered. I'll try to find the original post - or if anyone else finds it...?

I did honestly remember you claiming something of the sort, however - my apologies.


there is no original post. I have never once claimed to work for the Dems in messaging or anything else. My entire experience has been on election day 2008, when I sat at a poll working for the Obama campaign, making sure that everyone in VA got a chance to vote. I also typed in info on who voted into my blackberry, but that part didn't work.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2012


Dead children are fucking abominable

not dead-childrenist
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In this argument, are we accounting for the aspect of the drones keeping groups pinned down who would otherwise kill much more civilians than the drones do? After one of the drone attacks with heavy civilian casualties, I think it was Petraeus who ordered stricter conditions for when drone attacks are permitted -- with fever attacks, civilian death rates went up. I've brought this up a couple of times here and I don't think I've seen anyone give much of a refutation.

Honestly, the people in this thread couldn't give a shit about people who are killed by car bombs and IEDs. You'll notice that over a hundred people have just been killed in attacks in Iraq, and the reaction here has been "Ho hum, just another day, where's the cat videos". Those voices are silent, those lives don't count.

I'm not quite sure what the actual motivations are of the people condemning drone attacks. Peace at any price maybe? The UN should be in charge? Who knows, but the deaths aren't anything but a smoke screen
posted by happyroach at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'll notice that over a hundred people have just been killed in attacks in Iraq

So using the military to bring peace to that country didn't work?

I'm not quite sure what the actual motivations are of the people condemning drone attacks.

To stop the drone attacks.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:17 PM on July 23, 2012


I'm not quite sure what the actual motivations are of the people condemning drone attacks.

To preserve the rule of law? To make sure the government can only impose penalties on civilians if it can prove its allegations of wrongdoing in a court of law?

There is nothing more noxious to freedom than secret evidence proving that you violated secret laws, for which you can die.

If the concept of living in a free country means anything to you at all, you should be absolutely horrified by the drone murder program.
posted by Malor at 2:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


And YES, this makes it harder for the government to get what it wants.

This is the POINT. It is a FEATURE.
posted by Malor at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those voices are silent, those lives don't count.

It's hard to keep a civil tongue when one is accused of indifference to murder, but I will.

But these deaths are exactly why we wish to get the United States to refrain from mindless acts of illegal violence as they are a consequence of the invasion and subsequent destabilization of Iraq.

Who would have guessed that the Iraqi people would look back at Saddam's era as a golden age? Never in my wildest dreams did I believe this would ever happen. But talk to an Iraqi - before the invasion they had "all the amenities" - power and water and radio and TV and even internet 24/7, hair salons, engineers working in offices, secular universities! Everyone hated and feared Saddam but you didn't die of cholera under Saddam or get blown up in car bombs.

The US took an almost-middle-class country and pretty well bombed it back into the Stone Age. If the US's lying war hadn't brought that country into a state of civil disorder, there wouldn't be car bombs today... so don't use that civil disorder as an argument for even more US involvement in this area!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:35 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not quite sure what the actual motivations are of the people condemning drone attacks.

Well, consider working a little on your reading comprehension because it's stated really "clearly" above.

From above, we are against drone strikes because they are against international law.

From above, we are against drone strikes because they encourage terrorism.

From above, we are against drone strikes against people who might kill people in the future because we are supposed to be the good guys.

From above, we are against drone strikes to protect against the "terrorism threat" because there is objectively no terrorism threat, you're more likely to die of a slip and fall accident than terrorism, and you have to be a craven coward to worry more about terrorism than circulatory failure or cancer.

But I don't really believe you're arguing in good faith. I don't believe you took even one second to read the comments above to try to figure out why people might not be against drones, because it's repeated over and over again in increasingly dull repetition by a number of people in a number of different ways.

I simply believe you are unwilling to address any of the arguments we've presented and can only argue against the straw man of "you haven't made any clear point at all."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:41 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


...why people might be against drones...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2012


It's not cowardly to be afraid of terrorism, just like it isn't cowardly to be scared of dying in a plane crash even though air travel has a good safety record. Fear doesn't have to be logical, and terrorism is engaged in explicitly because it is terrifying.

However, the post 9/11 fear does not justify some of the reaction that came with it. That includes the Patriot Act, the backlash against Muslim Americans, the prisoner abuse and torture, the Iraq invasion, the re-election of Bush, and in my opinion the extent of drone strikes we are seeing.

Our reaction was not pragmatic or well thought out at the highest levels of our government, which makes it tough for me to accept our drone program is not vulnerable to the same forces.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:55 PM on July 23, 2012


Ironmouth: Like it or not Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden declared war on the US. Bin Laden in 1996, and Omar in 2001.

But wait, Bin Laden didn't declare war on behalf of the Afghan government, and Mullah Omar hasn't been in charge of the country since 2001. I'm also unsure of why you left out Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and wherever else the United States is waging a war without declaring one.

You can say that the destruction they caused was not war, but I disagree most strongly.

I assume that many of the people who perpetrated this crime feel just as strongly that the innocents who died in the attacks of 911 were merely collateral damage to the intended targets of the US economy and US security, which is equally as disgusting as when an entire wedding party is murdered because the US feels someone they want to kill, who may or may not be gulity, is in the vicinity.
posted by gman at 2:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


From above, we are against drone strikes to protect against the "terrorism threat" because there is objectively no terrorism threat, you're more likely to die of a slip and fall accident than terrorism, and you have to be a craven coward to worry more about terrorism than circulatory failure or cancer.

Tell that to the 107 people who just were killed in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

But that pretty much confirms what I said- the people who are killed don't mean anything to the people posting here
posted by happyroach at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I accidentally posted too soon. To continue: The real arguments are about intangibles: international law, promotion or discouragement of terrorism, the general morality of the attacks. Whether they actually save lives that might be otherwise targeted by terrorists is irrelevant to the people here.
posted by happyroach at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2012


happyroach: Whether they actually save lives that might be otherwise targeted by terrorists is irrelevant to the people here.

Yes. If there were a lineup of, say, three dozen people, and I was pretty sure one of those people was a serial killer, but there was no way of determining which, I most certainly wouldn't send them all to the electric chair. Fuck, I wouldn't even jail any of them if guilt couldn't be proven.
posted by gman at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell that to the 107 people who just were killed in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

You mean engaging in military activity for a decade in that country to bring them peace has not worked?

Whether they actually save lives that might be otherwise targeted by terrorists is irrelevant to the people here.


And if the accidental killing of an innocent radicalizes someone to become the terrorist who launches the next attack...is that up for consideration?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell that to the 107 people who just were killed in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

You're right, our irrational fear of terrorism is worse than useless, it actually causes people overseas to die when we lash out with unplanned military invasions against hypothetical future threats. But at least we can tell those 107 Afghanis that they died over there so none of us had to die over here, maybe. I bet that will make them feel a whole lot less dead.
posted by mek at 4:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]



Whether they actually save lives that might be otherwise targeted by terrorists is irrelevant to the people here.

And if the accidental killing of an innocent radicalizes someone to become the terrorist who launches the next attack...is that up for consideration?


Not really. Its a vicious cycle that's become the status quo. A dangerous thing in our so called global economy. Military industrial complex building planned obsolescence drones at least keeps the cash flow going somewhat.
posted by infini at 4:25 PM on July 23, 2012


In response to my comment:

>But that pretty much confirms what I said- the people who are killed don't mean anything to the people posting here

You're being extremely rude and that you should be deeply ashamed of your gross rudeness to a stranger. You would not say that to my face.

And you're completely disingenuous in the worst fashion. If you've read even a single word I wrote here, you would know my complete abhorrence of violence. To accuse me of deliberate insensitivity to mass murder is deeply offensive.

Are you an American? Might I point out that YOU are the ones who destabilized this none-too-stable country? What happened to those trillions of dollars spent to "liberate" that country? Remember "you break it, you buy it"?

That I'm being lectured on my compassion by an apologist for the US war machine is rich indeed. Start speaking out against your country's program of eternal foreign wars and targeted assassinations before you pretend to be able to take any sort of moral high ground.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "I wonder how long it will be until there is a civilian murder committed with a drone. It could be untraceable"

well there have been 3 US citizens including a child executed so far.


Don't be deliberately obtuse. You know I mean a murder committed by a civilian for personal reasons.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie: you're right re:untraceability as when that happens, how would we know?
posted by mek at 5:00 PM on July 23, 2012


So what differentiates a terrorist from a civilian?

The government's definition.


“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties. . . . It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
posted by homunculus at 6:13 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is that CYA or plausible deniability now?
posted by infini at 6:17 PM on July 23, 2012


And the evidence demonstrates that this is true. The go-to independent source on this is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.

Here's a follow-up they did to the linked article: UN expert labels CIA tactic exposed by Bureau ‘a war crime’
posted by homunculus at 6:21 PM on July 23, 2012


furiousxgeorge: It's not cowardly to be afraid of terrorism,

No, but I would argue that it's pretty much the definition of cowardice to make stupid decisions based on that fear.

Putting other countries through very real hell, based on a threat so tiny that it's not even vaguely relevant to our actual lives, is cowardice. As a nation, America has become cowardly far past reason.

Some people will no doubt swagger and call me a moron for saying that America is a bunch of lily-livered pussies, and will point at our huge army and our willingness to beat up brown people, who can't realistically fight back, as proof that we have big, swinging dicks.

That's not bravery.
posted by Malor at 6:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tom Junod: For Obama's Lethal Presidency, New Suit Aims at Justice
posted by homunculus at 7:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie: you're right re:untraceability as when that happens, how would we know?

Well that's not my point. Sure, maybe someone has already been assassinated with a private drone. How would you know?

But no, what I mean is, even if you caught a drone in the act, there would be no way to trace it back to the remote operator. Arudino-copters are generic and anyone can assemble on from off-the-shelf components. It could fly back to the concealed operator faster than anyone could pursue it, or out into a lake or ocean and self-destruct. It would be the perfect crime.

The problem here is that military technology always gets down to the consumer level eventually. First there were Predator drones that cost millions. Then there were expensive quadcopters built for police use that can shoot a tear gas shell. Soon enough those will fall into civilian hands and someone will replace the tear gas shell with a shotgun shell. Eventually, assassin-drones will be as cheap as a handgun.

What is going to happen when drones become cheap, lethal, and untraceable? The military budget for drones is $5 Billion just in 2012. Tens of millions of that is spent on training and developing drone operators. This sort of military program penetrates deeply into the American psyche. The authority of the President is behind their use as assassination weapons. This is not just a dangerous precedent, it is a Pandora's Box.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume that many of the people who perpetrated this crime feel just as strongly that the innocents who died in the attacks of 911 were merely collateral damage to the intended targets of the US economy and US security, which is equally as disgusting as when an entire wedding party is murdered because the US feels someone they want to kill, who may or may not be gulity, is in the vicinity.

really? so 3,000 killed deliberately is the same as an accidental and regretful bombing of a wedding when a missile goes off course?

Up is down.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2012


Eventually, assassin-drones will be as cheap as a handgun.

Somebody was watching Attack of the Clones last week. In the end, what does this have to do with whether or not we should use drone strikes. If this is going to "inevitably" end up with "assassin-drone" weapons, then what does that have to do with drone strikes? Meaning that if we stopped today, would that also stop the production of "assassin-drones" by the Techno-Union or whatever nefarious force will make them as cheap as handguns? If the box is open, the box is open. You can't go back. So then the question is should we use a technology that is helping reduce casualties?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:22 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth: really? so 3,000 killed deliberately is the same as an accidental and regretful bombing of a wedding when a missile goes off course?

You use the technology you have to murder innocent people, knowing full well these drone strikes will almost always kill anyone in the area of the person you're trying to hit, who may not actually be guilty of anything. They used the technology they had to strike at your economy and your false sense of security, knowing full well there would be collateral damage in the World Trade Centres. The people who plan and execute these crimes are equally as disgusting to me.

Ironmouth: So then the question is should we use a technology that is helping reduce casualties?

You shouldn't be using any murderous technology, especially on countries that you're not at war with. As to whether or not your morally bankrupt country is reducing casualties, the answer is unequivocally no. We have no idea if any of the people the US executes without trial, are guilty of anything. And I'd suggest if you take your government's word on the matter, you should really study more history; you won't even have to look beyond the last decade.

What the US is doing is murdering a lot of people who they wouldn't otherwise be murdering because most of these countries aren't ones they're going to invade. So, in the end, you're creating a lot of orphans, who, in the not so distant future, will grow up to hate your country, and perhaps murder thousands more on your soil. The United States is in rapid decline, and unfortunately because of people with your mentality, it will be paid back.
posted by gman at 9:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Up is down.

Please cut this bullshit out. It's not opposite day because someone disagrees with you.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


So then the question is should we use a technology that is helping reduce casualties?

If any technology helps reduce casualties, should we use it?

It would be extremely effective to kill everyone in Afghanistan. Man, woman, and child. There would never again be a threat to American citizens from Afghanistan, because every Afghan would be dead.

That would be a very effective way to use technology to reduce American casualties.

This is not a stretch, and it is not implausible. Kill lists and death squads are very closely associated with mass murder programs. If you're opposed to mass murder, how can you support targeted murder? It's the exact same thing, just on a smaller scale.
posted by Malor at 2:52 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As this goes on it just proves that the "Anti-War" protests were actually "Anti-Bush" protests.
posted by TSOL at 6:36 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> As this goes on it just proves that the "Anti-War" protests were actually "Anti-Bush" protests.

You couldn't prove it by this thread, where so many people are deeply critical of Mr. Obama for his bellicose position. What, exactly, are you basing this on? (Looking at your posting history, I can make some educated guesses...)

I do agree that a lot of people have had the wind taken out of their sails. Working for the election of Mr. Obama, the supposed "leftist", and then finding out that he's at least as much of a warmonger as the previous POTUS was extremely discouraging - particular since, given the stranglehold that the two party system has on the United States, it means that there's literally no electable candidate to support if you are against warfare.

It seems to me that your comment has nothing to do with anything that's been discussed, or really with the article at all. Could you please take your trolling elsewhere?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:50 AM on July 25, 2012


Ironmouth:

really? so 3,000 killed deliberately is the same as an accidental and regretful bombing of a wedding when a missile goes off course?

You described 9/11 as a declaration of war. Surely the correct comparison would be to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. If you recall, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died for nothing in the Iraq War - and they were killed deliberately, too.

I might also note that at the current drone attack rate, if Mr. Obama gets a second term, there will have been a lot more people killed by drone attacks than in 9/11...


Up is down.

Really, are you trying to be deliberately inflammatory? A glimpse at your posting history on topics like this makes the answer abundantly clear...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:01 AM on July 25, 2012


"Killed deliberately" is a poor choice of words in my post above. To clarify - "the war that killed them wasn't based on an honest mistake but a deliberate series of lies by the United States government."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:43 AM on July 25, 2012


From a purely cold and logical examination of the methods, the tactics used on 9/11 were actually a very valid attempt to make war while reducing the casualties. It was an attempt at a decapitation strike at the United States military, political, and economic leadership with the goal of preventing the country from responding to the attack and continue to intervene militarily overseas. A few thousand casualties is a small price to pay to stop a belligerent, warlike nation in its tracks. In truth, the greatest tragedy was that the attack was not more succesfull at this goal since the failure led to the War in Iraq and many more deaths. Aside from the option of not launching the attacks or engaging in war with the US, which I have decided unilaterally is not part of this conversation, there really isn't anything to suggest but that the most moral position is that Al Qaeda should have hijacked more planes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:07 AM on July 25, 2012


furiousxgeorge: From a purely cold and logical examination of the methods, the tactics used on 9/11 were actually a very valid attempt to make war while reducing the casualties.

While an interesting idea, I disagree. I've always been of the opinion that the people who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11 were striking at America's common religion - the economy and its security. In proving those items to be extremely vulnerable, they knew exactly how the United States would respond, the only way it knows how, with belligerent aggression. They knew full well that the question of why this happened wouldn't be okay to examine, it would be seen as unpatriotic. The answer was simple - 'people over there obviously hate our way of life, our freedoms'. Any other explanation would actually require using one's brain and hurt the American agenda.

The planners of 9/11 wanted to provoke such a huge (and obvious) reaction by the United States so as to draw them into a protracted widespread battle on their own turf. They knew that the United States has an insatiable appetite for instant gratification and can't stomach long wars or U.S. deaths on the battlefield. The fighters over there are just as brainwashed as the ones in the U.S. military, but then add that to the fact that they often don't know where their next meal is going to come from, their perception that the West has absolutely no respect for them, the idea of a great afterlife, and, this one is extremely important, incredible patience. They know that the United States will leave Afghanistan, with their tail between their legs, having accomplished nothing except death and destruction for both Afghans and themselves. Jesus, don't they fuckin' read history books?

The attacks of 9/11 allowed the United States government to revoke freedoms and rights from their people, and the people just accepted it in the name of 'security'. They instilled fear in the country and erased many of the ideals that the United States claims to stand for. And it fuckin' kills me that people fell for this shit. It's like the planners of these attacks on the United States are playing chess, while the Americans play checkers.
posted by gman at 5:48 AM on July 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


gman absolutely fuggin nailed it to the wall with his comment just above. I agree 110%.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:57 AM on July 25, 2012


Really, are you trying to be deliberately inflammatory? A glimpse at your posting history on topics like this makes the answer abundantly clear...

I don't think this is a good way to argue, lupus - and I'm pretty sure the mods have said in the past that bringing up another poster's history in that manner is not kosher. And what's with the completely spurious attempt at muckraking his supposed past political activities? It was a baseless accusation, and a blatant ad hominem with no bearing on this discussion. I admire Ironmouth's calm and frank response.

I frequently disagree with Ironmouth - including on this issue - but let's keep the discussion constructive and not personal, yeah?
posted by Drexen at 6:47 AM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Drexen: yes, sorry, I'll be more moderate next time. I've tried to react well to the not-entirely-polite discourse and general derision but sometimes the patience lags...

Regarding the political interactions, it was something that I and at least two other Mefi-ers remembered. It must have been a misreading of something else. I politely asked, which is always an option.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:10 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the first matter, I don't think saying "A glimpse at your posting history on topics like this makes the answer abundantly clear..." is in any way different from asking someone who consistently repeats this type of behaviour, in an attempt to stifle conversation, to stop. Commenting that "Up is down" is an extremely rude way of telling someone that because you disagree with them, their ideas are backwards. None of Ironmouth's previous comments were posted here, which would be a very different situation. Anyway, I will agree that this point is probably better suited to MetaTalk.
posted by gman at 7:32 AM on July 25, 2012


Anyway, I will agree that this point is probably better suited to MetaTalk.

I oblige. And now, back to the topic at hand:

If the box is open, the box is open. You can't go back. So then the question is should we use a technology that is helping reduce casualties?
posted by Ironmouth at 5:22 PM on July 24 [+] [!]


I think we're having a problem of approaches here. It's true that if you compare 'a drone strike' to 'a jet-bomber strike', then the drone strike has the possibility to be less damaging and more precise. The trouble, and the reason we keep pushing back against this, is that the impact of introducing drones is not as simple as scaling up that comparison and saying 'an army of drones is less damaging than an army of jets'. Drone technology is inevitable, sure, but that's not the same thing as an inevitable switching over to remote, robotic warfare, which I agree might well be better than the current arrangement.

The problem is that absent any real particular will to reduce innocent casualties as an end in itself -- not to mention the ambiguity over what constitutes a non-innocent casualty -- this new technology represents ways to achieve more violence than was achieved before. Better military results, with a smaller ratio of friendly casualities -- achieved through more strikes with more collateral damage. Just as workplace technology has not resulted in an overall reduction of work, warfare technology will not result in an overall reduction of war.

If modern wars have lower overall deaths than the Great Wars of the past, it's because we are not conducting Great Wars any more, and instead are conducting exercises that would never have been attempted when warfare was crude and vast. With less cost to ourselves, we can exact tolls on others, innocent or otherwise, that we wouldn't have otherwise.
posted by Drexen at 8:26 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a moot point, anyway. Ironmouth did not substantively answer the points made and left, so I should have simply ignored him and not sniped.

Let me go over the key points again.

1. Drones aren't replacing conventional warfare - they are supplementing it. Overall, we get all the same way machine we had before, AND drones.

2. The alternative to drones is either bombing from planes, or ground attacks, and the US does not have anywhere near the political capital nor logistical ability to stage literally hundreds of ground or bombing attacks per year, particularly in countries that the US is not at war with. This means that nearly all the time, the choice isn't between "drones" and "something worse like conventional weapons", but between "drones" and "nothing at all".

3. If you live in the United States, your chance of being killed by a terrorist has always been and remains tiny.

4. If you live in Iraq or Afghanistan, your chances of being killed by a terrorist are hugely greater than they were 12 years ago because an American invasion has destabilized your country. If you live in Somalia or Yemen or any other target of drones, your chance of being killed by a terrorist is not reduced, and your chance of being killed by a drone is non-zero.

5. Generally, if you claim to be the good guys, you can't go around killing people who you suspect but are not sure might be a threat to you. See also 3.

6. The United States has lost any right to claim the moral high-ground in any war on terrorism after the Iraq War, a War based on deliberate lies which killed dozens of times as many innocents as ever died in all US terror attacks, and destabilized a country of millions of people and destroyed its infrastructure.

7. Drone attacks, being faceless and not allowing people to directly strike back, would seem to encourage the survivors to take up terrorism in revenge.

8. If the United States is allowed to attack with drones individuals who they suspect might become war criminals in foreign countries whenever they deem it necessary, why shouldn't other countries be allowed to use their drones to attack war criminals living in America? (I note that this point has consistently been ignored...)

oh, and it shouldn't be necessary to remind anyone but:

9. To extrapolate from someone's opposition to drones to the claim that they are indifferent to mass killings with great loss of life is offensive and unfair.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:41 AM on July 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


In proving those items to be extremely vulnerable, they knew exactly how the United States would respond....
The planners of 9/11 wanted to provoke such a huge (and obvious) reaction by the United States so as to draw them into a protracted widespread battle on their own turf.


I don't believe the planners of 9/11 were this prescient, nor that war on their turf was their goal. Rather, I believe they saw the U.S. as vulnerable and weak-willed, and thought that 9/11 would lead to withdrawal, not aggression. A miscalculation on OBL's part... I'd have to look up a cite for this, though.
posted by torticat at 10:40 AM on July 25, 2012


With less cost to ourselves, we can exact tolls on others, innocent or otherwise, that we wouldn't have otherwise.

This is the point of warfare: to harm the other side while minimizing harm to yours. It is the war that is wrong, not the use of superior technology to implement war.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2012


1. Drones aren't replacing conventional warfare - they are supplementing it. Overall, we get all the same way machine we had before, AND drones.

This is irrelevant to the question of whether we should or should not use drones as a weapon.

2. The alternative to drones is either bombing from planes, or ground attacks, and the US does not have anywhere near the political capital nor logistical ability to stage literally hundreds of ground or bombing attacks per year, particularly in countries that the US is not at war with. This means that nearly all the time, the choice isn't between "drones" and "something worse like conventional weapons", but between "drones" and "nothing at all".

This is incorrect. We have an ENTIRE AIR WING at Bagram. We can launch dozens of strikes at will.

This sounds like your point is that America should deliberately hamstring itself when waging war. Is that your point? No one is going to do that. If your problem is with war itself, I hope it goes away. Until then we should fight it to win. It makes zero sense to fight a war to lose, you only make it go longer and harm more.

Also there is a such thing as a carrier group. We could easily launch planes against these people. The Pakistanis would likely allow them to go on. Do you realize that the Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan was the source of almost all our drone attacks in Pakistan? If the Pakistanis didn't want it, why did they allow us to fly the drones out of their own base? We only left after 25 Pakistani soldiers were killed by an airstrike of ours at the border using conventional aircraft. There were several other airbases we were staging drone strikes out of in Pakistan as well.

3. If you live in the United States, your chance of being killed by a terrorist has always been and remains tiny.

This is not a point against the use of drones. This is a point against the Afghanistan war. A different discussion and totally irrelevant to this war.

4. If you live in Iraq or Afghanistan, your chances of being killed by a terrorist are hugely greater than they were 12 years ago because an American invasion has destabilized your country. If you live in Somalia or Yemen or any other target of drones, your chance of being killed by a terrorist is not reduced, and your chance of being killed by a drone is non-zero.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We are not fighting in Iraq right now. Somalia? There's no way of having stats there, they don't even have a government. You need to prove these claims, in the way I did, that is, with statistics and numbers from independent sources. More importantly, you appear to want to have the US tie one arm behind its back while fighting. Why? If you set to use military force, you should set it to win.

5. Generally, if you claim to be the good guys, you can't go around killing people who you suspect but are not sure might be a threat to you. See also 3.

You again are trying to make this into an argument against the war in general. A different argument entirely. I think Iraq was a total mistake, and Afghanistan was totally necessary. But given that we are there now, the question is do we use drones. I say yes. I say it reduces collateral casualties and reduces the anger of rebels, not increases it.

6. The United States has lost any right to claim the moral high-ground in any war on terrorism after the Iraq War, a War based on deliberate lies which killed dozens of times as many innocents as ever died in all US terror attacks, and destabilized a country of millions of people and destroyed its infrastructure.


7. Drone attacks, being faceless and not allowing people to directly strike back, would seem to encourage the survivors to take up terrorism in revenge.

Wait a moment. The way to win the war is to expose our troops to more hazards so that the enemy may more easily kill them? That is ridiculous. That is the way to lose a war. This is completely without a rational basis. Are you claiming that by allowing others to strike us back more easily, they won't fight us more? Hardly. They will be more effective and fight more because they will have a better chance of winning.

The idea that somehow killing less innocents makes people even angrier flies in the face of all logic. Almost all war for the last 150 years has been faceless, with the vast majority of casualties being inflicted by persons that are unseen, through artillery, bombing or long range small-arms fire. Killing fewer innocents makes it less likely others will be angry.

8. If the United States is allowed to attack with drones individuals who they suspect might become war criminals in foreign countries whenever they deem it necessary, why shouldn't other countries be allowed to use their drones to attack war criminals living in America? (I note that this point has consistently been ignored...)

I did address this. This is not a criminal action. These are not war criminals. They are deemed enemy fighters by our law. It seems you wish to advantage those who would strike via terrorist attack, wear the clothes of civilians and surround themselves with civilians so as to make it more difficult to strike them without causing casualties amongst civilians. Why?

We have, by Act of Congress, designated these people as military enemies of the United States. If they want to not have civilians get hit, why don't they put on a uniform? It is apparently OK for them to attack as a faceless force, but not ok for us to do it. If these people did not live amongst civilians there would be NO COLLATERAL DAMAGE AT ALL. These people struck civilians in the US and then hid amongst civilians to make it more likely civilians would be injured or killed? Why is it then that the US is the one who is morally responsible for the deaths of civilians and not the people hiding amongst civilians?

oh, and it shouldn't be necessary to remind anyone but:

9. To extrapolate from someone's opposition to drones to the claim that they are indifferent to mass killings with great loss of life is offensive and unfair.

Here's the deal. Why are you rooting for these people? It is like you think it is fair that they hide amongst civilians but unfair of us to strike them there. You think it OK for them to attempt to reduce their casualties by hiding amongst the populace, but it not ok for the US to attempt to reduce the casualties of their own fighters.

The problem is this. Drones REDUCE civilian casualties. Why are you against them? You open yourself up to these charges when you argue against the use of a weapon that reduces collateral damage and casualties in these strikes.

I've worked hard at putting together a complete picture of these strikes. I've provided a lot of information from independent sources that demonstrates that a low number of individuals are being collaterally killed by drone strikes. You've provided no links to any evidence whatsoever. You continue to give rhetorical arguments that make no sense, essentially arguing that the US, in the interest of "fairness" fight with one hand tied behind its back and allow these people to use civilians as a shield. This is morality turned backwards.

Up is down these days.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:15 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, up is down. Peace is war, safety is terror, civilians are militants, innocents are guilty.

Drones create civilian casualties where there would be none: in nations the USA is not at war with. This is what is meant by "covert war." You seem to want to compare covert wars to real wars, to make covert wars look better: to make this comparison, you first need to demonstrate these things are interchangeable. Could the USA wage a real war in Yemen, or Pakistan, or Syria?
posted by mek at 3:44 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the point of warfare: to harm the other side while minimizing harm to yours. It is the war that is wrong, not the use of superior technology to implement war.

But in cases like this, superior technology can enable more war -- or to be precise, more war actions down to the level of strikes targetted at individuals (though still hitting people other than those individuals). I don't think you can separate them the way you, and Ironmouth, are doing.

As an example, I understand that many US police/federal agencies are considering putting drones in civil airspace for policing duties, where it was never practical to do the same amount of monitoring (and potentially other) actions with helicopters/ground units. This more efficient method of policing results in more policing. I believe the situation with warfare is the same.
posted by Drexen at 4:05 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


@Ironmouth:

This is incorrect. We have an ENTIRE AIR WING at Bagram. We can launch dozens of strikes at will.

It's not inconcievable that we could launch the same number of conventional strikes. The resources of the US military are great. But they aren't infinite; the cost of drone strikes in money, manpower, politics and resources is so much less compared to maintaining and operating attack aircraft that I don't think you can say one could translate to the other with no effect on operational capacity. I mean, there's a reason they were developed, after all.

Because of this, the question of whether to support the use of drone technology is closely linked with the issue of whether to support war. I don't think you can claim that they're completely separate issues. That would only be a halfway-reasonable assumption if the current trend were for drones to only replace, rather than to supplement, conventional air operations. It isn't, and so the assumption begs scrutiny.

This sounds like your point is that America should deliberately hamstring itself when waging war. Is that your point?

America should restrain itself from counterproductive war actions such as executing strikes (by drone, jet or other means) that are liable to produce innocent casualties and so fuel terrorism.
posted by Drexen at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2012


The problem with justifying your use of a weapon based on reduced casualties is that it can be used for literally any weapon depending on circumstances. We have already used it to justify nuclear attacks, where else is there to go?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:17 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that somehow killing less innocents makes people even angrier flies in the face of all logic.

Not all responses to dead family members are fully logical. As I mentioned with fear of flying above, the things that provoke the most response from people aren't necessarily the most dangerous. You could make a case that drone strikes will cause more anger, in that they can be used more often and in more places and make the people on the ground feel more impotent in their ability to respond than if they could take solace in having an AK if troops come by. I don't think anyone has studied the topic well enough to know for sure how it plays out. The 90s were a decade when the American military was already using amazing new technology to reduce casualties when they took action, but somehow Al Qaeda was still angry enough to do 9/11.

I'm sure if Al Qaeda has the means they would have used targetted drone strikes too, but their situation was more like the Allies in WWII. They did not have access to the technology to effectively strike at their enemy without also hitting civilian targets. In addition, given that multiple contractors for the defense department had offices in the WTC, I think it's pretty clear it isn't fair for the US to be hiding legitimate targets like that among civilians in the same building.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:29 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, addressing me:

> It seems you wish to advantage those who would strike via terrorist attack,

[...]

> Why are you rooting for these people?

You're accusing me of being a terrorist sympathizer. This conversation is OVER.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:27 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"As I have made clear several times above, drones make kills possible that would not have been possible before."

Dude, you asserted that several times before. You at no point proved it. Stop acting like you did. The majority of our drone strikes have been in tactical place of cruise missile or bomb attacks, which have much lower precision.

It's possible to be wary about drone strikes because their covert nature makes it hard to monitor the appropriate use of force, and it's reasonable to have constitutional concerns about some of the ways that they've been used, but this thread is just full of insane hyperbole and weird disingenuous arguments from people who are really opposed to the US use of imperial military power — which is something reasonable people may differ on, especially with regard to specifics, so I don't want this to come across like I disapprove of being opposed to US imperial military power. But that also comes with a tendency to make the argument really emotional and assume that people that disagree are inhuman monsters.
posted by klangklangston at 5:31 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with justifying your use of a weapon based on reduced casualties is that it can be used for literally any weapon depending on circumstances. We have already used it to justify nuclear attacks, where else is there to go?

The question presented is use of drones worse than use of other weapons.

As for nuclear weapons, you are talking about the post war statements justyfying their use. The people making those statements knew they were false. They were given far different and lower numbers. So its use was not justified.

But the numbers I put up above are not goverment numbers. They are independent. They show actually fewer casualities. We should use more accurate and better weapons that reduce harm to non-combatants as much as we can.

That is why the opposition to drones seems inexplicable to me. It appears to be emotional and linked to a desire to "even the score" and help the "underdog" even if the so-called underdog specifically attacks civiians as its primary mode of attack.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:44 PM on July 25, 2012


You're accusing me of being a terrorist sympathizer. This conversation is OVER.

What I'm saying is that you aren't thinking this out. Al Qaeda is hiding in urban areas in order to use civilians as shields to increase the political costs to hit them. You don't address this. Instead, you think we should attack more "fairly" and expose ourselves to attack. This seems ill thought out.

I don't think you are a terrorist sympathizer--but you don't think out how your positions are that it is morally wrong for the US to expose its personnel to less risk while implicitly saying it is fine and fair for Al Qaeda to deliberately hide amongst civilians to reduce risks to themselves.

Seems the opposite of how it ought to be.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:51 PM on July 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


It appears to be emotional and linked to a desire to "even the score" and help the "underdog" even if the so-called underdog specifically attacks civiians as its primary mode of attack.

Why? Who's actually arguing along those lines -- saying that we should even the score, help underdogs, or advantage terrorists? It's a long and (to say the least) uncharitable leap you're making. I think it strongly weakens your arguments to take this kind of -- surely you realise this -- unacceptable line of attack, when we're putting our actual reasoning out there for you to address (as you're also doing, if exasperatingly).
posted by Drexen at 6:11 PM on July 25, 2012


it's funny that there are people who believe there's such a thing as 'al qaeda'
posted by facetious at 6:47 PM on July 25, 2012


It appears to be emotional and linked to a desire to "even the score" and help the "underdog" even if the so-called underdog specifically attacks civiians as its primary mode of attack.

It's not the same people.

You're thinking about a whole population as being the same. That's one of the most racist things I've ever seen on MeFi. You're arguing that, because some people in a population are guilty, that means they're ALL guilty, and it's okay to kill ANY of them because some of their people killed some of ours.

That is absolutely amoral thinking.

Consider, why is terrorism bad? Because, of course, they're targeting civilians.

The government is doing the exact same thing. They have some hazy intel that a particular person is bad, and they kill that person, along with anyone else nearby, without a trial.

So why are we better? How are we the good guys in this scenario?

Doesn't this bother you? We're killing way more innocent people than the terrorists ever have. And we're doing this in countries where we've never declared war. We're just assassinating people all over the globe, wherever we want.

This, Ironmouth, is what evil looks like. You are arguing on the side of evil.
posted by Malor at 6:48 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"You're thinking about a whole population as being the same. That's one of the most racist things I've ever seen on MeFi. You're arguing that, because some people in a population are guilty, that means they're ALL guilty, and it's okay to kill ANY of them because some of their people killed some of ours. "

Here's a pro-tip: If you think that you've summed up someone else's position and it sounds entirely insane, you've likely done a poor job summing up that person's position. Even worse is taking that insane summation and arguing that makes the member a terrible person.

"Consider, why is terrorism bad? Because, of course, they're targeting civilians."

Well, no, because they're targeting the public through fear to force a political goal that they wouldn't be able to achieve through legitimate means.

"The government is doing the exact same thing. They have some hazy intel that a particular person is bad, and they kill that person, along with anyone else nearby, without a trial. "

I agree that it's good to be skeptical of both the intelligence behind drone strikes and the process by which drone strikes are authorized and carried out. But this is an argument against assassination in general, especially messy assassination. And it ignores the pretty obvious rebuttal — OK, sure, but assume a situation where the intelligence is strong. Osama Bin Laden could be considered a civilian — he didn't serve in any official army, and it's pretty reasonable to conclude that he had both been involved in the 9/11 attacks to an extent that counted as both an act of war and murder, and that he was involved in further attacks worldwide.

So, given that, was killing him acceptable? He was a civilian, technically. I mean, take a moment to stop begging the question — "hazy intel," etc.

Like I said, I think it's reasonable to be skeptical, but I don't think the equivalency you're drawing is convincing at all, and I don't think that the scale that you've objected is warranted. Seriously, "This, Ironmouth, is what evil looks like. You are arguing on the side of evil"? That's hyperbolic nonsense.
posted by klangklangston at 7:18 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me expand on that last bit ever so slightly.

Even if you don't think the US is evil, looking from the outside, how on earth could you tell it wasn't? With behavior like that, what useful differentiation can really be made between the US and a hypothetical evil country?

Remote assassinations is something you'd expect from Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao, not the United States. We're supposed to stand for something here. The fact that they would have embraced that kind of technology wholeheartedly should really, really make you think twice about this whole idea.

It's always been our nature to hold to our principles, even if it makes our fights harder, even if it makes mountains harder to climb, because there's no point in winning if we lose our soul to gain the objective.

We're in this for the long haul -- we've said, over and over, that the war on terrorism will never be over. That means it's an ongoing maintenance thing for civilization, not a special event. You do maintenance on the social contract with laws, police, and courts, not kill lists and death squads.

When you argue in favor of all this, you are arguing in favor of a US that will be able to kill anyone it wants, anytime it wants, forever. A permanent change, permanent assassination by death squad, whenever it wants.

That's not the United States anymore. That is an evil empire pretending to be the United States.
posted by Malor at 7:22 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


klanklangston, I stand behind my summation of his argument. He is arguing that's it's okay to kill them because they're all guilty by association.
posted by Malor at 7:24 PM on July 25, 2012


citing statistics of "independent" organizations doesn't give the statistics legitimacy without further information about how they classify civilians. is someone a civilian until they have been proven(whatever that could mean) to be not a civilian, or are they considered not a civilian until proven(again, another order of magnitude in dimensions) to be a civilian?
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:29 PM on July 25, 2012


hy? Who's actually arguing along those lines -- saying that we should even the score, help underdogs, or advantage terrorists?

Lupus Yonderboy. He said that we are creating resentment because drones don't allow Al Qaeda to attack back. Isn't that the goal? What are we supposed to do, make it easier for them to attack our personnel?
posted by Ironmouth at 7:34 PM on July 25, 2012


This is a tough issue, and although the debate in this thread has been somewhat heated it's also made me think about some things differently and look at them in new ways. It's one of those issues that I feel like I could play devil's advocate and argue with either side, but I still haven't come to a conclusion about how I actually feel.
posted by Man Bites Dog at 7:35 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The government is doing the exact same thing. They have some hazy intel that a particular person is bad, and they kill that person, along with anyone else nearby, without a trial.

Really? First, the intel is "hazy?" You looking at the intel? No, you're not. So you have zero facts to support that claim.

Second, THERE IS A TITANIC DIFFERENCE between people who plan to file four airliners into skycrapers filled with civilians and trying to go after those same persons who deliberately try to hide themselves amongst civilians so as to increase civilian casualties. A huge difference. In no way ever is that the same. Ever. One group, the US, hopes to reduce civilian casualties, the other, Al Qaeda, deliberately is trying to increase them.

posted by Ironmouth at 7:46 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


citing statistics of "independent" organizations doesn't give the statistics legitimacy without further information about how they classify civilians. is someone a civilian until they have been proven(whatever that could mean) to be not a civilian, or are they considered not a civilian until proven(again, another order of magnitude in dimensions) to be a civilian?

What contrary stats do you have? That's all I ask. What specific problems do you have with the stats? Please explain your problems with the methodology.

I provided independent stats by an organization that is obviously less than happy with drone usage (I'm assuming you clicked through the links). I'm using the most negative stats to the Administration--and they support my case. If you have better facts, provide them.

I try to back up what I say. If you have something to back up your points, let's see it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:06 PM on July 25, 2012


But in cases like this, superior technology can enable more war -- or to be precise, more war actions down to the level of strikes targetted at individuals (though still hitting people other than those individuals). I don't think you can separate them the way you, and Ironmouth, are doing.

So, by extension, we should be fighting them with sticks and stones, the least effective methods, right? Or maybe with our bare hands?
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:14 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, by extension, we should be fighting them with sticks and stones, the least effective methods, right? Or maybe with our bare hands?

Nope. "Not at all" is the correct answer. The billions spent on these insane and ultimately counterproductive military efforts would be better spent on providing Afghanistan, for example, with humanitarian assistance, water projects, libraries, education, infrastructure. I know it sounds crazy, but I just have this gut feeling that you'd win a whole lot more hearts and minds in this way (and for probably a whole lot less money) than, you know, killing people.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:06 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


First, we might remember Marx’s comment that “the windmill gives you a society with the feudal lord; the steam engine gives you one with the industrial capitalist.” And precision guided munitions and drones give you a society with perpetual asymmetric wars.

This is not true. It is the inability for one side to retaliate effectively that gives you a perpetual war, not precision guided weapons. Would Russia or China attack the U.S. with a precision guided stealth weapon or vice versa?

I would think the U.S administration might argue that the greatest "moral hazards" to be dealt with in these situations are the risks of future wars or terrorist attacks and balancing that with actions taken now, possibly including drone attacks. Perhaps there are many other complicated parts of the equation such as protecting the U.S. economy (standard of living), the global economy, and the balance of global power, finding a peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, etc.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:33 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Even if you don't think the US is evil, looking from the outside, how on earth could you tell it wasn't? With behavior like that, what useful differentiation can really be made between the US and a hypothetical evil country?"

If I answer your question, will you answer mine? Otherwise, it won't seem fair.

I don't think that "evil" is a tremendously useful concept within international relations, and I don't think that characterizing nations as "evil" is helpful in either describing or prescribing national conduct. I think that there can be "evil" actions, but even that I'd give limited rhetorical value.

So, from that point, and recognizing that an excluded middle is one part of these sort of good/evil conversations, I can say that there are actually quite a few useful determinations that can be made on the relative morality of assassinations or drone strikes or bombings or any military action.

"Remote assassinations is something you'd expect from Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao, not the United States. We're supposed to stand for something here. The fact that they would have embraced that kind of technology wholeheartedly should really, really make you think twice about this whole idea. "

You didn't really answer my question, which makes it hard to engage with this, because I just don't quite know what you're trying to say. Is it the "remote" that's the important part? I don't necessarily have any problem with "assassinations," I just think that they need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. So, it's the technology? And really, you can see how saying that Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao would have embraced a technology doesn't make an argument, but rather an ad hominem fallacy. I don't think it was assassinations per se that made any of those folks worse than, say, Roosevelt.

"It's always been our nature to hold to our principles, even if it makes our fights harder, even if it makes mountains harder to climb, because there's no point in winning if we lose our soul to gain the objective. "

This is patriotic bombast.

"When you argue in favor of all this, you are arguing in favor of a US that will be able to kill anyone it wants, anytime it wants, forever. A permanent change, permanent assassination by death squad, whenever it wants. "

Well, first off, it's important to note that you've defined "arguing in favor of all this" as anything shy of the patriotic bombast you've laid out, getting that good emotional charge in the wadding. That aside, no, people arguing in favor of drone strikes — especially relative to prior tactics — are not arguing for that any more than you're arguing for letting terrorists go.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would Russia or China attack the U.S. with a precision guided stealth weapon or vice versa?

You could make a pretty solid argument that both countries are doing exactly that, using malware. The fact that we can't conclusively prove it is what makes them stealth.
posted by msalt at 12:18 AM on July 26, 2012


cupcake: citing statistics of "independent" organizations doesn't give the statistics legitimacy without further information about how they classify civilians. is someone a civilian until they have been proven(whatever that could mean) to be not a civilian, or are they considered not a civilian until proven(again, another order of magnitude in dimensions) to be a civilian?

I understand your skepticism, and Ironmouth's answer was pretty snippy (though I can understand him being a bit defensive at this point). But the group he cited -- the Bureau of Investigative Journalism -- is a lefty open-government collective of journalists that is very critical of the US war effort. It's the most authoritative source overall and especially among critics of drone war. Here's their Wikipedia page.
posted by msalt at 12:27 AM on July 26, 2012


For those of you who are so happy with US drone attacks on other countries, would you be happy with drone attacks by other countries on the United States, if they were specifically targeted only against proven war criminals?

Honestly, I can think of examples that would not bother me, if the people involved were not only guilty of past crimes but were (with some reasonable evidence) seen to be involved in continuing attacks. I can think of several examples during my lifetime that might approximate the situation -- Cuban terrorists, Somoza, Pinochet officials, probably Iranian SAVAK agents, etc.

Would I be upset if a drone strike took out Luis Posada Carriles or Michael Townley? No, not at all.
posted by msalt at 12:41 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What contrary stats do you have? That's all I ask. What specific problems do you have with the stats?

I don't know any other statistics. here is what you wrote:

Total US strikes: 335
Obama strikes: 283
Total reported killed: 2,513-3,226
Civilians reported killed: 482-835
Children reported killed: 175
Total reported injured: 1,198-1,324


so, using the low "total reported killed" and high "civilians reported killed" would imply 1,678 "bad guys" killed. except no one really knows if these people in the gap were actually "civilians", or more broadly, if they deserved to receive the death penalty without trial. your link didn't have a clear indication of their methodology when i scanned the page.

they can't come out and say "we know that 1,678 people who deserved to die were killed by the program, many more than the number of civilians killed" because they don't know that. showing the numbers in the way they do is honest in one way because it says what they know, but dishonest because in buries the lead. so, that's the problem i have with the stats.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:05 AM on July 26, 2012


Nope. "Not at all" is the correct answer.

Yes, that was my point. If you're against war (and I am), then any weapons are verbotten. If you accept that wars must be fought at some point, then you should use the most efficient weapons to accomplish the war. Otherwise, you're stuck with arguing that the least effective weapons should be used, which, as I was pointing out implicitly and you point out explicitly, makes no sense.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:00 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


cupcake1337: Certainly it's difficult to have precise statistics for attacks that take place in such remote areas.

But I don't understand your skepticism about the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or your inability to find their methodology. (That link is right in the middle of their page, right side, big letters) . They also maintain a comprehensive database of all drone attacks worldwide to the best of their ability.

The BIJ are not a pro-grovernment source. Most of the critics of drone use here on MeFi have been quoting them. They are both the most authoritative source and the leading anti-drone source. So whatever you think of IronMouth and his argument, he bent over backwards to be fair in choosing these statistics.
posted by msalt at 9:06 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


mental wimp: If you're against war (and I am), then any weapons are verbotten. If you accept that wars must be fought at some point, then you should use the most efficient weapons to accomplish the war. Otherwise, you're stuck with arguing that the least effective weapons should be used, which, as I was pointing out implicitly and you point out explicitly, makes no sense.

Yes! Favorited early and often. I think this is the key distinction about drones that these discussions keep foundering on.

One more nuance; it's also possible to personally oppose war (or the death penalty or our ridiculous lack of gun control) but accept that the U.S. is a democracy and that at the moment the public disagrees with you. Democracy is also a positive, idealistic value.
posted by msalt at 9:15 AM on July 26, 2012


Al Qaeda is hiding in urban areas in order to use civilians as shields to increase the political costs to hit them.

A vanishing minority of drone strikes are even pretending to target "Al-Qaeda operatives" these days. You're talking about an organization that has been struggling and failing to detonate an underwear bomb for the past several years. Does anyone honestly believe they are still the major cause and concern of the War on Terror?
posted by mek at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2012


Does anyone honestly believe they (Al Qaeda) are still the major cause and concern ... ?

Al Qaeda claims responsibility for recent barrage of Iraq attacks


Al Qaeda Taking Deadly New Role in Syria’s Conflict
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2012


Al-Qaeda certainly turns up when destabilized nations become international battlegrounds. But that's putting the cart before the horse, no?
posted by mek at 2:06 PM on July 26, 2012


I'm not sure I follow. Are you suggesting U.S. nation-building in Yemen, Somalia and the Pakistani tribal areas?
posted by msalt at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2012


cupcake1337: Certainly it's difficult to have precise statistics for attacks that take place in such remote areas.

yes, that's my point.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2012


Well that goes both ways. But the BIJ is the gold standard of drone statistics, has the biggest database of drone strikes worldwide, and publishes their methodology openly for all to see.

This started with you criticizing IronMouth's use of their statistics. Do you know any better ones? Do you have any specific criticisms of their methods, to which we've linked very precisely for your convenience? The BIJ opposes IronMouth's position and he quoted them, which seems like a good faith effort at fair discussion.
posted by msalt at 5:02 PM on July 26, 2012


Are you suggesting U.S. nation-building in Yemen, Somalia and the Pakistani tribal areas?

No, why on earth would you think that?
posted by mek at 5:17 PM on July 26, 2012


Can anyone define who or what we are at war with? You know so that we know when we have won or lost. Otherwise all arguments are arguments about nothing since I doubt anyone arguing here can define the simple parameter of who or what we are fighting; let alone why.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:22 PM on July 26, 2012


Me: Are you suggesting U.S. nation-building in Yemen, Somalia and the Pakistani tribal areas?
Mek: No, why on earth would you think that?


Because your original comment was: Al-Qaeda certainly turns up when destabilized nations become international battlegrounds. But that's putting the cart before the horse, no?
I'm trying to puzzle out what the horse is, that you want to put first, in your analogy.
posted by msalt at 5:36 PM on July 26, 2012


I was talking about how the drone program largely does not target Al-Qaeda, and more generally how Al-Qaeda is not a major target of the War on Terror as it is currently being practiced. Someone responded with the two examples of increasing Al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria. Of course, this is the result of various interventions, and totally unrelated to the drone program we're discussing.

Al-Qaeda follows and occasionally anticipates American activity. But it is rarely the target, as Bush famously admitted to when asked about his plans to catch Osama. If the American military was all on the Moon, they'd be trying to build rockets to get suicide bombers up there too.
posted by mek at 5:43 PM on July 26, 2012


Well, Obama is not Bush, and he DID get Osama Bin Laden.

AFAIK all the drone attacks are on AQAP in Yemen, and Taliban and AQ in Pakistani tribal areas. (I believe that the Haqqani network is also being targeted in Pakistani tribal areas, which makes sense since they are launching attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.) Certainly the Awlaki attacks that seem to upset people here the most were targeted at AQ.

What makes you think that AQ is not being targeted?
posted by msalt at 6:48 PM on July 26, 2012


What makes you think that AQ is not being targeted?

So does Al-Qaeda hand out membership cards?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2012


This thread is a perfect example of fascism in action. The ability to calmly, coolly, and rationally talk about murdering humans. Because, you know, its necessary. This is just white man's burden repackaged for the 21st century. It was bullshit int he 19th and 20th centuries and it's still bullshit today.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:25 AM on July 27, 2012


"The ability to calmly, coolly, and rationally talk about murdering humans."

Begging the question totes helps discussion.
posted by klangklangston at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2012


This thread is a perfect example of fascism in action. The ability to calmly, coolly, and rationally talk about murdering humans. Because, you know, its necessary. This is just white man's burden repackaged for the 21st century. It was bullshit int he 19th and 20th centuries and it's still bullshit today.

If you're upset about people having rational discussions, you should take it to Meta where there is already a thread on this topic. I'm sure you'll get a lot of sympathy for your position there.
posted by msalt at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2012


What makes you think that AQ is not being targeted?

If another bad analogy helps - AQ are the losers who always show up at the party, but nobody would come if they tried to have one themselves. They're certainly present, yes, but they are 1) not capable of causing any real harm to the USA and 2) not the primary concern of American drone campaigns. Or at least, if they are, I've overestimated American military intelligence and we've entered the "gotta nuke something" phase of American decline.
posted by mek at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2012


This thread is a perfect example of fascism in action. The ability to calmly, coolly, and rationally talk about murdering humans.

It's so crazy, because in my skewed worldview, rational public discussion of whether and how we should engage in war almost looks like democracy! (Whereas facism would look like a militaristic, nationalistic one-party totalitarian government that systematically destroys all dissent and independent institutions, often run by a charismatic leader).

But that aside, what is your preference? Irrational, emotional discussion, or pretending war doesn't exist?
posted by msalt at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2012


British parliamentarians condemn US drone strikes as it is revealed that RAF pilots controlled US drones over Libya

Pakistan Press Reporting UK Lawmakers Wrote Letter Urging Obama to Stop Drone Strikes in Pakistan
posted by mek at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually have to agree that although there isn't any specific ideology of fascism it ties in with, not only discussing the killing of hundreds or thousands of innocent and allegedly-guilty-but-we'll-never-know people with sang froid but insisting that everyone else discuss it with sang froid and insisting that no one question whether or not it's really for the greater good because that would be "pretending war doesn't exist" does smack a bit of Final Solution thinking - that there is some abstract overarching inevitable logic to this purpose and we have to just clamp down on and override any little moral quibbles we might have such as revulsion at the slaughter of children.

"Why can't we all just get along?" is the sort of question I would say is abstractly sentimental enough, and too distant from the practicalities of real life, so that it's valid in some instances to brush past and not really address it. "Why should the government or anyone else be allowed to engage in mass systematic unsupervised assassination to get what it wants?" isn't in the same category though.
posted by XMLicious at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2012


not only discussing the killing of hundreds or thousands of innocent and allegedly-guilty-but-we'll-never-know people with sang froid but insisting that everyone else discuss it with sang froid and insisting that no one question whether or not it's really for the greater good because that would be "pretending war doesn't exist" does smack a bit of Final Solution thinking

Discussing how changes in military technology may or may not reduce civilian casualties is not in any way "Final Solution thinking" and it's incredibly offensive that you would even say that. You remember what the Final Solution was, right? Systematic genocide aimed entirely at civilians. This is some weird new kind of Godwinning here.

No one is saying we can't or shouldn't discuss whether drones or anything else is really for the greater good. We have been discussing exactly that at great length over many FPPs for years now, and we should be, because it's a major moral and practical issue of the day. We are discussing whether drones actually save lives overall. It's not overcoming "revulsion at the slaughter of children," it's figuring out how best to reduce the slaughter of children.

The only person trying to shut down discussion is AElfwine Evenstar, who objects to the fact that we're even talking about this calmly and is calling those who don't share his/her outrage immoral fascists. Which, ironically, is a technique that real-life fascists have used to shut down democratic opposition.
posted by msalt at 7:46 PM on July 27, 2012


Too hot for the front page! Charles Davis in The New Inquiry has a modest proposal for the anti-drone left. Literally every person who posted in the deleted thread hated the piece, but I found it an extremely effective bit of satire.
posted by gerryblog at 8:17 PM on July 27, 2012


You remember what the Final Solution was, right? Systematic genocide aimed entirely at civilians.

The "Final Solution" was a successor approach to a "War of Destruction" against Jewish Bolshevism in Eastern Europe. I think that the advocates of the Final Solution would probably have said that the Jews were at war with the German people and had perverted society at all levels to escape sanctions and justice for their crimes and that the intentional killing of children was regrettable but simply something everyone else had to go along with because there was no other remedy to the problem.

And how innocent could those children really be, anyways? Just like, how innocent can any adult males standing close enough to an authorized drone target really be?

It kind of sounds like you consider all usage of drones to kill people as "reducing civilian casualties". The fact that you consider relating the discussion of the U.S. government engaging in systematized assembly-line extrajudicial killing of great numbers of people to the WWII German government engaging in systematized assembly-line extrajudicial killing of great numbers of people as some sort of beyond-the-pale outrageous rhetorical leap analogous to someone crying "Nazis!" in an argument about internet forum moderation standards, or that you consider Aelfwine Evenstar coming in here and making three comments involving things like asking who we're at war with or mentioning the white man's burden as shutting down democratic opposition, makes it seem to me that you aren't quite as supportive of open discussion and opposed to prejudicial hyperbole as you are portraying it.

We are talking about a government carrying out what would be legitimately called organized murder en masse if anyone else was doing it. I think that any ideological association with Fascism is incidental, but if you find it offensive for anyone to draw parallels between advocacy for this and advocacy for WWII-era governments engaging in organized murder en masse you've picked the wrong venue to discuss this and you're probably going to just have to suck up being offended the way that the rest of us evidently have to suck it up and try to keep a straight face when you say that the best way to reduce the deaths of children involves having hunter-killer robots slaughter people extrajudicially. Yeah, it's technically possible, but it's not going to go down without some extremely explicit examination and analogy to points in history where others asserted that they were going to kill shitloads of people with only the noblest and most just, unselfish motives at heart.
posted by XMLicious at 9:41 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem isn't that Aelfwine opposes drones -- nearly everyone on metafilter does. The problem is that s/he is criticizing the very fact that we are having a calm discussion about it. It's unclear whether it's the fact that we're even discussing the issue, or the fact that we are discussing it without sharing Aelfwine's outrage that's the problem, but either way you can't reasonably spin that position as supportive of open discussion.

you consider relating the discussion of the U.S. government engaging in systematized assembly-line extrajudicial killing of great numbers of people to the WWII German government engaging in systematized assembly-line extrajudicial killing of great numbers of people as some sort of beyond-the-pale outrageous rhetorical leap analogous to someone crying "Nazis!" in an argument about internet forum moderation standards

Your loaded language aside, yes -- it is EXACTLY like crying "Nazis!" How could it not be crying Nazis! to invoke the Final Solution? The Nazis are the ones who did the Final Solution.
posted by msalt at 11:01 PM on July 27, 2012


It kind of sounds like you consider all usage of drones to kill people as "reducing civilian casualties".

No, that would be ridiculous. But other people have presented a lot of evidence that drones kill many fewer civilians that other forms of warfare, and no one has refuted that point. (The other big issue is whether drones make it easier to fight battles in the first place, and thus "make it up in volume.") If you hold the position that the United States is likely to engage in attacks on terrorists who are actively plotting against it, using one weapon or another, then it is possible - arguable anyway -- that drones may overall result in fewer civilians -- children, babies -- dying. That's what we are discussing in any case.

If that's even a possibility -- and you have presented no reason why it can't be-- then all your high rhetoric about robot death machines and how Nazi pogroms were sold as representing "only the noblest and most just, unselfish motives" is pompous twaddle that might actually promote the death of innocent children. And it's not wrong or "fascist" to discuss this possibility, even calmly.

The only people claiming "the noblest and most just, unselfish motives" -- or trying to cut off any discussion -- are you and Aelfwine, which by your own rhetoric ought to give you pause. These are complex, thorny issues with no easy answer.
posted by msalt at 11:13 PM on July 27, 2012


yes -- it is EXACTLY like crying "Nazis!"

No, it is not like crying "Nazis!" in an argument about internet forum moderation standards. The Nazis did not have internet forums so mentioning the Nazis in that context serves no purpose other than to inflame the argument and is nothing more than a purely rhetorical tactic. That's what is meant by "Godwinning": gratuitously mentioning or alluding to Hitler or the Nazis in a discussion that has no relation or a tangential relation to them.

The Nazi government did, however, engage in large-scale systematic organized killing, it's kind of what they were known for. It is not weird or some sort of invalid or fallacious form of argument to draw a comparison between large-scale systematic organized killing by a contemporary government and WWII Germany doing the same thing, no matter how loudly you cry "But you mentioned Nazis! No fair! You're not being calm enough!"

The only people claiming "the noblest and most just, unselfish motives" -- or trying to cut off any discussion -- are you and Aelfwine

The only reasoning you have for how Aelfwine or I are "trying to cut off discussion" is that we are unwilling to pretend that there is no possible analogy between two forms of organized mass killing.

You are attempting to paint even just the accurate description of drone warfare as organized mass killing as some sort of wildly emotional outburst. I'm sorry if you don't like thinking about drones as robotic death machines but that is exactly what they actually are - they are in fact machines designed to kill people, it's claiming otherwise that is rhetoric and pompous twaddle.

I would give more credence to your claim that you're just calmly looking at all the angles if you weren't insisting that day is night and black is white and trying to pass that off as some sort of complex or nuanced view of the issue that only someone being simplistic and irrational could find to be bullshit.

If it's ridiculous to suggest that usage of drones as weapons in general constitutes "reducing civilian casualties" it would be equally ridiculous to suggest that for one particular strike carpet-bombing an area would result in equal or fewer casualties than a drone strike.

I've never seen anyone actually make such an argument but for some reason the commenters who advocate for the use of drones in these discussions act like that's the criticism they're defending against - as though people opposed to escalated drone warfare are objecting because of some factual misunderstanding about the relative casualty rates of drone strikes versus other kinds of air strikes. It's a pretty weak straw man, which is why you have to try to dictate that the discussion is just about the civilian casualty rates of various weapons and tactics and assert that it's an attempt to shut down discussion to tread elsewhere by not accepting that there's a necessity in the first place for the U.S. to conduct air strikes in a war without firmly identified opponents and consequently no criteria for victory or cessation of the conflict.
posted by XMLicious at 12:36 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only reasoning you have for how Aelfwine or I are "trying to cut off discussion" is that we are unwilling to pretend that there is no possible analogy between two forms of organized mass killing.

No, it's because Aelfwine said that "This thread is a perfect example of fascism in action. The ability to calmly, coolly, and rationally talk about murdering humans. "
Not drones as a weapon -- simply talking about drones as a weapon, here, now. Which logically makes you and Aelfwine fascists, too, of course.

You're the one who raised the stakes to "Final Solution thinking." Which is a perfect example of what Godwin described:
invariably, the comparisons trivialized the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis.
posted by msalt at 2:55 AM on July 28, 2012


So that the context is clear, that is excerpted from this, emphasis mine:
Stone libertarians were ready to label any government regulation as incipient Nazism. And, invariably, the comparisons trivialized the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis. It was a trivialization I found both illogical (Michael Dukakis as a Nazi? Please!) and offensive (the millions of concentration-camp victims did not die to give some net.blowhard a handy trope).
Killing a few thousand people (so far) is not trivial - that you are trying to say it is pretty much proves the point - and castigating such a thing is not by any stretch of the imagination the equivalent of complaining about a government regulation or any action of Michael Dukakis I'm familiar with.

There is no way to spin this to any point where you can claim that you have been oppressed or silenced by others bringing up comparisons between being dispassionate about killing thousands of people in this manner and the dispassion with which other war atrocities have been rationalized.

We might debate how valid a parallel it is but you're trying to simply draw lines that would serve to make the topic out of bounds or something to avoid talking about it in the first place.
posted by XMLicious at 3:46 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please stop twisting my words ("claim that you have been oppressed").

The U.S. army has adopted a new weapon, drones. They have used it in an ongoing fight with terrorists who attacked the U.S. before this weapon was invented. You are describing the U.S. army's use of that weapon as comparable to the Holocaust, to Hitler's systematic extermination of 6 million Jews.

Why? Because this army uses this weapon in a premeditated way to kill its enemies. Just like Hitler used weapons in a premeditated way to kill Jews!
And you don't think your comparison trivializes the horror of the Holocaust?

How is any army that attacks any enemy using any weapon (guns, cruise missiles, aerial bombing) not just like Hitler, under your logic?
posted by msalt at 4:38 AM on July 28, 2012


Ah, so Aelfwine was using the sort of techniques that one would use to shut down democratic opposition to try to cut off any discussion here, just in a totally non-oppressive way? I don't think that it's me who is twisting your words.

Dispassion at killing thousands of people to achieve one's objectives can be compared to dispassion about killing millions of people, yes - and certainly to the dispassion of people who were there and involved in what happened in WWII, many of whom probably directly knew of fewer than a thousand victims at the time.

As I said, you could debate to what degree the parallel is valid - they are certainly instances of a different scale, even if they are the same kind of cool disregard for human life in the pursuit of one's objectives. But neither case is trivial and it does not make the Holocaust meaningless to point out that the attitudes which abetted it can exist at other times and places, particularly when the other times and places in question involve the organized killing of thousands of people.

And yeah, now that you mention it I suppose that one could make an argument that the organized killing of thousands of people with any weapons at all is similar on some level or in some respect to the atrocities of World War II. Such an argument might or might not bear out but there would be no reason to say that a person proposing it is pretending that war doesn't exist or say that bringing up a point like that is tantamount to trying to cut off discussion.
posted by XMLicious at 6:37 AM on July 28, 2012


Criticizing rational discussion as "fascist" is an attempt to cut off discussion.
The planned use of weaponry by armies to kill is not analogous to the Holocaust. Saying so trivializes the Nazis by saying they were just another army.

But again, you're begging the main question. If one approach to war reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to existing wars, it is not beyond the pale to discuss using it -- even if the approach still kills people. In fact, a strong case can be made that it is immoral NOT to reduce civilian casualties by using the new approach (as argued here).

Whether that discussion is dispassionate or not is a weird red herring. Is it OK to let children die if you're emotional about it? Or wrong to save lives if you're too logical in the discussion?
posted by msalt at 4:30 PM on July 28, 2012


So has anyone defined al-Qaeda yet? Or defined who or what we are at war with?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:26 PM on July 28, 2012


So has anyone defined al-Qaeda yet?

Of course. Starting with al-Qaeda itself, in the documents found at Osama bin Laden's compound. Also, the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and others. Here's a very detailed description on Wikipedia for you.
posted by msalt at 10:23 PM on July 28, 2012


And you know those poor saps we keep killing in third world countries were part of this organization how? Did you believe Colin Powell when he told the United Nations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Better yet, did you believe Barack Obama when he promised the most transparent administration ever? I didn't. Just because some media outlet tells you that some foreign peasants are "al-quaeda" does not make it so. I see no evidence linking the people we are killing with any threat to me or my country. But that's kinda the problem isn't it. We are just killing people in countries we are "not at war with" and not giving them a trial or even arrest warrant. Then we have people in the media and internet tell us that it is necessary and that in fact it is more humane that we kill them this way rather than that way. That my friend is fascism. The fact that it is being perpetrated by a military industrial complex run amok with its tentacles into our media and government doesn't trouble you a bit? Not a little? But I suppose I should just get on the band wagon, pop some happy pills, and support the troops.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:14 PM on July 28, 2012


Enjoy giving your speeches, and wake me up when you're interested in having a real dialogue.
posted by msalt at 11:39 PM on July 28, 2012


I don't think we should be killing people without trials. There is no dialogue to be had because I won't be changing my position anytime soon. I pray you change yours.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:44 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The planned use of weaponry by armies to kill is not analogous to the Holocaust. Saying so trivializes the Nazis by saying they were just another army.

Ah, so the Imperial Japanese Army's Unit 8604's testing of biological weapons on the Chinese populace during WWII can't be analogized to the Holocaust at all because it was a planned use of weaponry by an army, huh?

This is silly. A serial killer could kill a handful of victims in a relevant way and be called a "Dr. Mengele" and it would not trivialize the Holocaust to point out the similarities. A country could carry out a blitzkrieg invasion and insist that it be referred to as a "shock and awe campaign" and the Holocaust would not be trivialized by anyone pointing out that it's most similar to blitzkreig in the modern era.

You are trying to contrive rules for the rest of us to follow that would prevent anyone else from ever comparing any dimension of your particular favorite method of killing thousands of people to any aspect of WWII Germany, so that you can hare off into little quibbles about how points are made instead of responding to what is being said. Needless to say that's bullshit.

If one approach to war reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to existing wars, it is not beyond the pale to discuss using it -- even if the approach still kills people.

No one is insisting that the discussion must grind to a halt and that making one particular point interferes with discussion of other topics, or that discussing the wrong aspects of the issue is not "real dialogue", except you.

Whether that discussion is dispassionate or not is a weird red herring. Is it OK to let children die if you're emotional about it? Or wrong to save lives if you're too logical in the discussion?

Gee, funny how you didn't mention that this is a red herring as soon as people started throwing around the "you're too emotional" trope way up above near the beginning of the thread. I somehow think you consider it a perfectly fine non-distracting subject of discourse if you expect that what's being said is to your rhetorical advantage.

I think you know very well that expressing emotion about mass killing does not make one more or less logical. You can be completely dispassionate about mass killing and come up with utterly illogical crap like a false dichotomy between "emotional discussion" and "pretending war doesn't exist", all as yet another rhetorical trick to try to force everyone else to carry out the discussion the way you want it and prevent points and sentiments you don't like from being advanced.
posted by XMLicious at 12:49 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Y'know, msalt, I actually didn't fully agree with what AElfwine was saying at first, I was just reacting to you categorically trying to dismiss any point that involves a WWII reference. But I just noticed that you're actually trying to refer to carrying out drone strikes in preference over conventional air strikes as "saving lives". That is pretty damn Ministry of Truth.
posted by XMLicious at 4:22 AM on July 29, 2012


XMLicious: I think Mental Wimp made the crucial distinction.

The question of HOW you prosecute a war is completely different from WHETHER you prosecute a war. If you don't like it when people people die from war, the most reasonable position is
1) try to stop the war
2) if there is going to be some fighting, push for it to be done in the way that minimizes death and injury that results.
posted by msalt at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2012


3) Congratulate yourself for saving lives through better bombing.

When the people endorsing this enterprise are so willing to pull the wool over their own eyes it is difficult to believe that the push is for minimizing death and stopping the war. It's about as believable as "War is a last resort."
posted by XMLicious at 9:58 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that's an overly simplistic view, msalt; the problem is that certain technologies actually change the very nature of war, changing the decision-making process of the nations. If only conventional bombing and ground troops were available to the USA, it probably would not be involved in Yemen, due to a lack of local support - but because drones are on the table, a Yemen campaign became a possibility. Similarly, the possession of nuclear weapons changes the war calculus in enormous ways.

The problem was foreseen rather quickly with nuclear weapons: that technology can be disseminated and have enormous, globally destabilizing consequences as the war calculus changes for many nations on a broad scale. Many argued that discipline and diplomacy were necessary for a nuclear future to be sustainable, and fortunately for us those voices largely won out.

The USA has no such foresight with its basically indiscriminate use of drones, and that is hugely worrying because this technology is much easier to disseminate. Right now they're the only country on earth that has the flying killer robots, but there are no huge barriers to access. They should be leading an international campaign to put rules in place to ensure these weapons of war are only used when absolutely necessary, but they're doing the exact opposite.
posted by mek at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where has msalt congratulated himself about saving lives through better bombing? Both that and Aelfwine's previous tub-thumping are polemics, not dialogue, and bespeak not just a contempt for the (straw man) argument, but a contempt for Msalt.

"I don't think we should be killing people without trials. There is no dialogue to be had because I won't be changing my position anytime soon. I pray you change yours."

No, you don't believe we should be killing people, full stop. If there was a trial, you'd complain about the corrupt US justice system. And when people disagree with you, you call them fascist because you have a limited vocabulary of opprobrium and believe that fascism is anything you disagree with.

"But I just noticed that you're actually trying to refer to carrying out drone strikes in preference over conventional air strikes as "saving lives". That is pretty damn Ministry of Truth."

Drone strikes result in fewer civilians killed. That's not the Ministry of Truth, that's a pragmatic view of something that individual citizens have very little control over.
posted by klangklangston at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear I am not comparing us to the Nazis. Fascism can and does exist outside of the 30's and 40's of the last century. Fascism seems to have taken hold here as well. If people can't comprehend what has happened in this country since the end of the Cold War then we are in dire straights indeed.

The question of HOW you prosecute a war is completely different from WHETHER you prosecute a war. If you don't like it when people people die from war, the most reasonable position is
1) try to stop the war
2) if there is going to be some fighting, push for it to be done in the way that minimizes death and injury that results.


Who are we at war with? Why are we at war with them? What is our strategy for winning this war? And the $64,000 question: How do we know the people we are killing are a threat to us? In my opinion we should probably answer that last question first. Before the bombing and killing that is. If the answer is they are an existential threat to our nation, then I say bomb them back to the stone age until they are wiped off the face of the earth. I don't believe this is a moral action, but sometimes when the continued existence of a corporate social unit, such as the U.S.A., is threatened immoral actions however repugnant must be undertaken for the greater good. (see WWII) This is not one of those situations. The fact that so many Americans(even liberals nowadays) seem to think that it is the case is a depressing development indeed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2012


mek: I competely agree that drones, like any new technology, change the nature of war and that is important to discuss and consider. (As opposed to saying, "evil weird new weapon, bad! It's fascist to even talk about it unless you're condemning it.")

Part of the change is precisely that drones reduce the "costs" (damage) of war in several ways simultaneously -- much safer for the attacker, more precise targeting so fewer civilian deaths and injuries, less cost for staging and support troops required, etc. In a way, these are all good things, but by nature they reduce the "cost" of war which makes it more likely to happen. It's hard to see any reasonable argument against this part anyway though -- what's the alternative? Increasing the cost of war by using weapons that cause more damage?

There are other changes too, perhaps more useful or interesting to discuss, but it seems like the biggest disagreements are about this point.
posted by msalt at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2012


Where has msalt congratulated himself about saving lives through better bombing?

I don't know that msalt has "congratualated himself", but he has been making the argument that our use of drones is in part justified by the lower body count has he not? But if you want to focus on pointless semantics be my guest.

No, you don't believe we should be killing people, full stop. If there was a trial, you'd complain about the corrupt US justice system. And when people disagree with you, you call them fascist because you have a limited vocabulary of opprobrium and believe that fascism is anything you disagree with.

Can you read my mind? No? Okay than would you kindly refrain from telling me how I will act in certain situations. As far as fascism its really not worth getting into it here...possibly even a "gasp" derail. I would only suggest that it is you who have, not a limited vocabulary, but a limit on your pattern of thinking; actually the same thing if you know anything about how language works. Fascism is real and has nothing to do with whether you agree with me or not. It kinda has a lot to do with social structure and the way certain elements of our social structure(the military) in particular interact with "other" social structures. I'm going to be a pretentious ass and posit that neither you nor msalt have even the slightest idea what fascism is other that the nazi caricature that is conjured in your mind the minute anyone utters the word.

Now back to the topic at hand: our murder of poor peasants in third world countries who may or may not be a part of some "brand" that we call al-Qaeda, and who may or may not be a threat to our country. Now back to the really important question:

HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THE PEOPLE WE ARE KILLING ARE A PART OF AL-QUAEDA OR A THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2012


It's been said before but rhetoric like "flying killer robots" is both wrong and muddling.
These are not robots -- they're guided by a person. Now that I think about it, we have had robots of sorts in the form of heat-seeking missiles, for years. THAT is a technology where computer sensors hunt down and kill people, with no way I know of to call them off once they have been sent. In that sense, drones are an improvement and less robotic.
posted by msalt at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2012


As opposed to saying, "evil weird new weapon, bad! It's fascist to even talk about it unless you're condemning it."


Nope that's not what I said. What is fascist is the system which creates your opinion and the proper conditions that allow said system to systematically exterminate human beings who may or may not be guilty of something. The fact that you guys are sitting here rationally discussing which way to more efficiently kill human beings is incidental and really symptomatic of fascism, not fascism itsef.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2012


I don't know that msalt has "congratualated himself", but he has been making the argument that our use of drones is in part justified by the lower body count has he not?

No, he has not. What I have said is the drone technology is here, and is used by thousands of home hobbyists as well as the US army. I don't see any realistic chance that it will not be used in general. Where and when it should be used is a different question.

Some here seem to consider drones pure, unacceptable evil, which I don't understand. It's a tool, with plusses and minuses, that will change warfare dramatically. In most ways it's a better tool for war, a better weapon -- especially because it allows long surveillance before attacking, and so can reduce civilian death and injury.

None of us are in any position to justify or outlaw weapons, or decide how they will be used, or to know which individuals are al-Qaeda. We're just people on the Internet talking. So deep breaths and a little humility are in order all around.
posted by msalt at 10:50 AM on July 29, 2012


In retrospect I wasn't as clear as I should have been about that point and can see how could have taken what I said in the way you did.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:52 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, he has not.

Really? Then what the hell were you trying to argue when you said:

>If one approach to war reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to existing wars, it is not beyond the pale to discuss using it -- even if the approach still kills people. In fact, a strong case can be made that it is immoral NOT to reduce civilian casualties by using the new approach...
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2012


Sorry, listen I am at the point, if I haven't already passed it, where I have said my piece and need to step back and realize I am just a "leaf on the wind".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:57 AM on July 29, 2012


"I don't know that msalt has "congratualated himself", but he has been making the argument that our use of drones is in part justified by the lower body count has he not? But if you want to focus on pointless semantics be my guest."

Hey, look, if you or XMLicious can't talk about this without being a dick, that's fine, but I think part of not being a dick is not telling other people that they said things they didn't. And the argument is that it's justified IN RELATION TO CONVENTIONAL BOMB STRIKES.

"Can you read my mind? No? Okay than would you kindly refrain from telling me how I will act in certain situations."

Yeah, I think I've got enough data to make a fair inference. Especially since the underlying question never changes — How can you know these people who have been (drone attacked/bombed/arrested) are guilty? Since you obviously don't trust the government to provide accurate information, nor the media, the only option would be to make all of the intelligence public, which is both practically impossible and still relies on other gatekeepers to vet — there's no real ability to personally verify that information. So you can be all butthurt about my psychic abilities, or you can concede that this is something that you're never going to be satisfied on.

"I'm going to be a pretentious ass and posit that neither you nor msalt have even the slightest idea what fascism is other that the nazi caricature that is conjured in your mind the minute anyone utters the word."

Except that we've gone back and forth on fascism before, and I know that you have an unworkably broad definition that you retreat to out of a fetishistic emotional appeal. Your attempts to wave your fascism dick around previously haven't made me change my opinion on fascism, though I've enjoyed reading more sources on it — I'd guess our fundamental disagreement is on the degree of totalitarianism required.

"HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THE PEOPLE WE ARE KILLING ARE A PART OF AL-QUAEDA OR A THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY?"

That's a fair criticism of drone strikes, but unfortunately, there's no real way to know for the regular citizen. Despite that, some people we are killing are very likely part of Al Qaeda or a threat to our country based on publicly available information on them.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2012


What klangklangston said -- the difficulty of knowing who the targets are, precisely, is the most difficult part of this. I'd be more comfortable with a more transparent process, but there are a lot of practical reasons that is unlikely, and perhaps not doable.

As for us not knowing about fascism, though, you're way off base. I never like credential-waving people, but klang and I have both studied fascism in some depth. I appreciate your other recent comments though.
posted by msalt at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2012


drones reduce the "costs" (damage) of war in several ways simultaneously

This is not a tenable assertion, at least not with the data we have currently. Drones might reduce the number of people killed and the property damage incurred in an individual attack versus previous methods for air strikes, if all of the claims made about them are true, but that is not at all the same thing as reducing the costs of war.

The aforementioned self-guided missiles are more precise than this kind of bombing and so by the reasoning portrayed here there ought to have been a reduced cost to war since the development of the self-guided missile. But my understanding is that the percentage of civilian casualties out of the total war casualties has steadily increased through the 20th century and into the 21st. If escalated drone warfare results in continuous ongoing airstrikes all over the world from a massive global network of distributed mini-bases and floating bases whenever the U.S. government feels like it against anyone who can be categorized as a terrorist target or whatever other categories of enemy we come up with in the future, there definitely will not be a reduction in the costs of war from this.

As far as the "saving lives" thing, I felt that an appropriate interpretation of msalt's ending paragraph here was that he was continuing the same characterization of one side of the argument as irrationally and emotionally talking about the death of children while the other calmly and logically advocates preventing casualties. He hasn't seemed to deny that part of the thesis is that the use of drones for air strikes saves lives. If he believes that and just happened to say something that strongly implied it I don't see any need to pretend that it isn't part of the motivation for advocacy of drone warfare.

After the Gulf War I would talk with people about the deaths and destruction that were a consequence of our bombing of Iraq and some would respond, "Yeah, with smart bombs!" as though that meant that everything was all right and only the bad guys were killed as a result of the war. This "drones reduce the costs of war" theme and much of the advocacy for drone warfare I hear sounds like the same thing, and along with hairsplitting like insisting that instead of characterizing them as flying robotic death machines we really need to qualify that they're flying less-robotic-than-missiles death machines it appears to me that we are yet again in the process of convincing ourselves that we can now regard war and "policing actions" as nerfed and as something that will only harm the wicked when we consider using them in the future.
posted by XMLicious at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think a bunch of your previous comments were both dumb and unfair; I think this last one was pretty great.

"The aforementioned self-guided missiles are more precise than this kind of bombing and so by the reasoning portrayed here there ought to have been a reduced cost to war since the development of the self-guided missile. But my understanding is that the percentage of civilian casualties out of the total war casualties has steadily increased through the 20th century and into the 21st. If escalated drone warfare results in continuous ongoing airstrikes all over the world from a massive global network of distributed mini-bases and floating bases whenever the U.S. government feels like it against anyone who can be categorized as a terrorist target or whatever other categories of enemy we come up with in the future, there definitely will not be a reduction in the costs of war from this."

I think this is a totally fair criticism of both "precision" attacks and the argument I think msalt, Ironmouth and I have supported. I do think that part of the reason that civilians as a percentage of casualties has increased throughout the last 70 years or so has been a shift away from standing armies on battlefields and into guerilla, asymetrical war, making war much more of a democratic, political question than it had been in the 18th and 19th centuries.
posted by klangklangston at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2012


I'm not a historian of war, but I would love to see the data showing that civilian casualties as a percentage have (or have not) increased since 1900. That doesn't make intuitive sense to me. I think the major changes over the last couple of centuries would be

1) more accurate guns reduce civilian casualties (duh) this goes back all the way to rifles
2) distance weapons have tended to reduce accuracy of targeting. The really horrific offenders are aerial bombing and artillery. I'm sure their introduction drastically increased the amount of civilians harmed. And yes, these are the alternatives to drones which is a big difference.
3) smart bombs and cruise missiles -- not sure if we have enough data to be sure.
4) reduction of standing armies probably reduces civilian casualties, and it sure as hell reduces war rape. Armies on the ground include individuals who flip out (My Lai, that guy in Afghanistan) and just lots of people who guns who can lose their shit and start shooting.
Also, armies require food and historically have looted, pillaged and stolen food from local populations; make sure you count war-related starvation when you count civilian casualties.
5) chemical and nuclear weapons drastically increase civilian casualties - thank God these are largely held back now.
6) Guerrilla warfare and terrorism increase civilian casualties because combatants hide among civilians.
7) Better medicine means that both combatants and civilians are less likely to die of infection etc. after being wounded.

Put it all together, and I would be very surprised if a higher percentage of casualties are civilian than in, say, Crimea or the Napoleonic wars.
posted by msalt at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2012


The place I got that from is a documentary called War Made Easy, which is available on Netflix if you have that. At about 42 minutes in, it shows this series of bullet points:I'd actually like to know the source material for those calculations too. I've Googled for it a couple of times without finding anything.

I would agree that 18th/19th century wars like Crimea or the Napoleonic wars definitely wouldn't fit the same trend. A factoid I recall hearing was that World War I was the first major war in which combat deaths of soldiers outnumbered deaths from disease.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2012


While the USA very much wants to call its actions in Yemen and Pakistan "war," I resist the label for philosophical and political reasons. What's happening in Yemen in particular is especially difficult to square with the notion of what war is: in fact Yemen is fully consenting to American military action within its borders, with the mutual understanding that the targets are specific "militant" political groups, Al-Qaeda being one of those.

In Pakistan very similar is happening, and there the difference between ground troops and drones is explicit: when the Osama mission went in, Pakistan totally denied they had any knowledge of the American ground incursion, and the USA basically backed this up. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, because it clearly illustrates that it is important for both of these nations to preserve the appearance of sovereignty, at a bare minimum. They won't literally allow US death squads to roam within their borders and pick off political undesirables; but I would argue that drones, as currently used, fulfil the same purpose.

In this way I do see drone technology as potentially fascist in its deployment in that functionally it resembles a traditionally fascist tool for political management, the death squad. Drones are being used as a mechanism of internal political control rather than external military force. The difference being, of course, that as far as drones go, governments are actively consenting to their use within their own borders against their own population.
posted by mek at 2:14 PM on July 29, 2012


XMLicious -- the Wikipedia article on the civilian casualty ratio is interesting. I don't know what the documentary is based on, but history just doesn't give such clear cut statistics very often, and the actual analysis on wikipedia shows something quite different.

WWI was a low ebb, perhaps because the static front lines meant that fighting didn't move across civilian areas as much as most wars. But there is certainly no long term rising trend. the Korean War, Lebanon 1982 and Chechneya were particularly bad. But more recent conflicts have seen declining civilian casualties.

These counts are hard to pin down because of distinctions like civilian vs. combatant, and questions like, do you count flu deaths during WWI as civilian war casualties? In the various analyses of Iraq War casualties, some people count deaths from increased crimes resulting from the general chaos of the post-war society, which seems like a bit of a stretch. And of course, a lot of the civilian deaths there are the result of terrorist attacks (including Sunnis attacking Shia pilgrims, etc.)
posted by msalt at 3:34 PM on July 29, 2012


To clarify, when I say the distinction betwen civilian and combatant, some people count anyone not in a military uniform as civilian, even if they are clearly a combatant (say part of Janjaweed militia in Sudan, or Osama bin Laden himself). In Iraq, when do you say the war ended? Once invaded troops had toppled the government? Once a new Iraqi government took over? Once the US troops left? Or not even yet?
posted by msalt at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2012


"HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THE PEOPLE WE ARE KILLING ARE A PART OF AL-QUAEDA OR A THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY?"

Despite the caps, I do think this is a really important point. But it cuts both ways -- how do you know that the people that troops kill, or aerial bombs and artillery shells kill, are part of the enemy in any kind of combat?

We are always basically taking the army's word for it, and relying on the press and human rights organizations to uncover any really bad abuses. But when terrorist or air force bombs explode, it is given that civilians die. No one even doubts that.

In some ways, it is the information that drones provide before killing that is their real difference. We have never really had the ability or information to target individuals before. With bombs or missiles, you are aiming at a place not an individual. We are judging the accuracy of drone strikes by a completely different standard.

How many civilians died when Pakistan invaded South Waziristan? That is the closest conmparable alternative method to US drone strikes in the tribal areas.
posted by msalt at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2012


Wow - I was recalling that more than twenty million Soviet citizens died during WWII and at first I thought, "Well, that must have been several times the number of total military deaths in the war." But no, evidently nearly half of those Soviet deaths were military and the upper estimate of the total number of military casualties during the war is 25 million, with a civilian death rate of 68%.

Wikipedia's figures for WWI direct deaths, not counting deaths from famine and disease associated with the war, matches the documentary's number at about 10%. The general article you linked to gives a Red Cross aggregate estimate of 90% for the wars in the latter half of the twentieth century. These probably aren't comparable numbers, of course.

The BIJ numbers which Ironmouth gives above for direct deaths from drone strikes in Afghanistan range between 15% and 33% civilian deaths, if I'm counting that correctly.
posted by XMLicious at 5:56 PM on July 29, 2012


I know, it's hard to imagine WW2 wasn't worse, between the Holocaust, starvation, disease, the Rape of Nanking, the Desden firebombing, and just the massive march of armies across huge chunks of the globe.

WWI figures (not counting deaths from famine and disease associated with the war) -- well, they're kind of cooking the books a bit there, especially compared with Iraq. If Iraq is a large number than it is probably largely from terrorist attacks, bombings, maybe Sunni vs. Shia militia's fighting after pilgrims are bombed (and are those really civilians?).

That Red Cross study seems to be a real outlier. This appears to be the study. They just state the 1 to 10, 10 to 1 thing but the only methodology mentioned is a survey of people in war-torn countries. (How do they compare ww1 then? Doesn't say.) It also came out in 2001, and appears to be largely influence by Nigeria and Serbia/Bosnia/etc.

This NYT article says about Iraq, for example, "But it was systematic sectarian cleansing that drove the killing to its most frenzied point, making December 2006 the worst month of the war, according to the reports, with about 3,800 civilians killed, roughly equal to the past seven years of murders in New York City. A total of about 1,300 police officers, insurgents and coalition soldiers were also killed in that month. "
That's a horrible month, but still more like 3 to 1 than 10 to 1.
posted by msalt at 8:29 PM on July 29, 2012


In any case, though, despite these details being interesting, it does not appear that any increase in precision due to self-guided missiles correlates to a decrease in the long-run percentage of civilian casualties as a cost of war.

It seems to be that even if the sample of data we have on drone casualties is valid, completely descriptive, and generalizes they still kill civilians at least a quarter to half the rate that the most lethal war in history in scale did, even if the figures from Wikipedia were representing similarly direct deaths from military action apart from the Holocaust victims. That really does not seem to outweigh the mile high list of serious problems there are with drone warfare, the way by its nature it will be used, and the way it is actually currently being used, not remotely enough to say that in the balance it's a good thing.
posted by XMLicious at 9:31 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THE PEOPLE WE ARE KILLING ARE A PART OF AL-QUAEDA OR A THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY?"

We never know that regardless of the technology. In fact, we know for certain that non-targeted people are killed routinely in war. I think what we're discussing is whether drones increase or decrease that effect.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2012


Actually, XMLicious, please correct me if I'm wrong but it looks like most wars range from parity (1 civilian death per 1 military death) at best, and get worse from there, up to maybe 10 civilians per armed combatant. If drones attacks reduce civilian deaths to half or a quarter of military deaths, that is tens of thousands of lives saved (precious innocent babies saved, if we want to get rhetorical.) It's also smart strategy because of course killing innocent civilians turns people against you. Drones also completely eliminate war rape, which is a very big plus in my book.

I guess it gets down to this question; what is your proposal?
- Have the US army not attack anybody ever? It's arguable whether that is the best policy (ask Kosovo Albanians) and it's never going to happen. This is a democracy, and the public does not elect presidents seen as weak on defense. Peace is a wish, not a proposal.
- Should the US use aerial bombing instead? Cruise missiles? Send in troops?
- Would you convene a UN synod to try to ban drones permanently, putting them in the same category as chemical weapons and nukes?

The reality is, no policy makers are asking our opinions. Drones seem to be the most effective and precise tool, and they are going to be used (by other countries as well as the US) whatever the Obama administration does or doesn't do with them. I don't support or oppose them -- it's not my call anyway -- but I see them as a reality, one that has good and bad points.
posted by msalt at 11:07 AM on July 30, 2012


No, sorry. It is utterly Orwellian to try to claim that we are saving lives and eliminating military rape through a better kind of bombing.

(Besides, rape that stems from the method of air strikes being used in a military campaign? I have never heard of anything like that. The rapes committed by U.S. troops I'm familiar with are ones where military personnel stationed somewhere think they're going to be able to get away with it against a native population or Abu Ghraib type abuses. Having a gazillion tiny "lily pad" drone bases scattered all over the globe with fewer MPs and high-ranking commanders directly supervising everything will probably increase the incidence of rape if anything.)

Again, as has been said repeatedly, it is another false dichotomy to claim that either we must have basically unrestricted extrajudicial non-battlefield use of drones to kill people or there must be a complete ban on them. We seem to be unable to agree that there is even anything questionable or bad about them or the way that they're being used.

Clearly, at the very least, the U.S. could not send in troops in place of drones in its current operations: as the article in the OPP notes the Obama administration has to claim that employing them does not "involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof" to place their use outside of the restrictions of the War Powers Resolution. So a good place to start would be requiring their deployment to be treated like any other kind of use of military force and mandate the same explicit declaration and notification to Congress.

As I've said before I do not buy your "I'm just calmly looking at the issue from all sides with humility" characterization of your attitude. Between claiming that the use of drones saves lives and "completely eliminates war rape" and insisting that they not be described as too robotic or otherwise in too negative a manner you could practically be writing copy for the marketing department of an arms manufacturer. It damn well matters if we as the citizens of a democracy strive so hard to condone and sanction this kind of thing.
posted by XMLicious at 3:29 PM on July 30, 2012


We never know that regardless of the technology. In fact, we know for certain that non-targeted people are killed routinely in war. I think what we're discussing is whether drones increase or decrease that effect.

And I'm arguing that this is a sign of fascism. Killing human beings without trial has become so routine that whether we should be doing that or not is not even a part of the debate. The debate is instead "which way shall we kill humans beings more efficiently?" Or in a way that allows us to keep killing innocent people without the public getting too up in arms ala Vietnam. Not having a draft helps with this immensely, and was in retrospect will be seen as the nail in the coffin of the American Republic. Now we don't have to send our sons and daughters to kill the other, we can now send "volunteers" and cyborgs. This is fascism. All the pieces are there. We have secret tribunals, secret kill lists, a presidency which is basically a popularity contest every 4 years, both sides(Red vs. Blue) pitted against the other in an apocalyptic struggle...each election "the most important one of your life". Our economy is basically run by a secret cabal of bankers who have deep ties to our defense industries and military. There are no other options. We don't even have the option to elect anyone but a person who will most surely continue the atrocities. We don't have the option, but to keep killing innocent people. We don't have the option, but to continue imprisoning non-violent offenders at an ever increasing rate (our prison system is nothing more than a system of corporate concentration/work camps). We don't have any choice, but to continue to attempt to dominate the world and create "a new american century". This is bullshit, this is fucked up, and this is the truth. You can choose to accept it or you can stick your head in the sand. That's one's own decision.

I should make a disclaimer here that will probably deflect a lot of bad reactions. Insofar that a citizen can be a fascist I am one as much as anyone else is. If one does not agree with me that does not make one a fascist. In my opinion the people are being lied to on a large scale. This has historically been the case, but every generation somehow thinks it is the exception to the rule.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:37 PM on July 30, 2012


And I'm arguing that this is a sign of fascism.

That non-targeted individuals die in war is a sign of fascism? Or that we are discussing whether drones reduce or increase that phenomenon?
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:32 PM on July 30, 2012


Seriously, trying to promote the idea that bombing the right way saves lives and stops rape is in the same category as "war is peace", "freedom is slavery", and "ignorance is strength".
posted by XMLicious at 4:54 PM on July 30, 2012


Discussing whether drones have a lower budgetary impact than an aircraft carrier full of manned fighter planes and bombers is also not fascism but guess what: that's not what AElfwine is describing as fascism either.
posted by XMLicious at 4:59 PM on July 30, 2012


That should be: "Not having a draft helps with this immensely, and was in retrospect will be seen as the nail in the coffin..."

I don't know how that "was" got in there...carry on...carry on.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:25 PM on July 30, 2012


It is utterly Orwellian to try to claim that we are saving lives and eliminating military rape through a better kind of bombing.

It's especially Orwellian because "bombing" itself is a euphemism for the targeted killing of citizens by their own government. Drone campaigns don't even resemble bombing in intent or result.
posted by mek at 6:58 PM on July 30, 2012


"And I'm arguing that this is a sign of fascism."

And I'd argue that this is, at best, an incredibly mild sign of fascism, and that using the emotionally-laden rhetoric of fascist overtakes any descriptive value, especially when arguing from a definition that is both broad and prone to over-application.

"Killing human beings without trial has become so routine that whether we should be doing that or not is not even a part of the debate."

Except for (several) things: It is a part of "the debate" generally — just because people disagree with your conclusions doesn't mean you've been silenced. It does not need to be a part of every debate on the military, even though it's been pretty amply discussed in this thread. And that this is a usefully descriptive sign of fascism is not supported by this assertion. (Killing people without trials as routine has been discussed as a sign of dictatorship since forever; a dictatorship is a broader category than fascism when properly used. None of this should be used to argue that I support dictatorship, fascism or that I think the US is a dictatorship.)


"The debate is instead "which way shall we kill humans beings more efficiently?""

Actually, the debate is that given that the US is shifting from bombings to drone strikes, is that a bad thing (as the author of the linked piece asserts), and to what extent are the author's assertions about the negative outcomes reasonable.

"Or in a way that allows us to keep killing innocent people without the public getting too up in arms ala Vietnam."

I hope you can see how this is a fairly insulting caricature of the debate in this thread. It does seem that you're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, or at least letting the perfect be the enemy of the less bad.

"Not having a draft helps with this immensely, and was in retrospect will be seen as the nail in the coffin of the American Republic."

The Republic was only born when the Confederate States initiated the first American conscription? And existed throughout the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War and our various misadventures in Central America prior to WWI? Surely we were more imperial then?

"Now we don't have to send our sons and daughters to kill the other, we can now send "volunteers" and cyborgs."

I think either this is pretty loaded phrasing, on par with a rebuttal that you'd rather more Americans die in a war Americans voted for.

This is fascism.

No, not really — not as you've presented it. Not least because all the big three Fascist countries had conscription. I'm sympathetic to the pseudo-Heidegger ("techne") argument that warns of the existential tendency to render others as "standing reserve" instead of seeing them as people, and the tie within that to fascism's ideology of quasi-scientific Taylorism, but using "fascism" to describe it is pretty misleading.

All the pieces are there. We have secret tribunals, secret kill lists, a presidency which is basically a popularity contest every 4 years, both sides(Red vs. Blue) pitted against the other in an apocalyptic struggle...each election "the most important one of your life".

Using this set of descriptors for fascism is incoherent, and individually some of the claims are less compelling in context. Each election is the most important one in your life — it's the only one you can hope to influence. Even when described consequentially — i.e. that the election is the most important because of what will happen if either one is elected — for many people any given election will be the most important one in their lives, and this particular election is fairly weighty. But even further than that, surely pundits can be forgiven some hyperbole if you're going to argue that secret tribunals and kill lists generally define the American moral or political norms outside of the narrow "it happens occasionally, ergo it's a norm because it hasn't stopped." Aside from that, most of your complaints have been levied at the US for hundreds of years. "Popularity contest" complaints really get going when elites complained about Jackson's victory over Adams, and in terms of vicious partisanship, no one's rounding up Democrats and beating them with sticks (though the Dems tended to be the ones beating Whigs). The "apocalyptic struggle" is what ties in most with fascist ideology, but the US has been likewise plagued by millennial rhetoric at least since the Great Awakening, and it surges in times of economic uncertainty (Recession of 1898, Great Depression, etc.).

And those aren't all the pieces — we'd also need a cult of leadership, a totalitarian impulse, a scapegoat, etc.

Our economy is basically run by a secret cabal of bankers who have deep ties to our defense industries and military."

They have undue influence. But that (again) has been a hallmark of pretty much every age of our Republic since the Reconstruction.

"There are no other options. We don't even have the option to elect anyone but a person who will most surely continue the atrocities.

Again, I know that it feels good to do things like rail against "atrocities," but it doesn't really lend anything to the rhetoric. But this is rather a muddle of political thinking — what do you mean, have a choice? Like, that we would democratically if not for outside manipulation?

"We don't have the option, but to keep killing innocent people. We don't have the option, but to continue imprisoning non-violent offenders at an ever increasing rate (our prison system is nothing more than a system of corporate concentration/work camps)."

Yeah, you're just kinda on a roll here, right? Here in California, we're actually decreasing the rate of incarceration, especially of non-violent offenders.

"We don't have any choice, but to continue to attempt to dominate the world and create "a new american century"."

You have a choice. But you've got to realize that other people may disagree with you, and that doesn't make anything fascist unless you're 14.

"This is bullshit, this is fucked up, and this is the truth. You can choose to accept it or you can stick your head in the sand. That's one's own decision."

Yeah, no, that's bullshit. Not only do you declare what the truth is as a polemic while pretending to present an argument, but you frame this in language so that if someone disagrees with you, they are "sticking [their] head in the sand," and tacitly supporting the "fucked up."

You substituted dudgeon for argument, and presumptuousness for probity.
posted by klangklangston at 10:26 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two parties locked against each other in an apocalyptic struggle?

No, that is not fascism in any definition. One party demanding control over the nation to fight a minority inside the country ginned up to look like an enemy? That's fascism. McCarthyism? Certainly a step down that line. Dems vs. Republicans? That's a ridiculous definition of fascism.
posted by msalt at 1:17 AM on July 31, 2012


One party demanding control over the nation to fight a minority inside the country ginned up to look like an enemy? That's fascism.

Isn't that an accurate description of drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen?
posted by mek at 1:07 PM on July 31, 2012


No, not at all. If you're talking about the US, enemies in Pakistan and Yemen are not inside the US. And "ginned up" to look like an enemy? I think the 9/11 attack is a pretty solid basis for considering someone an enemy, as are suicide attacks on the US Embassy, US troops, IEDs, etc.

Here's one example: the Haqqani network. They attacked the US embassy in Kabul from their sanctuary in Waziristan, they continue to attack US troops and bases, and there is no dispute that they are doing so -- they are posting videos bragging about it.

Do you consider drone strikes against the Haqquani "extrajudicial killing" / killer robot blah blah blah? Armed fighters who hide across borders in sanctuaries are a long-running problem in warfare, and it's pretty well accepted that attacking them is a legitimate part of warfare.
posted by msalt at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2012


You're interpreting things with an extremely America-centric viewpoint. Pakistan and Yemen are both sovereign countries - imagine you are citizen of one of those countries. How does your description not apply? If I am a citizen of Pakistan, my government is actively permitting drone campaigns against people in my area based on secret intelligence provided to them by Americans... this is a pretty terrifying, anti-democratic and fascistic situation. In the context of Yemen or Pakistan, yes, It does seem like one party (pro-American political factions) are demanding control over sovereign nations to exterminate political minorities within the country extralegally, superseding normal legal channels, claiming that they are existential threats which cannot be dealt with normally.
posted by mek at 1:51 PM on July 31, 2012


I think the 9/11 attack is a pretty solid basis for considering someone an enemy, as are suicide attacks on the US Embassy, US troops, IEDs, etc.

Wow, use of IEDs and suicide attacks are valid bases for categorizing someone as an enemy of the United States? It seems like just a few comments back we were talking about how weapons are just weapons and it's completely invalid to make arguments regarding the broader effects of their use and the consequences of standardizing military operations upon them.

Do you consider drone strikes against the Haqquani "extrajudicial killing" / killer robot blah blah blah?

I certainly don't consider it to be defense of the United States. It appears that they were our allies during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the reason that there has been any conflict between us and them is that we invaded their country. You realize that they and the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11, right? And that for example Saddam Hussein's Iraq and most if not all of the insurgents there opposing the invasion didn't either, right?

In the 1970s Iraq was on the State Department's "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list. Then, we wanted to use them to try to influence the geopolitics and balance of power in the Middle East, so we pulled them off the list and sold them arms, technology, and anthrax. When we were done we put them back on the list.

Without any solid reasoning - yeah, basically ginned up reasoning - you are advocating giving the U.S. government carte blanche to kill whomever it wants and you consider criminal evidence against individuals, actual declaration of war against any party involved, or even notification of Congress by the executive branch to be "blah blah blah" unnecessary and inconvenient details. This kind of attitude is exactly why the vastly increased flexibility and capability for assassination represented by drone warfare needs to be severely reined in and at the very least subject to the same rules that other military operations are and why it represents a moral hazard as is the thesis of the article in the OP.

To anyone with a passing familiarity with the U.S. government's behavior throughout history, or even just in this century, it is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that we should trust that drone warfare will be used responsibly against credible threats to the American populace if no accountability is placed on its use.
posted by XMLicious at 5:00 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, use of IEDs and suicide attacks are valid bases for categorizing someone as an enemy of the United States?

When they used to attack US troops and embassies, yes, of course. Do you disagree?

I certainly don't consider [attacks on the Haqqani network] to be defense of the United States. It appears that they were our allies during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the reason that there has been any conflict between us and them is that we invaded their country.

We are in a traditional war in Afghanistan, and the Haqqani are attacking Americans -- not only troops, but embassy officials and civilian aid workers. And you say it is illegitimate for us to respond to those attacks with force because we were once allied with the Hagganis in the 1980s?

That's ridiculous. You're saying that once you ally with someone, you can never fight them even if they attack and kill your civilians and military?
posted by msalt at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2012


you are advocating giving the U.S. government carte blanche to kill whomever it wants and you consider criminal evidence against individuals, actual declaration of war against any party involved, or even notification of Congress by the executive branch to be "blah blah blah" unnecessary and inconvenient details.

I'm not advocating anything. You (and others) are yelling that drone attacks on jihadis in lawless areas of Pakistan and Yemen are horrible, illegal killer robot blah blah blah. I'm disagreeing with many of the overblown statements you are making. Iraq has nothing to do with anything. Saying that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11 is BS though. They harbored and supported the AQ attackers at the very least.
posted by msalt at 9:50 AM on August 1, 2012


Yeah, so you're again trying to dictate the boundaries of the conversation to suit your polemical strategy. We have not just been discussing a subset of drone attacks in a couple particular countries. We're discussing all aspects of the current use of drones, which involves many different locations including Iraq, aspects of the probable future use of drones, and the interplay between all of this things and the moral hazard and geopolitical consequences which were the subject of the article in the FPP.

And you say it is illegitimate for us to respond to those attacks with force because we were once allied with the Hagganis in the 1980s?

No, I am saying that it's a pretty tenuous chain of reasoning to tell a story that goes like this: because of 9/11, we invaded and decapitated Afghanistan because the most they said they'd be willing to do was turn Osama Bin Laden over to a third-party country for trial and sentencing, (and by the way Pakistan, which was definitely covertly harboring him for years, for some reason didn't merit the same treatment a few years later) but that wasn't enough so our hand was forced to our "last resort" of war and so we invaded and occupied the country, I guess to find bin Laden? But we seemed to lose interest in that pretty quickly, so who knows what was going on and what the objective actually was?

And then the Haqqani network which had been around for decades before now participated in fighting against the invading force as they did against the Soviets and will do against whoever invades next. And we can't do something silly like just pull out our military and humanitarian presence so that there isn't anyone for the Afghanis trying to defend their country to shoot at and there isn't a military invasion for them to defend against in the first place - no, that would be too simple - so we must strive mightily to kill or otherwise take out everyone who even might be a friend of a member of the Haqqani network and is participating in any sort of resistance.

So because of all this, that's why we need to have a constant silent Sword of Damocles hanging above the heads of everyone in large regions of the country and track down to their homes and carry out assassinations of groups of men, many of whom were eight or nine years old when 9/11 happened and had nothing to do with harboring Osama Bin Laden and are just defending their country or their tribe or way of life or whatever it may be with the means at their disposal.

And hey, y'know, with some of the targets that connection doesn't exist at all and we're just doin' a solid for our buddies in office in a nearby capital city, *wink* *wink*.

This is a horrendously messy, opaque, easily-abused chain of justifications connecting the actual threat to U.S. citizens, 9/11 more than a decade ago, with a military need to eliminate these thousands of people: one where the connection between 9/11 or a similar event to each individual somehow rises through our very last resort, war, to justify what is a further exceptional measure within war, assassination.

It's obvious to me and others here that this messy chain of reasoning getting scaled up larger and larger - at some point we will have assassinated ten thousand people by drone, at some point a hundred thousand, at some hopefully distant point in the future a million - is not only going to frequently end up being used to assassinate someone who doesn't even pose an indirect threat to American citizens, but will get used to assassinate people who don't have any bearing at all on threats to American citizens and only are somehow involved in "American interests in the region".

And if response to American aggression also justifies assassinating someone then, if it hasn't already happened, it won't be long before we engage in some kind of aggression just to provoke a response and thereby obtain a pretext for assassination.

That's why it's vital for the drone program to be severely reined in, made to be a transparent and accountable process, and at the very least treated as a form of military force subject to the War Powers Resolution and the basic counterbalances therein and elsewhere.
posted by XMLicious at 11:46 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


tl;dr. The discussion was interesting, with actual dialogue there for a while. I'm not interested in reading lectures though.
posted by msalt at 3:29 PM on August 1, 2012


It stopped being dialogue a ways back when you couldn't think of any more nits to pick and ways to dig your heels in and avoid discussing things actually related to moral hazards and hence couldn't muster more than brilliant dialectical tactics such as paraphrasing your opponent's argument as "blah blah blah".

You might feel more at home if you limit yourself to discussing military policy and geopolitics with grade schoolers; somewhere there's no demand to understand and articulate a response to ideas so complicated they need more than one sentence to explain. And an environment where going limp and playing possum like a toddler is still taken seriously as a clever debate move.
posted by XMLicious at 4:49 PM on August 1, 2012


Klang, it seems you still haven't done your reading. Apparently you are unaware that the question of whether the U.S. is, or is on the way to being, a fascist state has been debated at length in the academic literature. In the past you have claimed that even asking the question is out of line. You constantly bluster about how such comparisons are wrong and meaningless. Granted there has been no consensus reached, but to act like coherent arguments haven't been made is a bit dishonest. In fact this discussion has been taking place since the end of WWII. So go ahead and bluster some more, it won't change the fact that you obviously haven't read the prerequisite material. Of course I already knew that from our last discussion about this topic so I don't know why I even bother.

And I'd argue that this is, at best, an incredibly mild sign of fascism, and that using the emotionally-laden rhetoric of fascist overtakes any descriptive value, especially when arguing from a definition that is both broad and prone to over-application.

You haven't even defined what you think fascism is yet, or even demonstrated that you understand what my definition is. The fact that you are unaware of the scholarly tradition that has analyzed the American system as a potentially fascist system leaves you at a distinct disadvantage in this discussion. You claim our ability to calmly and cooly debate the best method of killing is "an incredibly mild sign of fascism." Unfortunately as you have been unwilling to actually tell anyone what that definition is I can't really comment our your argument...or lack there of.

Except for (several) things: It is a part of "the debate" generally — just because people disagree with your conclusions doesn't mean you've been silenced.

You claim it is part of the debate, but I think we all know that this is not true. If this were "part of the debate" we would have more politicians than cranks like Ron Paul making the argument that we shouldn't be bombing brown people in third world countries. Furthermore we would have the choice of electing a government in which not bombing people is an option. As it stands we have the choice between warmonger-in-chief #1 or warmonger-in-chief #2. This leads me to believe that while the option to not kill innocent people may in fact be a "part of the debate", this is not true when talking about those in positions to make such decisions. Ask yourself why this is and how it has come to be. If you can answer that question then you will have a better understanding of what American fascism is and how it has evolved since the end of WWII.

Actually, the debate is that given that the US is shifting from bombings to drone strikes, is that a bad thing (as the author of the linked piece asserts), and to what extent are the author's assertions about the negative outcomes reasonable.

Hence the banality of evil. You can try and frame the debate however you want, but if you can't see how not even addressing the fact that this discussion is about killing human beings dehumanizes said human beings than I guess I don't know what to else to say.

I hope you can see how this is a fairly insulting caricature of the debate in this thread. It does seem that you're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, or at least letting the perfect be the enemy of the less bad.

Are you drunk? Seriously, because this makes absolutely no sense. This may well in fact be a "caricature" of the debate in this thread, I don't know, but here I was referencing the national debate and in that context is certainly is not a caricature.

The Republic was only born when the Confederate States initiated the first American conscription? And existed throughout the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War and our various misadventures in Central America prior to WWI? Surely we were more imperial then?

Read some Samuel Huntington and then get back to me. Either way your vapid response doesn't merit a serious reply.

I think either this is pretty loaded phrasing, on par with a rebuttal that you'd rather more Americans die in a war Americans voted for.

Again, not worth reply. Maybe address the claims instead of making thinly-veiled suggestions that I hold a certain opinion.

No, not really — not as you've presented it. Not least because all the big three Fascist countries had conscription. I'm sympathetic to the pseudo-Heidegger ("techne") argument that warns of the existential tendency to render others as "standing reserve" instead of seeing them as people, and the tie within that to fascism's ideology of quasi-scientific Taylorism, but using "fascism" to describe it is pretty misleading.

I see again that your understanding of fascism is rather limited (and not to mention dated) in its scope.

Even when described consequentially — i.e. that the election is the most important because of what will happen if either one is elected — for many people any given election will be the most important one in their lives, and this particular election is fairly weighty.

You seem to have misunderstood me. I wasn't making a value statement about whether elections are or are not the "most important", but rather commenting on the apocalyptic nature of the event.

Using this set of descriptors for fascism is incoherent

Why?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2012


You claim our ability to calmly and cooly debate the best method of killing

This is really a distortion. All countries, whether fascist, socialist, communist, or whatever we are, debate the "best method of killing", i.e., how to win a war with the fewest casualties on their own side and, at least I believe in most cases, how to minimize civilian casualties when it is against the interests of the country. Thus, it isn't a sign of fascism any more than it is a sign of democracy; it's what war-like countries do. A more important point, though, is that we aren't talking about the best method of killing, but rather whether a particular implement of war leads to fewer killings or not. You may think the difference is a piffle, but it is central to the discussion we are having.

Now you may just want to scream that war is wrong and that killing should stop, and I wouldn't disagree with you, but it's not really the topic of the post and so far that has not reduced casualties of war, any more than screaming about unsafe cars and unsafe roads reduces traffic fatalities. We have made cars safer so they kill fewer people, but they still kill people and probably will until we stop using cars and go to another means of transportation. This seems to me to be true of war as well.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:43 PM on August 2, 2012


The legal dilemma over drone strikes: justified killings or war crimes? Some lawyers are closely involved in authorising strikes – while others attack them on human rights grounds
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on August 2, 2012


The philosopher making the moral case for US drones: 'There's no downside'. It's one of the US's most controversial policies; one that resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths overseas. So why does Bradley Strawser see targeted killing as a moral obligation?
posted by homunculus at 5:44 PM on August 2, 2012


it isn't a sign of fascism [to debate the "best method of killing", i.e., how to win a war with the fewest casualties] any more than it is a sign of democracy; it's what war-like countries do.

In fact, it's precisely a sign of democracy. Fascist countries don't allow public criticism of the government's methods of war. They punish any dissent with imprisonment, torture or execution.

That's big part of what makes these silly accusations of "fascism" -- based on people publicly criticizing government tactics, but not emotionally enough -- so ridiculous. Another big part is Alefwine's pompous claims of superior knowledge of the academic literature; a third is the manipulative, demagogic language ("bombing brown people in third world countries"). Since America's president has darker skin than anyone in these other countries (except Somalia), and al-Qaeda and allies -- led by lighter skinned Arabs -- bomb more brown-skinned civilians by far than the US, this rhetoric is even more empty and false than when it was coined in the 1970s.
posted by msalt at 11:53 PM on August 2, 2012


Fascist countries don't allow public criticism of the government's methods of war.

Since you have presented no definition of fascism, only criticized mine, forgive me if I don't take anything you say about fascism worth a grain of salt. Yet another illustration that your idea of what fascism is is limited to Nazism. You apparently forgot the run up to the Iraq War. Remember how they blackballed Donahue from MSNBC after he openly opposed the invasion. Remember what happened to the OWS protests? What do you think would have happened had all the protesters who marched against the Iraq war had actually done what OWS did and occupied all major cities? The fact that people can't parse the fiction created by the msm and reality is becoming increasingly disturbing to me.

Alefwine's pompous claims of superior knowledge of the academic literature

I'm not claiming superior knowledge of anything. I am claiming that such views do in fact exist and you guys, who are apparently unaware of the debate, act like it doesn't exist. You can pretend that this question isn't even up for debate, but there is no dearth of academic material available at your local university which will bear out my arguments. Not to say there aren't opposing viewpoints, because their obviously are, but you aren't even rising to the level of joining the debate. Klang is the only one to come close and that is because he has read a bit about fascism, but I guess his professors happened to leave out that part of the debate (the part about american fascism) which is not really surprising I'm afraid to say.

Now you may just want to scream that war is wrong and that killing should stop, and I wouldn't disagree with you, but it's not really the topic of the post and so far that has not reduced casualties of war, any more than screaming about unsafe cars and unsafe roads reduces traffic fatalities.

I am no pacifist, but I do believe that a war should only be prosecuted when a nation faces an existential threat. Just so we are clear you are comparing car safety and war? I agree, though, that screaming about it won't change anything. I have no illusions about change, but that doesn't mean I can't talk about it. If this is a derail then I guess we can quit talking about it right now, but I have a suspicion one of you will respond trying to refute my points.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:24 AM on August 3, 2012


Klang, on the subject of how we can reconcile fascism with our two party system and the apparent lack of "hard" totalitarianism I would point you toward reading some of what Wolfgang Schivelbusch has written on the subject. I don't actually own or have any of his stuff in front of me at the moment so I can't actually quote him, so you'll have to settle for a description of his ideas from a third party:

Wolfgang Schivelbusch highlights the parallel architectural modernity of ‘postliberal monumentalism’ in Europe and America, where neoclassicism became indicative of the imposing power of the state over society under both democracy and totalitarianism. Just as scholars now reject ‘simplistic equations of monumentalism and totalitarianism’, he argues, it is now possible to ‘look beyond the simplistic dichotomy of liberal democracy on the one hand and repressive dictatorship on the other’ (2006: 9–10). Although direct comparisons between European fascism and American corporatism are problematic, the evidence suggests that one of the negative consequences of the Progressive Era was to legitimize a non-totalitarian form of economic fascism which undermined free market capitalism in the United States. In a country where democracy was entrenched, F. D. Roosevelt reintroduced wartime legislation in the crisis of March 1933, exploiting the closure of the banks to justify an expansion of state economic controls and the transfer of legislative sovereignty from the Congress to the executive. What became known as the ‘New Deal’ irreversibly changed the course of American politics.(source), pg. 157-158
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:54 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


oops, i meant to include more....here you go:

But what exactly was the New Deal, and in what way can it be compared with fascism? The first point to note is that however authoritarian the governments of Wilson, Hoover and Roosevelt, the economic goals they pursued were broadly progressive in intent. Contrary to Goldberg’s (2007) tirade against ‘liberal fascism’ among the American left, the aim of the first New Deal was to organize US industry and agriculture into semi-autonomous industrial associations, each designed to regulate investment and trade within a specific sector.14 This innovation was consistent with corporatism in Italy which created cartels to regulate industry and commercial agriculture, but because the corporate system in the United States was not an integral part of the state it was not seen as anti-democratic (Radosh 1972: 167). However, while the US government was careful to avoid any public association between corporate liberalism and fascism, in private Roosevelt did not disguise his sympathy for the scope of policies followed by the Italian government (Schivelbusch 2006: 30). And, although still more keen to avoid negative associations with German fascism, the New Dealers around Roosevelt introduced populist ‘back to the land’ initiatives and extended public works schemes to reduce unemployment, a policy exemplified by infrastructural projects which rivalled those introduced in Germany and Italy.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:58 AM on August 3, 2012


Point taken on the autonomous reorganization of industries vis a vis corporatism, but I do have to admit that it both seems a bit broad (since practically no states have free market capitalism) and I'm dubious of the framing there. It would seem that "economic fascism" would include every Western country and certainly plenty of others, and because of that it seems a bit like saying that the US is fascist because it has Volkswagens.

I'd have to read more of how Schivelbusch describes this, because it's raising too many free marketeer flags for me, and I don't want to discount his ideas just because I have a straw man perception of them right now.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on August 3, 2012


"Klang, it seems you still haven't done your reading."

It seems that you've mistaken your position for that of a professor and I your student.

"Apparently you are unaware that the question of whether the U.S. is, or is on the way to being, a fascist state has been debated at length in the academic literature."

I am not unaware. Please don't pretend that disagreement can only come from ignorance; that's obnoxious.

"You haven't even defined what you think fascism is yet, or even demonstrated that you understand what my definition is."

Feel free to lay out a coherent definition here.

"You claim it is part of the debate, but I think we all know that this is not true. If this were "part of the debate" we would have more politicians than cranks like Ron Paul making the argument that we shouldn't be bombing brown people in third world countries."

Perhaps I'd take your demands to do homework on the issue more seriously if you didn't make ridiculous assertions like this. I suppose I should have taken a page from your book and pointed out that your contention is idiotic prior to defining "the debate," but the honest fact is that while most people disagree with your framing, it's trivial to find politicians that disagree with drone strikes. To the extent that there is a national discussion of drone strikes, there is criticism of their use, prevalence, justification and effects. To hinge your argument on a narrow reading relying purely on current presidential candidates from the two major parties is cherry-picking to support a weak case and ignoring the possibility that people can disagree with you.

"Hence the banality of evil. You can try and frame the debate however you want, but if you can't see how not even addressing the fact that this discussion is about killing human beings dehumanizes said human beings than I guess I don't know what to else to say.

I'm sorry, you obviously haven't done enough reading of Heidegger to understand my prior response. But talking about anything humans deal with abstractly also involves dehumanizing them. There's actually a pretty decent wealth of discussion on this in existentialism, but you can also find it in Susan Sontag's writings about photojournalism and the aesthetics of suffering. It's something to be wary of, but it's asinine to pretend that only you can grasp the full humanity of "brown people," and that everyone else is evil. What hell awaits the actuaries?

"Are you drunk? Seriously, because this makes absolutely no sense. This may well in fact be a "caricature" of the debate in this thread, I don't know, but here I was referencing the national debate and in that context is certainly is not a caricature."

Oh, so you were complaining that something someone said here was fascism because of some imagined national debate? That's a bit dishonest, don't you think? And then accusing me of being drunk because you didn't communicate clearly?

"Read some Samuel Huntington and then get back to me. Either way your vapid response doesn't merit a serious reply."

I'm sorry that you can't communicate your ideas clearly enough to defend them without referencing some outside authority. I'm not sure how this is my problem, so much as an excuse for you to put out weak paraphrases of someone else's ideas and then complain when you get called on it. (I've read Clash of Civilizations, and Said's critique of Huntington, in which he calls Huntington a fascist, essentially. What was the point you were trying to make? Because unless there's something that I don't remember regarding conscription in there, it seems pretty empty to reference him with regard to your contention that the end of the draft bespeaks an increased American fascism/imperialism.)

Again, not worth reply. Maybe address the claims instead of making thinly-veiled suggestions that I hold a certain opinion."

I was addressing the framing, since you didn't really have a coherent point. And I wasn't making thinly-veiled suggestions about your opinion. I know that actually reading is hard, but if you'd like to have a conversation here instead of lecturing, you might try it once in a while.

"I see again that your understanding of fascism is rather limited (and not to mention dated) in its scope."

I see again that your conception of fascism is simply to lump everything you don't like under it, and that you're not providing any boundaries for your definitions either. And yes, call me dated, but I tend to think that any definition of fascism should include states and parties that actually defined themselves as fascist.

"You seem to have misunderstood me. I wasn't making a value statement about whether elections are or are not the "most important", but rather commenting on the apocalyptic nature of the event."

And you ignored that apocalyptic rhetoric is both long-standing and not necessarily germane. While plenty of fascism did include what you're crudely referring to as "apocalyptic" rhetoric, that doesn't mean that apocalyptic framing is inherently fascist, and there's a long, long history of apocalyptic or millennial themes in American political rhetoric.

"Why?"

Uh, you see that set of characters right after the sentence you quoted?

Maybe if you stopped relying on relaying boiled-soft versions of your received wisdom on fascism and using it as an ad hominem to describe everything you don't like, and instead focused on starting with stating a coherent definition and talking about ways that these things fit, you'd find a more productive avenue for debate. Instead, it's petulant carpings that are pretty easy for me to ignore.
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems that you've mistaken your position for that of a professor and I your student.

It seems you've had almost two years to read up and are still regurgitating the same stale talking points. I would hope that at the very least you would concede that there probably isn't One definition of fascism any more than there is One definition of any of any complex social and cultural phenomenon that moves through history evolving as it goes. I think you would be hard pressed to find a definition which can easily encompass Communism or even Capitalism because concepts like these evolve over time. That's why Marx was wrong. His critique mid 19th century capitalism was flawed because in many ways it no longer applies. This is because many of the problems that were inherent in that system were addressed and changed. 19th century capitalism is not the same animal as 21st century capitalism. Just like any modern form of fascism is probably going to be described in similar but ultimately different modes and definitions than Nazism or Italian Fascism was.

maybe if you stopped relying on relaying boiled-soft versions of your received wisdom on fascism and using it as an ad hominem to describe everything you don't like

I do not like a lot of things, and almost none of them would I describe as fascist. Knowing the majority of mefites are unaware of the academic literature backing up my points(you did just admit you were aware of it didn't you?) you try and shut down the debate by calling my opinions incoherent and crazy. You can disagree with me that's ok. In fact I welcome it, but please don't act like there are not coherent critiques of the American system of which claims of fascism are central. So will you and msalt at the very least concede that my claims of fascism, that while most probably poorly worded and maybe even semi-incoherent, are not unprecedented in the very least. Please just admit that and I will shut up about the whole fascism thing.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:12 PM on August 3, 2012


re Huntington. Sorry I was handwavey with out explaining. I could be wrong but if I remember correctly Huntington made the argument that the draft assured civilian control of the military and that a voluntary force was prone to alienation from the populace at large. This, he argued, was dangerous and could lead to usurpation of the military by generals or a powerful executive. It seems his fears were born out in the form of Bush II.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2012


"I would hope that at the very least you would concede that there probably isn't One definition of fascism any more than there is One definition of any of any complex social and cultural phenomenon that moves through history evolving as it goes."

Then you'd have to concede that the utility of using the descriptive term "fascism" based on an esoteric or academic (especially a contested academic) definition is low, in particular because you didn't bother to lay out your definition, and that the utility is further confounded by the emotional load that "fascism" holds. Ergo, whether or not something is "fascism" depends on what "fascism" means, and not only have you not demonstrated (due to lack of clear communication of premise) that these actions are fascism, but that you've depended on that negative connotation for your argument rather than dealing honestly with the topic — instead preferring to alternate between mischaracterizing your opponents' positions and hectoring lectures based on some obscure knowledge that totally justifies both your position and tone that somehow you can't bother to articulate here — if one definition even exists.

"Knowing the majority of mefites are unaware of the academic literature backing up my points(you did just admit you were aware of it didn't you?) you try and shut down the debate by calling my opinions incoherent and crazy."

I'm not sure what your position is anymore, to be honest, outside of "Talking about drone strikes as an alternative to bombings is fascist" under some definition that I've repeatedly asked you to provide. As it stands, your argument is incoherent. That's not calling you crazy or shutting down discussion, it's pointing out that your evidence as it is presented does not support your argument, and do not coalesce into a, well, fascis. For example, that you hold the US electoral process to be a popularity contest does not inherently connect with the argument that the US is fascist — that's incoherence (not to mention an absurd reduction easily answered by pointing out that essentially every democratic election is also a popularity contest — but no one would hold that every democratic election is fascism).
posted by klangklangston at 4:04 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Sorry I was handwavey with out explaining. I could be wrong but if I remember correctly Huntington made the argument that the draft assured civilian control of the military and that a voluntary force was prone to alienation from the populace at large. This, he argued, was dangerous and could lead to usurpation of the military by generals or a powerful executive. It seems his fears were born out in the form of Bush II."

I've heard that argument before, but citing Bush II is post hoc ergo propter hoc. "Civilian control" of the military is a messy area, but it's just as easy to argue that by being detached from the military, the civilian government (or popular opinion) is less willing to countenance protracted casualties. And the real evidence (and risk) of loss of civilian control would be an increase in the use of military domestically — the crossing of the Rubicon. But since democracies are often pretty happy to go to war with or without conscription, Bush II is poor evidence of the argument that conscription made the executive/military staff stronger.

Perhaps Huntington makes different arguments — I see he's done a lot of work on military-civilian relationships, and I haven't read much of that, that I recall.
posted by klangklangston at 4:16 PM on August 3, 2012


Drones by country: who has all the UAVs?
posted by adamvasco at 3:04 AM on August 4, 2012


" 'I would hope that at the very least you would concede that there probably isn't One definition of fascism any more than there is One definition of any of any complex social and cultural phenomenon that moves through history evolving as it goes.'

Then you'd have to concede that the utility of using the descriptive term 'fascism' based on an esoteric or academic (especially a contested academic) definition is low"

I would only have to concede that if you agree that the same applies to other -isms as well, such as capitalism, communism, and socialism. As that is the logical implication of what you are suggesting. Then where does that leave us? Argumentum ad populum is not a successful argumentative strategy for either of us.

mischaracterizing your opponents' positions and hectoring lectures

I would hope you would give me the benefit of the doubt that I am not maliciously mischaracterizing your arguments. Any mischaracterization is most probably either due to you not communicating your point clearly or me just plain not understanding...or a combination of both. As far as hectoring lectures are concerned I guess I would accept that as a fair criticism, but I also believe that any 3rd party would probably note that we both have the tendency to "hector" people. I would also tenuously propose that the same 3rd party might also suggest that we "fight like we are married".

For example, that you hold the US electoral process to be a popularity contest does not inherently connect with the argument that the US is fascist — that's incoherence (not to mention an absurd reduction easily answered by pointing out that essentially every democratic election is also a popularity contest — but no one would hold that every democratic election is fascism).

There's actually a lot written on this exact topic(fascism and elections/democracy), but I don't feel like blowing the rest of my saturday chasing down the cites for you. Listen I'm gonna drop it. If I somehow find the time I will try and find you some stuff for you to read. Just so I have a better idea of what to look for; what are your main theoretical objections with identifying our system as fascist? I already set you on the right track as far as our lack of hard totalinarianism, so what else?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:03 PM on August 4, 2012


Studies: Drone strikes work. Two new studies say the controversial strikes effectively destroy terrorist groups. Some experts remain skeptical
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civilian Deaths Drop in Afghanistan; Still Triple 2008 Rate
posted by homunculus at 1:22 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Humane' Drones Are the Most Brutal Weapons of All
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hidden History: America’s Secret Drone War in Africa
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:50 AM on August 14, 2012


US 'should hand over footage of drone strikes or face UN inquiry'
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2012


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