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Cloudier Skies: A Short Opinion

    By Mark Brians. October 29, 2014 - 12:44 pm

pakastani boy speaks before congress

“I no longer love blue skies.” The dubbed-American voice-over translates the testimony of the Pakistani boy (Zubair, pictured above) as he spoke before Congress last year.

“In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray. And for a short period of time the mental tension and fear eases.”

This clip, along with others, has made its way onto major broadcasting networks, internet shows, and blogs as audio-visual evidence against the United States’ Drone program.

With our last two campaigns in the Middle East, the United States’ promises of quick victories supplied by ‘shock-and-awe’ movements and displays of air-supremacy were exposed as pale and insufficient falsehoods.

Not only did we find-out –all too late– that war will always demand boots on the ground, we also came to realize the recruitment-power and solidarity that air warfare provided our ‘enemies of state.’

After eventual, brutal, on-the-ground combat, after hearing countless testimonies of the countless denizen innocent victims of our displays of air-power, and after watching numerous recruits flee the air-threat by running to the waiting embrace of ISIL, one might think we’d reconsider our air-power-program.

With the evolution and popularity of drone technology in the past year however, the air-power promises of the Obama Administration have been redoubled.

While this may all seem quite removed from our island life, Hawai‘i will be playing a critical role in the development of the military use of drones.

Hawai‘i will be hosting two types of unmanned military aerial vehicles: a group of reconoital RQ-7B ‘Shadows,’ and the armable (though currently unarmed) RQ-21A Blackjacks in much greater amount.


The drones will be training in the area and will begin to work initially in an information-gathering capacity. The main plan is that the drones will accompany marine units who operate in the pacific theater.

Advocates of the drone program may see no harm in its continued expansion. The main source of positive evidence they provide is that the use of drones ‘saves lives.’ By which they refer to the lives of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.

This ‘evidence’ is called into question by the flood of civilian casualties brought about by drone use; which is to say, by the absence of human insight. It is moreover, suspect when compared with the way in which the use of drones correlates with the surge of western recruits to rogue militaries like ISIS.

We seem to be bent on the confusing mission of building better weapons in the hopes of ‘saving more lives.’ At the end of the day lives saved becomes a matter of which side of the border is doing the body count.

This uncovers the sort of necrophilic tendencies of the modern nation state which seeks to preclude its own death by exacting it from another. War is already a dehumanizing process, and our current emphasis on making it increasingly un-manned, automatized, and technologically efficient only exacerbates this dehumanity.

I am no pacifist. But something does grow sick inside my heart when I think that my freedom was purchased for me by the death of some Farsi-speaking civilian who died at the click of a mouse from some ill-informed techno-savvy agent in D.C. When such becomes the protocol for war, when death is dealt at a remove from the dying, when victories can be secured by remote controls. War, for the winner, gains the illusion of ease, and easy things are easily excused. In this way, war becomes cheap.

War, however, must always be costly for those who choose to wage it. That cost alone may be the let and hindrance that keeps us from running willy-nilly into war, from one campaign to another. The cost of war, and the proximity of warriors, the nearness of the fighting to those who fall, is one of the last reminders of the horror of the event.

In an age such as ours which is marked by so low a value on human life beyond our consumptive capabilities, war –the means by which we justify it, and the way in which we wage it– is the litmus test on our definitions of what it means to be human.

With our use of drone-power then, we must be very careful that in our desire to ‘save lives’ we do not institute or utilize things which call into question the very value of those lives.

Photos courtesy of and