On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine published an unsensational profile of the drone pilot training facility at Holloman Air Force Base, in New Mexico (“The Drone Zone” by Mark Mazzetti).
It’s important to recognize that the press gets access to a training program like the one described at Holloman because the military and the Administration are calculating how they want to influence public opinion.
In essence, the Mazzetti piece lays out the facts about the drone program — or, more precisely, some of the facts — and then leaves it to the American people to decide whether it cares about those facts or not. As Jimmy Carter pointed out several weeks ago in an important New York Times op-ed piece, there has been a stunning lack of “dissent from the general public” against the human rights abuses, such as the drone killing program, of the Obama administration.
So what’s really going on here? The political elites of our country are engaged in their quadrennial election pageant, but the staggering truth is that the campaign season is proceeding with nary a word about the drones killing program, or, in fact, any of the national security practices of the Obama administration. It seems extremely likely that Barack Obama will be re-elected, and will claim a mandate to continue carrying out the drones killing. After all, why not? Has there really been any “dissent from the general public”? Where’s the outrage?
Here, then, are the facts laid out in “The Drone Zone”. Decide for yourself if you want to give your tacit consent.
(1) DRONE KILLING: EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE OF THE ACTION
“It is widely known that the United States has three different drone programs. The first is the publicly acknowledged program run by the Pentagon that has been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other two are classified programs run separately by the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which maintain separate lists of people targeted for killing.”
“Widely known”? Well, I guess it is now! How do you feel about this, America? Or doesn’t it matter to you that one federal body after another is getting on board the extrajudicial execution train?
(2) DRONES: KEY TO TOMORROW’S LEAN, EFFICIENT MILITARY
“[T]he Pentagon is increasing its fleet of drones by 30 percent and military leaders estimate that, within a year or so, the number of Air Force pilots flying unmanned planes could be higher than the number who actually leave the ground.”
This fact should be taken together with the article that appeared in the previous day’s New York Times (“Afghan Conflict Losing Air Power as U.S. Pulls Out” ), which stressed how expensive the old way was: only a tiny percentage (~5%) of sorties by fixed-wing aircraft in Afghanistan result in the use of ordnance, despite the $20,000/hour cost of those operations.
So … what do you think, America? You’re on board for this “new and improved” way of killing, right? After all, the price is right ….
(3) DRONES: KILLING AT A SAFE DISTANCE
“Pilots have flown missions over Afghanistan in the morning, stopped for lunch, fought the Iraq war in the afternoon and then driven home in time for dinner.”
The end section of “The Drone Zone” attempts to get at some of the possible negative psychological impact on the pilots. But it is pretty thin gruel. We’ve never been serious about the damage to which we subject the members of our military. Why start now?
(4) DRONES: JUST BUSINESS AS USUAL
As “The Drone Zone” make clear, new military technologies were being advanced at Holloman long before anyone ever dreamed of operating drones … and — golly! — after all, the geography around Holloman turns out to be a dead-ringer for the mountain/desert combination of war zones like Afghanistan!
So is this really so different?
(5) DRONE VICTIMS ARE 100% INVISIBLE
Notably missing from “The Drone Zone” is any mention of the victims of the U.S. drones killing program. (The photo album that accompanies the article is one of the most sterile, anonymous, and scary portraits of a deadly industry in recent memory.) Ironically, the closest the article comes to suggesting the true human cost is when it describes trainees practicing by following cars on local New Mexico roads: “Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?”
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