Review of this book written by:

Lynn Feinerman who writes occasionally for Tikkun Magazine
OBEYING A HIGHER LAW:  Making the Case Against Drone Warfare
Review of DRONE WARFARE:  Killing by Remote Control
by Medea Benjamin
I had already determined I wanted to review Medea Benjamin’s new
book DRONE WARFARE when I encountered three guys on a Bay
Area waterfront test driving a remote controlled miniature drone toy.
The drone was about two or three feet in wingspan, styled like an
F16, and had an intrusive, loud, well…. dronelike buzz.
It had the rapt attention of everyone on the waterfront.  People
walking their dogs stopped to marvel at the drone as it flew over
the Bay, and returned to buzz around, about a hundred feet over
my head.
Curious, eh?  I had just received Medea Benjamin’s book in the post,
and now a drone was buzzing right above me.  I got a creepy sense
of what it might be like to be in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya,
Palestine, Somalia, Honduras or the Philippines in the wrong place
at the wrong time, under drone surveillance or violence.
I imagined myself a denizen of Gaza, for example, feeling trapped,
imprisoned, even tormented on a psychological level, by the
constant buzzing presence of an Israeli drone, or the threat of a
drone’s arrival.
In DRONE WARFARE, there are many first-hand accounts from
people who have been the targets of drones, or near the targets of
drones.  One actually comes from a Palestinian father in Gaza:
“‘It’s continuous, watching us, especially at night,’ said Nabil al-
Amassi, a Gaza mechanic and father of eight.  ’You can’t sleep.
You can’t watch television.  It frightens the kids.  When they hear
it they say, “It is going to hit us,”‘”
What a different response came from a little boy of about nine years
old, ecstatic over that drone I saw on the waterfront.  Jumping up
and down and shouting, he ran to beg his father to buy him one
for his birthday.  ”Oh please, Dad?  Oh my god, please?”
And as Medea Benjamin’s thoroughly researched, hard-hitting book
tells us, most of the United States is in the same euphoria over
drones and drone warfare:
“Asked if they approve the use of unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft against
terrorist suspects overseas, eighty three percent said yes, including
seventy seven percent who call themselves liberal Democrats.  Even
more stunning is that seventy nine percent approved of using drones
even if those suspected terrorists are American citizens living in other
Contrast the anecdote of that little boy’s excitement with the following
account from the introduction to Benjamin’s book:
“…Roya never had time for sports, or for school.  Born into a poor
family living on the outskirts of Kabul, her father was a street vendor.
Her mother raised five children and baked sweets for him to sell.  …
One day while her father was out selling candies, Roya and her two
sisters were trudging home carrying buckets of water.  Suddenly
they heard a terrifying whir and then there was an explosion:
something terrible had dropped from the sky, tearing their house apart
and sending the body parts of their mother and two brothers flying
through the air…”
Roya and her family were not terrorists.  Most of the people killed by
drones, as Medea’s book makes clear, are not terrorists.
The little boy on the waterfront who so longs for a drone toy, is not
endangered by a drone.  So why should he worry about a little girl
whose life was ruined by a drone?  A little girl who doesn’t feel
excitement at all, but profound, traumatic, long-lasting grief.
Indeed, that smug, oblivious sense of safety is a big selling point
for drone warfare, touted as a way to save the lives of US soldiers.
They can continue being boys sititng at their sophisticated
Playstations, pushing buttons.  And they can push the horrifying
results of their “play” into the recesses of their reptilian brains.
If by chance a thought might emerge about the innocent, unknowing
victims of the latest military toy, if the public might begin to think of
the pain and death we are causing far away…  the corporate-
industrial-military-government propaganda machine jolts into gear,
to convince us the drone warfare is pinpoint accurate…it only kills
bad guys.
So why, as I write this review, are there thousands of Pakistanis
protesting drone warfare, telling the world that over 500 innocent
civilians were killed by drones in Pakistan already, 175 of them
children?  Why are they determined to stop the use of drones in
DRONE WARFARE investigates all of the information about who
has died or been wounded by unmanned aerial vehicles, UAV’s,
who is being surveilled, and where drones might be used in the
future.  What emerges from her inquiry is the clear recognition
that drones are no different from land mines or weapons fitted
with depleted uranium:  They are extremely unsafe for civilians
and they do not, in fact, differentiate between “noncombatants”
and “combatants”.
And as Medea also makes very clear in her consideration of the
legal issues in the use of drones, the United States and all other
nations of the world are legally required to use weaponry and
war tactics that make that differentiation…under penalty for
war crimes.
In the conclusion to DRONE WARFARE, Medea puts the
“mainstream media” front and center, exposing them as corporate
sycophants and faddists:
“The mainstream media, after cheerleading for war and enthusiast-
ically covering the initial shock-and-awe volley of missiles, quickly
became bored with America’s imperial exploits.  And with the use
of drone warfare that poses no risk to Americans, they aren’t about
to spend time covering blown-up foreigners, especially when there’s
something important like a celebrity breakup to report.”
Illuminating the pivotal reason why her articulate book is so very
timely, and so very much needed, she informs us that drones
themselves are not silent like the press.  They are not voiceless.
They have a vocal advocacy group in Congress:  The
Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus.  Yes, these machines
have their own Congressional caucus!
“It seems that, like corporations, robots are people too…” quips
Medea Benjamin.
That quip cuts deeply, to the underlying reality of our nation:
Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned us about it.  He warned us back
in the ’50′s that the US was not disarming after World War II.  We
chose instead to militarize in order to jump start a lagging post-war
economy, sucking our taxes into obscene military budgets, with
rampant corporate profiteering from “endless war” manufacture,
and with a Congress and Executive branch going right along with
the program.
The US is hooked on war.  Its so-called “economy” is so tied into
the vicious cycle of ravaging the world for oil, feeding the war
machine with that oil and our taxes, then going out to ravage again
for oil, that the problems of any number of innocent civilians it
harms don’t really amount to a hill of beans in most media …as
Bogart said in CASABLANCA.
Medea Benjamin is realistic in her understanding that drones are
here to stay, in some capacity.  She enumerates some of the
positive, helpful uses to which they’ve already been put:  for
example as monitoring devices after floods in Australia and after
the Fukushima disaster; and as patrolling devices used by
environmental advocacy groups to detect illegal whaling and
other covert abuses.
Her point is that what drives the explosion in drone technology
is their potential military uses.  And that is what motors the
explosive corporate competition to manufacture them.  Billions
upon billions of dollars of profits.  So a small group fattens its
pockets while the vast majority of us are vulnerable to the
violent devices stoking their desires.
We have desperately lacked visionary leadership from the
White House in the decades wherein drones have come of age.
The informed, democratic discussion that is crucial to a healthy
society, and the cri de coeur of conscience that maintains our
spiritual health, must come from the courageous faith-based
groups, human rights groups, veterans’ and other military
activist groups that have done whatever they could to force
the US to wake up to its infatuation with military might.
Medea Benjamin’s own activist organization, CODEPINK, has
been at the vanguard of citizen movements against drone
warfare in particular. Her book provides extensive information
and stories about the activism that has so far moved drone
issues closer to the media spotlight.
One of those groups, the “Creech 14″, entered the Creech
Air Force Base near Las Vegas Nevada in April of 2009 – to
protest and stop teams of soldiers remotely operating the
US killer drones abroad.  Being mostly priests and nuns,
the protesters invited the staff on base to share a Good Friday
meal with them.  They were arrested, jailed, and had a very
high profile trial about a year later.
Medea gives a detailed account of that trial, in which the
defendants created a debate about the use of drones, inviting
distinguished witnesses and establishing that according to
the post-World War II Nuremberg protocols, individuals are
morally and legally bound to disobey orders and laws that
entail crimes against humanity.
One of the witnesses they called to testify was Bill Quigley,
legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Citing
the historical duty of civilians to reign in the military, Quigley
said of the “Creech 14″ and other civilian dissidents:  ”In
the long run we honor them for obeying a higher law, for
helping to bring us toward justice.”
DRONE WARFARE strives for the same goal, attempting to
reawaken our sleeping consciences, our compassion for
others in the world.  Its core goal is, in the final analysis, to
reach into that reptilian brain and communicate spirit, faith
and the memory of our moral promises.
I heard excellent programming on drone warfare on the
FLASHPOINTS program of KPFA radio, wherein a
commentator urged more of the faith community to join in
the outcry against drone warfare.   My effort to join that
protest comes in the form of this book review for TIKKUN
magazine, created in the Jewish community and
emphasizing the infusion of spirituality into politics and
Medea Benjamin hints at the next developments in drone
warfare –  the manufacture of drones as small as hummingbirds,
and the trend to use drones here in the United States.  Plans
for the domestic use of drones have awakened significant
unease in the press – even in the most knee-jerk militaristic
of the press.
Even Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano
complained recently:  ”When drones take pictures of us on our
private property and in our homes, and the government uses the
photos as it wishes, what will we do about it?…If the military
personnel see something of interest from a drone, they may
apply to a military judge or ‘military commander’ for permission
to conduct a search of the private property that intrigues them…
What’s next?  Prosecutions before military tribunals in the US?”
That from a commentator for Fox News.  Perhaps the US will
not deeply consider the issues in drone warfare and surveillance
until they come home to roost.  As Medea Benjamin warns in her
book, “Watch out America.  What goes around comes around.”
tags: War & Peace   
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