Tag Archive for 'war'

The Appealing Poison of Unmanned Aircraft

This opinion piece was published in The Oregonian on Sunday, August 21st.

My family tells the story of war with two voices. The first is the voice of my grandfather, who started working as a typist at the Portland recruiting office, volunteered to enlist in the Army Air Corps a week before Pearl Harbor, and would eventually lead a group of C47 airplanes dropping paratroopers on D-Day. He talks about the exhilaration of flying, the people he evacuated from concentration camps, and the men with whom he made the sharpest memories of his life.

The second voice is of my grandmother, who took the train from Portland to Missouri to marry her young lover before sending him off to Europe. Worry like a thick blanket, woven with pride. Of miscarrying while he was away and being afraid to tell him.

War is wrenching. In small towns you know which families have sons in the service. You see mom at the grocery store, she looks OK, but you wonder if she loses sleep. She’s weary of people feeling sorry for her. The child of a high school teacher comes home with limbs missing. On Aug. 20 our governor ordered that Oregon flags be flown at half-staff in memory of Ryley Gallinger-Long of Cornelius, who died in Afghanistan.

What if we never had to fly the flag at half-staff? I doubt the Prince of Peace will end all wars in my lifetime. I’m talking about a new era with drones fighting in place of people — soldiers strafing bad guys in Afghanistan and making it home in time to tuck in the kids and host poker night. Will we fly our flags at half-staff when we lose another machine? When we kill the bad guys? When we kill children who were too close to the bad guys?

War establishes its moral significance in the stories of people we know. My buddy was pulled out of a full-tuition merit scholarship to college to serve an unlooked-for second tour in the Middle East, and I thought “Good God, are we doing the right thing over there?” War became real to me then, and in 2008, I spoke against war at the ballot box. Fighting with drones could take away opportunities for civilians like me to wake up to carnage 10,000 miles away. It could take away my grandmother’s voice and the role of civilians who experience war personally even though they never enlist.

Professional soldiers already bear enough burdens on our behalf. Asking them to judge whether their leaders are acting prudently is unfair because it feels disloyal. Every rank-and-file soldier I’ve ever met thinks such restraint is above his pay grade.

The voice of restraint needs to come from civilians, from public servants and ordinary voters. Making war means a lot of short-term jobs for soldiers and companies that make guns, planes and bombs. How many needless wars will we fight if civilians’ only personal experience with war is a comfortable job building machines?

I don’t think we should stop or even cut back the role of drones. In the long run of history, the censor and the Luddite have always lost; technology is too appealing. The only remedy for dangerous ideas is better ideas.

Civilian casualties, which happen with or without drones, are just a distraction from the greatest question facing public servants who stand for peace: In a world where Americans can make war without ever flying the flag at half-staff, how will we make ourselves care enough to exercise restraint?




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