Overton: An easy war

BY JON OVERTON | JUNE 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Armed drones (unmanned aerial vehicles used to kill enemy combatants) are the most recent military development that have distanced Americans from the wars their government wages.

The last time a significant percentage of us actually understood what war meant was during the Civil War. Granted, the draft still existed, but generally, the home front remained unscarred. And of course, once the draft was eliminated, the American public had much less to lose if a war began.

The United States is very much a free country: free from the mass carnage wars inflict, free from bombed-out ruins, and free from the tragic loss of life on an unimaginable scale. The United States inflicts atrocities on innocent civilians in a rabid hunt for every last affiliate of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But we’ll be just fine, thanks. With drones, U.S. troops can sit behind a desk and push buttons to launch Hellfire missiles from their creepily named aircraft, “Reapers.”

Drones provide us with a false sense of security. Sure, we may be taking out a few militants today, but how many more will rise up to avenge the needless deaths of their sisters, their mothers, their friends who never wronged the United States but died at our hands anyway?

Drones found opposition in a wave of peace activists who arrived in Iowa City on June 14. Voices for Creative Nonviolence gave a presentation against drone warfare as part of a protest against drones that includes walking from a facility that produces drone parts in the Quad Cities to the planned site of a drone command center at the Des Moines International Airport.

According to Matthew White, a historian who studies atrocities, civilians actually die far more frequently in warfare than soldiers do.

As many as 400 to 800 civilians were killed by drones in Pakistan according to data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

It doesn’t help when the United States government continues using drones even after the hosting countries push back. In May, Pakistan Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ruled that U.S.-led drone strikes are war crimes that are a “blatant violation of basic human rights.” He even ordered the Pakistani government to force the U.S. government to stop the drone strikes within its borders.

The new prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, also promised to persude the United States to end the bombings. Yet they continue.

Kathy Kelly, the co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, described how the drone strikes were affecting Afghans.

“Men coming from the Wardak province, men coming from Kandahar, men coming from Jalalabad were losing their composure, crying, trying to regain composure, telling us how they feel trapped, telling us how they’re always under surveillance, telling us how they don’t know where to run, telling us about brothers, and friends, and medical students, and sisters, and nieces who’ve been killed and asking us, ‘Who are the terrorists?’ ”

These people are afraid. Many live in squalid poverty. Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as tied with Somalia and North Korea for the world’s most corrupt nation. Afghanis and Pakistanis already have to worry about violent extremists on top of their existing problems, and the United States is making it worse.

If planes dropped explosives onto your hometown and killed three-fourths of your immediate family, would you really do nothing?

The power drones offer is seductive. They seem like a useful tool to take out enemy militants. They make war the easy option. But that route will certainly come back to haunt us if we take it.

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