Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Discussing the Deep Issues of Drones in Charlottesville with Nick Mottern from Know Drones

The description below of a recent public education event in Charlottesville about drones is excerpted from Challenging Dronotopia, by Nick Mottern, director of the Know Drones project. (Download the full "Challenging Dronotopia" report.)

by Nick Mottern

On October 5, two weeks after we returned to New York from our trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania, George Guerci and I drove to Charlottesville, Virginia, to give presentations, that evening at Random Row Books and the next day at a gathering of the Southern Life Community, a congregation of members of Catholic Worker houses and friends living in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

George Guerci with the drone replica
at an earlier stop on the tour.
We arrived in Charlottesville at about 5:30 pm and set up the drone replica in Random Row, a used books store situated in a large, high-ceilinged former garage in the downtown. The store had a central open, meeting space, with several rows of folding chairs set up for the speaking event. Around the walls and at the edges of the meeting space were shelves holding some choice books, many written in the decades of ferment and personal and political revelation extending from the 1960s to the present. When we arrived, the store was infused with evening light, and it had a familiarity and peacefulness that I found very welcoming and comforting. It spoke of taking time to read and reflect, of reflecting one’s history and human history. It had a calm that I don’t find in electronically generated words and images.

After having a small meal at Revolutionary Soup, a few blocks away, George and I returned to the bookstore and began to greet the audience arriving for our talk.

By 7:30, about 50 people had gathered, and I began my presentation, which lasted for about 20 minutes, leaving nearly an hour for Q & A.

This was a group that I assumed would have considerable information about drones, in part because of the work in Charlottesville on militarism by David Swanson, who manages www.WarIsACrime.org and is the author of War is a Lie and other books. Despite this, there were questions that demonstrated ignorance of basic facts about drones that had become familiar as we travelled.

I realized again, as I have over and over, how little information is commonly held about drones, even as their use and development soars. I also was struck, again, by how important it is to be able to talk to people face to face about a complex subject and to have the opportunity to respond to questions.

A commonly asked question that we got at Random Row is: How is a drone any different from a fighter plane killing someone? These are responses that we have given:
  • Drones are able to follow individual movements of individuals and groups for hours on end. Because of this monitoring, drones are able to kill when a fighter plane might not because of the normal jets’ relatively limited time over the target area and its speed. The drone makes killing easier, too easy, leading to routine violations of the section of international law that requires judicial findings of guilt before sentences are imposed. Of course there is the question of whether the US has the right to impose any penalty in another nation.

  • Attacks by piloted jet aircraft against individuals in sovereign nations are likely to be viewed as a type of armed aggression that is more politically and legally unacceptable objectionable than drone attacks. At this point, drones are flying in gray area of international law, which has not kept up with drone technology with respect to drone killing, terror generated by drone over-flights or violation of personal and group privacy.

  • Drones enable killing without risk to the lives of pilots and at a somewhat less dollar cost than normal jet aircraft, thus giving the illusion of less political risk to politicians wishing to undertake sustained drone wars and drone intimidation. As drone wars develop, the risks it generates will be more and more apparent. I think perhaps that learning can best be done through questions and answers because the question lays out the pathway of a person’s thinking that one has walk back down to deliver new ideas. This of course helps those listening to follow the same paths. Maybe this is obvious, but it raises a question about our current heavy reliance on the internet for political communication.
One of those in the Random Row audience was a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Carroll Houle, a former Maryknoll priest who now lives in Charlottesville. He and I worked together at Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and we travelled to Africa together several times between 1985 and 1990 as part of our work on the Africa Peace Tour, an ecumenical project to provide information to the US public on apartheid and US military involvement in Africa.

Carroll has done a lot of work to help young people, particularly in Kenya, where he lived many years for Maryknoll. In the Q&A Carroll suggested that we describe the drone war, as well as other current wars, as war on children. A recent report by the U.K.-based organization of health professionals, Medact, entitled "Drones: the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war", speaks to the impact of drones on women and children:
Women are disproportionately affected by drones. What little control they have over their lives is further eroded by a weapon they know could strike at any time. Their lives and those of the children they try to protect are under constant threat. While men can sublimate their grief and anger to some degree by becoming fighters – one of the terrible consequences of drone warfare – women have no such outlet. And if their menfolk are killed in a drone strike, they may have to endure the continuing presence of the drone just overhead.

"I am your sister, you are my brother"
Andrea Gallagher, Chicago, IL
from the AFSC Windows and Mirrors Exhibition

To read the rest of the report, download "Challenging Dronotopia: A report of the 2012 Know Drones Tour to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and suggestions for further action" from the Know Drones website.

Additional excerpts available at:
No Drones Ohio: Drone Jobs, Drone Bubble, Drone Distraction
No Drones Network: Challenging Dronotopia: Part One - What We Experienced On the Road

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"I am your sister, you are my brother" by Andrea Gallagher, from Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

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