Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Attack of the Drones

Somewhere in Nevada, at a military base, a member of the US military operates an MQ-9 "Reaper" drone by remote control. With the click of a button, he fires off a hellfire missile. Job done, he heads home to his family. Somewhere in the tribal mountains of Pakistan, newspapers the next day report a "suspected" US missile attack from an ariel drone killed 15 "militants." People who live in the area of the strike, say about 9 civilians were included among the dead. Men, women and children now look to sky in fear, unable to see or anticipate when death might come from above.

Begun this drone war has.

More after the fold...

In the final scenes of the 2005 political thriller Syriana, the enlightened Arab leader Prince Nasir is racing through the desert in his caravan of SUVs. With Matt Damon as his trusted vizier, Nasir intends to wrest control of his country from his inept puppet brother--with the hopes of implementing democratic reforms, women's rights and fair trade. But these utopian dreams are dashed when a remote missile destroys Nasir, his wife and daughter, leaving nothing but scorched wreckage on the dusty road. Oh, and a really confused George Clooney doesn't make it either, but that's another story.

The terror from the sky that delivered the chilling deathblow to Nasir's ambitions came from what is termed a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), whose operators were thousands of miles away from the mythical country of Syriana, and safely tucked away in Washington DC--carrying out their assassination through the ease of a joystick control. If it sounds far-fetched, it shouldn't.

Just today a "suspected" US missile strike fired from an aerial drone was reported to have killed 3 in Pakistan. And, as previously discussed on this blog and elsewhere, it's only one of hundreds of deaths (some militants; many civilians) attributed to flying unmanned vehicles. MQ-9 "Reapers" and MQ-1s--all hunter drones equipped with missiles--are now a vital part of US military strategy; and their use has been heavily utilized by both the past and current administration.

But, while the US may have the best and most sophisticated of these machines, they certainly can't claim a monopoly. UAVs, some for spying, and others perhaps with their own weapons systems, are being developed and utilized by everyone from China to Israel to Iran. It has made for not only a more crowded skyway, but a world where assassination and death can arrive quickly without anyone necessarily having to take the blame. And it has made a mockery of anything closely resembling national sovereignty, as unmanned drones slip across borders without care.

In a recent article aptly dubbed Terminator Planet, named for the semi-sentient hunter-killer drones of the apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, Tom Engelhardt discusses the history, proliferation and troubling questions raised by the use of these machines:

...the skies of our world are filling with round-the-clock assassins. They will only evolve and proliferate. Of course, when we check ourselves out in the movies, we like to identify with John Connor, the human resister, the good guy of this planet, against the evil machines. Elsewhere, however, as we fight our drone wars ever more openly, as we field mechanical techno-terminators with all-seeing eyes and loose our missiles from thousands of miles away ("Hasta la Vista, Baby!"), we undoubtedly look like something other than a nation of John Connors to those living under the Predators. It may not matter if the joysticks and consoles on those advanced machines are somewhat antiquated; to others, we are now the terminators of the planet, implacable machine assassins.

Read the full article Terminator Planet: Launching the Drone Wars here.

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