John Oliver investigates the chilling details of the U.S. drone program
John Olliver’s Last Week Tonight does a good job of explaining exactly why Americans should be concerned about our drone program. He draws on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as a resource, as did our previous article on drones.
The piece identifies two aspects of our drone program that ought to concern us: its legality and its effect on the rest of the world. In terms of legality, Oliver describes how the definition for “enemy combatant” has been expanded to include every able-bodied male that happens to find himself near a drone’s targeted area. Glenn Greenwald put it this way in 2012:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
This in itself is extremely worrying, as it suggests that we have killed far more civilians than the government would like to admit. But the most powerful aspects of Oliver’s piece concern how our drones have caused a generation of Pakistanis and Yemenis to live in constant fear.
Constrained to the form of comedy, Oliver keeps the tone of this piece pretty light, but he doesn’t shy away from explaining the emotional weight of what we are doing to the psyche of innocent people in Pakistan and Yemen:
Think about it this way: if there were Italian armed drones hanging over your head right now, it would probably affect the way that you think about Italy. In word association, your first answer for Italy would not be ‘lasagna’, it would be ‘spectre of imminent death…’
If you grow up underneath drones, it’s going to affect the way you see the world…
Look, it is completely natural for us not to want to think of the consequences of our drone program , but when children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky, it might be time to ask some hard questions.
John Oliver is right. It is far past time to ask hard questions. And he didn’t even touch the most damning aspect of our drone activity: double-tap strikes, which the UN has stated may constitute war crimes. In the twenty-first century Americans have become accustomed to living in blissful ignorance of the violence perpetrated in their names abroad. Especially in the era of the Obama administration, we think about the war on terror as simply another “just war.” But our fantasies won’t change the reality that we are increasingly feared and hated due to the Drone War.
Ron Paul received a lot of criticism for suggesting that the terrorist acts of 9/11 were in a sense “blowback” from U.S. foreign policy in the previous decades. But the truth is that you can’t just bomb people without consequence. What will be our consequences? What will come from training an entire generation of Pakistanis and Yemenis to fear and hate us?