The sad truth about drone warfare

Predator droneI’d like to comment on one aspect of an article that appeared recently in The Independent. To do that, I’ll start with a telling quote regarding the use of drones: “They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

The article in question is a guest editorial in The Independent, by Malik Jalal, titled, “I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones.

I am not a militarist, as a general rule. And I’m not particularly fond of things flying overhead that can drop bombs or fire missiles at those on the ground. Hell, I don’t even like traffic copters hovering overhead.

Regarding drones, though… their opponents often adamantly decry drone warfare for the fact that for every viable target, 9 or 10 more people invariably end up being killed as well. But they’re not so adept at stating what the military alternative is. I’m not talking about what the political alternative might have been. We’re past that. I’m saying, if the decision is made that some kind of brute force method must be applied to a particular situation, what’s it gonna be?
Agreed, taking out 10 people for every viable target really sucks. But consider traditional warfare. How many people did the U.S. (and most of the Western World) want to “take out” in WWII? One: Adolf Hitler.

That’s not completely fair, because there were probably 10 top targets who needed to be eliminated in order to arrest Germany’s actions. Himmler, Eichmann, Goebbels, etc.

The overall losses of human life in WWII – the costliest ever – were around 75 million. Estimates vary. Military deaths alone were estimated at about 25 million. Non-military, civilian deaths due to direct military action and “crimes against humanity” were approximately 30 million.

Focusing on the latter number, not even taking into account the staggering number of people who lost their lives due to famine and disease during the war – just the 30 million innocents killed as a direct result of the war – means that the cost was 3 million “bystanders” for each one of those “top 10” targeted leaders of the Nazi regime.

The simple and unpleasant truth is, the ratio of collateral deaths and injuries per strike in drone warfare is several orders of magnitude less than in traditional warfare. Until there is a way to either make warfare disappear, or to make the available strategies even more precise than they already are, we’re going to continue to see drones used to launch campaigns against hostile targets.

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic. But drones kill far fewer people than other methods currently known and used.

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