Earlier this week, I opened the Daily Cal to find a harmless-looking sketch of a U.S. military drone flying in a purple sky. Under it, I saw the title “Drones make America safer.” After reading the op-ed piece written by political science student Blair Rotert, I felt absolutely compelled to stop studying for my midterms and write a response from my background as a peace and conflict studies major.
The ultimate claim in the article was, “Simply put, drones are a more effective and efficient way to combat our enemies. What’s the point in opposing that?” Well, in direct opposition to that, I find it necessary for someone to present the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of drones.
Before I even begin, I need to ask: Why is the United States using drones in the first place? What on Earth makes us think we can send a military aircraft overseas to bomb innocent people in foreign countries? The reason some people from the United States may think using drones is “effective and efficient” is that they may not have heard the extent of the cons of drone usage. It’s not simply a “potential … (for) civilian casualties.” There have been hundreds of civilian casualties, and I am writing to share some of the stories of people’s voices who have been excluded from Tuesday’s article.
Nabeela, 8 years old, is the granddaughter of Mamana Bibi, a 68-year-old woman who was gathering okra in her family’s field for dinner. According to a recent report from Amnesty International USA entitled “Will I Be Next? U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan,” Nabeela and Mamana had gotten accustomed to the presence of drones overhead and ignored the aircraft to continue their farming. Suddenly, Nabeela watched as her grandmother was blown into pieces by drone missiles only a hundred feet in front of her. “I wasn’t scared of drones before,” Nabeela said in the report. “But now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?”
In the same report, a resident of Esso Khel, one of the most frequent sites of drone attacks, discussed the terror the drones have caused for the community: “Everyone is scared and they can’t get out of their house without any tension and from the fear of drone attacks. People are mentally disturbed as a result of the drone flights … We can’t sleep because of the planes’ loud sound. Even if they don’t attack we still have the fear of attack in our mind.”
Amnesty’s investigation found countless similar stories. Atif, a resident of Darai Nisthar who witnessed a drone strike on July 23, 2012, that killed 11 people — including rescuers — states in the report, “I have mental tension and anxiety during the night time because of the drone attack. I keep tablets under my bed in order to get sleep at night.”
Can we imagine what it feels like to live in such constant terror? Do we, as Americans, understand the implications of our foreign policy on other people’s lives? Are we even aware of the amount of harm, fear and insecurity that we are forcing upon other peoples? Not at all.
Along with these firsthand experiences of the unbearable, excruciating and obscene consequences of drones, Amnesty International’s report also provides several alarming statistics. About 900 of the 2,800 lives lost from drone strikes have been civilians. Two hundred of these civilian deaths were of innocent children. If a third of the people killed by drone attacks have been innocent civilians and children, can we still consider drones to be “effective and efficient”?
In Rotert’s op-ed, the main argument rests on the fact that drones would be saving American lives. However, someone must pose the fundamental question: What about the lives of those we are carelessly killing? What about the innocent grandmothers mutilated while picking okra? What about the countless people we’ve forced into relentless anxiety in constant fear of death by drone? Are these lives less significant than ours? Is it acceptable to view these people as disposable to U.S. military? Are American lives more important than Pakistani lives? By proposing that drones are an “effective and efficient” military tool, you are assuming these points are true.
If we choose to detach ourselves from the lives of the people we are killing, then we may find ourselves arguing for the use of drones because of their “effectiveness” or “efficiency.” I believe, however, that we need to continue asking ourselves these crucial questions. After hearing the stories of Pakistanis, how can we even begin to entertain the idea that drones are an asset to the U.S. military? In humanizing the faceless targets of drone warfare, I hope others will see the absolute necessity to oppose the notion of drones offering possible benefits. Simply put, drones kill innocent people. How on Earth can we agree to that?
Shawndeez Jadali is a student at UC Berkeley and the student activist coordinator for Amnesty International USA.