Monday, November 23, 2015

Good Kill, Bad Kill

I feel no pressing need to append my comments of November 11 in the light of the Paris attacks. It seems to me that the Islamists don't like President Obama, especially now that he is keeping a cool head about the terror attacks when everyone else in Washington is losing theirs. What Fox News, ISIS's favorite channel, cannot understand is that history didn't have to be what it is, that the United States didn't have to react to 9/11 the way it did.

In the following excerpts from his column "As I Please" for Tribune, George Orwell addressed the subject of terrorism at the height of the war against fascism.

"So far as it goes, the distinction between an atrocity and an act of war is valid. An atrocity means an act of terrorism which ha no genuine military purpose. One must accept such distinctions if one accepts war at all, which in practice everyone does. Nevertheless, a world in which it is wrong to murder an individual civilian and right to drop a thousand tons of high explosive on a residential area does sometimes make me wonder whether this earth of ours is not a looney-bin made use of by some other planet." ("As I Please," Tribune, 31 December 1943)

"Apropos of saturation bombing, a correspondent who agreed with me strongly added that he was by no means a pacifist. He recognized, he said, that 'the Hun had got to be beaten.' He merely objected to the barbarous methods that we are now using.

"Now, it seems to me that you do less harm by dropping bombs on people than by calling them 'Huns.' Obviously one does not want to inflict death and wounds if it can be avoided, but I cannot feel that mere killing is all-important. We shall all be dead in less than a hundred years, and most of us by the sordid horror known as 'natural death.' The truly evil thing is to act in such a way that peaceful life becomes impossible. War damages the fabric of civilisation not by the destruction it causes, nor even by the slaughter of human beings, but by stimulating hatred and dishonesty. By shooting at your enemy you re not in the deepest sense wronging him. But by hating him, by inventing lies about him and bringing children up to believe them, you are striking not at one perishable generation, but at humanity itself. ("As I Please," 4 August 1944)

I recently watched the American movie Good Kill (2014), that depicts the everyday lives of U.S. Air Force personnel engaged in drone strike operations seven thousand miles away in Waziristan, Pakistan. The scenes of officers (fighter pilots) and enlisted airmen performing their duties conducting drone attacks were technically convincing. Where the film failed miserably was in the conversations they have in between. I have no problem at all believing that such people have genuine conflicts of conscience and have marital problems as a result. The central character, an Air Force pilot, played by Ethan Hawke. requests to be transferred to a combat unit in Africa, supposedly because it would be morally easier to bomb people when he's just a few thousand feet above them rather than several thousand miles, well out of harm's way. I fail to see the significance of the distinction, unless it bothers the pilot to be able to drive home to the wife and kids at the end of the day after he has destroyed a few houses - and everyone inside them. Does it matter to the ones being bombed if the bomb - or Hellfire missile - is dropped on them by a human pilot in a plane or by a remotely piloted drone?

I can say with some authority that active duty service-men and -women never engage in the kind of right versus wrong conversations that are shown in Good Kill. By the time they get around to pulling the trigger on the drone, an abundance of briefings will have made such considerations moot. And if the use of these drones from a desert air base in Nevada is the future of war, I can't imagine anyone - on our side or theirs - who has experienced combat in Iraq or Afghanistan who wouldn't rather fight a war in such a manner.

[Note: I mistakenly called the Pakistani region mentioned in the film "Wajiristan." As Steve Allen used to say, "I stand corrected. I should be, I'm wearing surgical hose."]

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