The question here is as intense as it was in the Second World War when a Christian preacher with impeccable anti-Nazi credentials decided he could not stand by as the Allies set German cities, crammed with civilians, on fire:
What would Bishop Bell have thought of America’s use of unmanned drones to bomb targets seen only on computer screens thousands of miles away — i.e., at Creech Air Force Base, in Nevada? For unmanned drone aircraft are an extreme case of mediated warfare, in which the combatant — the distant operator of the drone — is so far removed from the action that he or she can only have a highly detached sense of responsibility for the action.
The enemy on the ground is disembodied almost entirely because the combatant is sitting in front of a screen far from the physical site of conflict. Charles Lindbergh warned of this long ago — that bombing from the air could remove the human element from combat.
Bell’s point, in his context, was that aerial bombing was taking human responsibility out of the equation.
The bishop kept pulling photos out of his pocket, which his anti-Nazi contacts had gotten to him, that told their story of the human torches, mostly women and children, that the British raids were creating. Bell felt that if he could just show people in England what was actually happening on the ground in Germany, they would be repelled and question the bombing. He lamented that the Royal Air Force pilots could not possibly see the results of their work and were thereby detached from the human cost of what they were doing.
What I wonder at today is not so much the existence of un-manned drones that kill “anonymously” but that there is so little opposition in this country to their use.
This op-ed, unsurprisingly, was turned down by the Washington Post.