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In Theory: What is the morality of using drones?

February 15, 2013

Since President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. military's use of unmanned drones to carry out attacks on terrorist suspects has grown by 700%. And with this growth in the use of drones has come an uneasiness at over the morals morality of using drones to strike against America's enemies.

Leaked memos have revealed the legal arguments not just for using drones to kill foreigners who “present an imminent threat to national security,” but also American citizens who are suspected of helping terrorist groups. There is evidence that drone use is exacerbating anti-American feeling in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. Whereas to the U.S. military drones are a way of launching attacks with no American casualties, the number of civilian deaths in Pakistan since 2004 stands at 500 to 900, according to figures published by the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Q: What's your take on the use of unmanned drones? Are they a legitimate part of America's war on terror, or is the U.S. entering murky moral territory by using them?

This seems to be a debate about civilization. We might've had this same conversation in history past when someone employed metal-pointed arrows against stone spears, and when another thought to use gunpowder to answer enemy arrows, and then flight became a tool for defense when it was discovered. Now we have flight, explosive arrows (and video) all in one military tool that functions without sacrificing servicemen to obtain similar martial objectives. Eventually, phasers will be standard, and then phaser-armed drones. It's the evolution of war. I'm not sure why we'd want to tie our hands if we can overcome evil through superior technology. Nothing remains static, which is why we must remain more advanced than the next guy, and prepared for when the enemy catches up.

I won't presume to criticize our military when they choose to employ drones to accomplish missions, because anything I could say would be mere back-seat driving. I don't have the frontal view nor any decision-making control. I don't study collateral damage statistics, nor do I have a grasp on the threat levels of drone targets. Yes, it's is a shame when drone hits result in civilian casualties, but this only reinforces the necessity of combat technology to keep the fight out of Our Town USA. And if drones target Americans abroad plotting our demise, they target anti-Americans. If someone has a better means of eradicating evil combatants, I'm sure the military would be all ears.

As a Christian, I recognize that this world will always be at war until God's timepiece rings its final alarm and the evil and violence of this present reality cease. Until then, we must struggle against all evil, and as the civilized West, do so as humanely as possible. That's more than our enemies would do, but then, that's why we're at war.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


We are talking weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles here, armed with missiles, and I am not a fan. Just for the record, the prospect of the unarmed kind watching us gives me the creeps as well.

I wish I had a nickel for every headline I've seen to the effect that “Al Qaeda No. 2 in Yemen [or in Somalia, or Pakistan] Killed by Drone Attack.” How many No. 2s can Al Qaeda have? That's a trick question — there are as many potential No. 2s as there are citizens in these countries, with whom we aren't at war, living in fear of our sneak attacks and learning to hate the U.S.

Consider the CIA's drone “signature” strikes, targeting unknown individuals who fit a profile of a suspected terrorist. The profile is along the lines of “male carrying a weapon.” This in mostly rural lands, where men and boys of all ages hunt, herd and dispatch agricultural pests, is madness.

Our definition of terrorist is ever-broadening, expanding from a member of a group whose stated aim is attacking the U.S. homeland, to include anyone who opposes the leadership of countries we support (for the moment), including the most tyrannical regimes.

Doyle McManus in the L.A. Times on Feb. 10 made a point clear to anyone with a newspaper subscription and a map — Al Qaeda, once in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is now all over the world. As I've said here before, when your strategy is in fact growing the enemy, it's time for a new strategy.

We always think we are invincible, with the latest, hugest (or smallest), most lethal weapon, forgetting with each one that others will quickly have it too. War is not the answer.

Roberta Medford


I'm going to address this question not as an ethicist, but as a mystic. Because, all military, political and moral issues aside, I find the development of drone technology absolutely horrifying, in terms of the life of the human spirit.

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