Orwell Revisited

An excellent article in Yahoo News by Walter Shapiro raises a number of important questions about why there was virtually no discussion about the ongoing drone attacks in the recent Presidential debates. In a word, it is because “they” don’t want us to know what is going on “over there,” and both Presidential candidates support the attacks in the name of protecting America. So it’s not an issue that separates the candidates. But Shapiro asks a couple of troubling questions:

The Washington Post reported this week that the Obama administration is developing a “disposition matrix” for its next-generation terrorist assassination program. (The adjective Orwellian is over-used, but it is undeniably apt for a kill list being euphemistically reworked as a “disposition matrix”).

During the Vietnam War, George Aiken, a Republican senator from Vermont, suggested that America should declare victory and come home. Eleven years after the Sept. 11 attacks and 18 months after the death of Osama bin Laden, it is time to debate how long America is justified in using drone attacks against the remnants of al-Qaida and other groups of loosely affiliated terrorists.

Is this war without end, amen? Does the bureaucratic momentum of the drone program mean that it will continue for decades? Is there another kind of disposition matrix that will tell us when the costs of the drone program (from terrorist recruiting to collateral damage) outweigh its benefits?

It is a very weak moral system that weighs costs against benefits. But it is done in business routinely — which simply tells us how the business model has permeated this culture. Such a calculation results in strange ethical conclusions, such as the continued production of the Pinto automobile after it has gone up in flames killing or maiming a number of drivers in rear-end collisions. And it “justifies” drone killing in the name of the “national interest.” Weighing alternatives may be realpolitik but it is bad morality: it ignores the victims — like the 16 year-old American son of a terrorist suspect who was in the country looking for his father and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time thereby becoming part of the “residual effect” of a drone killing in Pakistan not long ago.

It has been said, and rightly so, that the President has to make tough decisions and we are not privy to the information available to him through his various secret agencies. All too true. But we like to think that America takes the moral high ground whenever possible and every citizen with a brain and a conscience should join in asking with Walter Shapiro “when will this end?” Let’s face it, it’s terrorism in the name of defending ourselves against terrorism. It is wrong and it is not clear that it is even in the national interest when there are other ways to deal effectively with terrorism. Further, it strikes fear in the hearts of our allies as well as our enemies, and it promotes the image of America as the Big Bully on the block who is out to knock over anyone in his way.

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3 thoughts on “Orwell Revisited

  1. You make many very valid points here, most of which I support completely.

    1) We have no business being in the Middle East!. These cultures have been fighting religious wars for thousands of years. Who the hell are we to be so arrogant to believe we can step in and bring peace and democracy to these peoples? And because we believe it works for us, somehow that makes it right for the world? For a cultures ten times older than ours?

    2) It was not Iraq or Afghanistan that attacked us on 9/11, it was Saudi’s. Lets not forget that. So declare victory, and bring our boys home, NOW!

    3) The cost/benefit calculation has been going on longer than you imply. I do believe that was the justification for dropping the atomic bombs on japan. It was believed an invasion would have cost over a million allied lives, as I recall.

    4) As for the drones, I admit to being much less concerned about them over the middle east, and extremely concerned about them over the US skies.Urban police chiefs are asking for them to aid in our “protection.” Hah! the FAA is working out how they can fly routinely in our airspace along with airliners, military and civilian aircraft. The day is not that far off when protestors will be tear gassed from the sky. The day is not far off when we will be routinely tracked and monitored from the drones, all in the name of our safety.

    As for weak moral systems, we are seeing the effects of that today. Democracy as we believed we knew it is dying fast. Citizens United has legalized corporate corruption, and allowed international companies to purchase our congress. Cash lined pockets of our politicians has insulated them from the average American,and they have lost all sight of what is the greater good. We don’t have weak moral systems, we have no moral systems.

    I hate to be negative, but over $1 billion being spent in the name of each presidential candidate says it all.

    Great post, as usual.

    • Thanks for the input. You are right, of course, the cost/benefit analysis has been going on for a very long time. One could argue it goes back at least as far as Machiavelli and it is the heart and soul of utilitarianism as well. But we now use it in ethics without giving it much thought — the kind of thought Dostoevsky gave it in “Crime and Punishment” for example.

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