April 29, 2013

Rand Paul and the illusion of the righteous drone

In a recent interview on Fox News, Senator Rand Paul said:

“I never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him, but it is different if they want to come fly over your hot tub or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activity.”

Yes, it is different… it’s just not very different. In his statement, Senator Paul is making two mistakes. The first is an old one: The ends justify the means. The second is a modern one: Technology is neutral.

While he has attempted the usual political backpedaling since, what Senator Paul clearly intended to say was, to put it crudely, how you kill the bad guy doesn’t matter. In fact, it does. A policeman with a badge and a nametag is a legitimate, accountable agent of the state. He is subject to the law himself, and acts in full view of the public. He is not there to kill, but to arrest if possible, and ultimately to protect the innocent. He gives the honest citizen a sense of security. A weaponized drone does just the opposite. It protects no one, and it arrests no one. It is an anonymous killer. Its operator sits in a room at an undisclosed location. No one will ever know exactly who that operator is, or even what governmental entity the drone belongs to. It can be used with near impunity. It is, therefore, a weapon of state terror by its very nature. If it is just fine to fly weaponized drones over public areas – so long as they pretend not to spy on private property – then it will also soon be fine to fly a weaponized drone over a troublesome crowd of protesters to intimidate and scatter them. Twenty years ago this would have sounded paranoid and far-fetched, but now the only thing that keeps such a scenario from happening is the will to carry it out.

Our government now makes a regular habit of assassinating foreigners from the sky. They find this a convenient process, because it kills or terrifies a few of America’s enemies without risking the embarrassment of having American pilots shown captured and blindfolded on TV. I am no longer confident that the people who now order such things will not, in some eventual emergency, turn those weapons loose on honest citizens who merely disagree with them. I am no longer confident that a farmer in Alabama means any more to our rulers than a villager in Pakistan or Yemen. To the people who hold the reins of power, the Pakistani villager and the Alabama farmer are about equally alien, and about equally unimportant. And, to the media that is supposed to hold the government in check by exposing it to our scrutiny, the villager and the farmer are about equally un-newsworthy too.

We have already gotten accustomed to nameless law enforcement agents wearing masks, dressed from head to toe in black military-style uniforms, equipped with military rifles and concussion grenades. A weaponized drone is merely an extension of this trend. I believe the cop on the beat, with his badge, his pistol, and his duty to serve and protect – keeps us free. I believe an anonymous stormtrooper or a drone does just the opposite. I have no idea, anymore, what Senator Paul believes.


  1. I agree with your thoughts regarding this subject. I am a cop. Thank you for the belief that we still represent a force protecting society. I would like to point out that the penaly for robbery is not death. A police officer can not legally shoot down a man who merely has a gun in one hand and some stolen money in the other. Sometimes the storm trooper getup is necessary, but not often. I also prefer the image of the kindly policeman in uniform who must sometimes, and with regret, arrests a citizen when necessary and who draws his weapon with steely determination to protect the innocent, not with gleeful anticipation that he might get to kill somebody today.

  2. Theoretically the drone is more accountable, since we could have video tapes and logs of its entire operation, including sign-off sheets for authorized actions. And I am sure those things exist. It's just getting to see them that is hard...