This July 4, While Many of Us Give Thanks for the Troops

… and pray for their safety and honor their sacrifices, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for ABC news, Martha Raddatz, delivers herself of the following opinion concerning American fighting forces and drone warfare:

Traditionally, when a nation went to war, it had to invest its blood and treasure, but today’s joystick-wielding drone pilots can launch a missile strike from here at home, then hop in the minivan to meet the wife and kids for dinner. War couldn’t get any more impersonal.

And this is bad, why?  Because it is striking, all on its own, that Ms. Raddatz thinks this state of affairs obviously undesirable in some way; the disapproval stands out, along with the apparent sense that it is so obvious that one need not even explicitly state why it is bad.  But two views stand out from Ms. Raddatz’ account.  First, American forces wielding drones have a playstation mentality when it comes to war.  I last raised this at a conference a few days ago of military lawyers; the reaction was a collective sigh and roll of the eyes.   Second, through the use of drones, the United States and its fighting men and women invest insufficient  amounts of their own blood (why else phrase it “had to invest”?).

This comes in a special “big ideas” section of the July-August 2010 Atlantic.  Actually, there’s nothing big or special about it.  Ms. Raddatz is recycling conventional wisdom that got started back with some bits of Peter Singer’s Wired for War, and then elevated into a shared journalistic meme with Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece last fall.  Ms. Raddatz does not seem to have received the memo, however, that the conventional wisdom among journalists is that even if you think that drones mean that US forces are not sufficiently engaged with their own blood, it is impolitic to mention it.

After I and a number of others began to call journalists and advocates and activists out on the question of whether they really, truly wanted to go on the record with what they were saying – ‘drones reduce the personal risks to US forces below the “efficient” level that would disincentivize “inappropriate” recourse to violence’, as a too-clever law student at one of our elite law schools put it to me last year – well, there was a sudden backpedaling.  No, no, you misunderstand us (this from the ACLU), we always respect the professionalism, &tc., &tc., of US servicemen and women (although the CIA, another story; it is the Designated War Criminal, so far as I can read where the international advocacy community would ideally like to carry this over the next few years, once the Obama administration is safely departed from office).

Ms. Raddatz’ “big idea” is at least six months behind the times.  Perhaps her bosses at ABC will encourage her to do a walk-back.  But it is helpful to have the unfiltered biases of journalists at least occasionally on public display so that we all know what they are, particularly when it comes to the lives of American servicemen and women, as viewed by our leading foreign correspondents.

My view is … thank you to all American forces for your sacrifices and your heroism, this 4th of July and the rest of the year.  Any time the United States can find technology that will make your task safer – particularly while reducing civilian collateral damage over what war traditionally has meant (e.g., a rolling artillery barrage by the Pakistani army) – then, well, faster please.

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