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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Senate Wars Episode II: Attack of the Drones

Article first published as Senate Wars Episode II: Attack of the Drones on Blogcritics.


The appearance of Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) on the Senate floor in his marathon filibuster notwithstanding, the subject of Predator Drones is becoming an increasingly hot and debatable topic in Congress, in the media, and on the street corner. We Americans, famous for the “Don’t Tread on Me” attitude, have to be a bit wary about this technological marvel that can spy on us or kill us, depending on its mission. Like that old movie slogan tells you, “Be afraid; be very afraid.”

Only the other day there were reports that the pilot of an Alitalia flight coming into JFK saw what he believed to be a drone flying over Brooklyn. The NYPD and military said that the pilot was mistaken but, just as pilots who report UFOs seem more credible, I wonder if this is just damage control. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has spoken about using drones for surveillance in the city in the past, so it makes you think twice, doesn’t it?


Whether you see Paul’s recent 12+ hours of fili-bluster in the Senate as the second coming of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Palpatine from Revenge of the Sith (a very bad guy senator in Star Wars films), you have to admit that he has stoked the fires of the public concern over drones. What would constitute the right to utilize drones over the continental United States? I would like someone to address that in a clear and expedient way.

For example, would a terrorist action on our soil warrant the use of a drone response? How about another 9/11 type of attack? As we know from the reports we get of drones being used overseas, there always seems to be collateral damage. Yes, you might take out a terrorist commander, but along with him you kill innocent civilians, including children, as well. How can we ever view this as acceptable policy?

If an airplane were heading toward a target over a major city like New York or Washington, how and when would the drone strike? Would not everyone on the ground be in danger? Do you save a landmark like the Empire State Building only to allow thousands of civilians to die on the streets below?

Although there are valid concerns about the use of drones. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), in full “maverick” mode, took Rand Paul to task for daring to question drone use; however, that makes the argument even more salient. If drones being used overseas are killing innocents, then it can happen here. If someone like McCain is so gung-ho about drone use, it makes me a little worried. Of course, he would like the unmanned aircraft since it keeps our pilots out of harm’s way, and he no doubt is thinking of his own days as a pilot and how it led to his capture in Vietnam. I know he was a brave and patriotic guy, but the use of drones worries me because we don’t have a trained person in that cockpit. I think that’s why there have been mistakes that have cost lives, innocent ones at that, and how can you ultimately defend that policy or want to extend it in the skies over our homeland?

Also, I can’t help but having thoughts about those science fiction films like Terminator where the machines turn on us. As of now drones are remote controlled, but I have read about “automated” ones as well. If we are setting up killing machines to function on autopilot, we have to wonder when there will be the inevitable mistake. An unintended missile streaking over Brooklyn from a drone and hitting a neighborhood would be catastrophic.

As always, I like to listen to “talk radio” in the car, and this week the callers were talking drones. Among the usual nuts and “experts” who like to get their few minutes of airtime, some have made valid points. Among them, would law enforcement ever use a drone in a situation like the recent shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut? While some of the opinions were that this was completely insane, a few callers said they felt it would have saved lives if a drone came in and took out the shooter. Of course, the school building and anyone in it would have been decimated, but who cares as long as we get the shooter, right?

I think the specter of drones hovering over our cities and towns has to be alarming to most people. Besides the armed ones, those surveillance babies are scary in their own right. Will we eventually become a completely monitored society? All of us could end up like Winston Smith from 1984, lost in an Orwellian nightmare where Big Brother loves us and watches over us – 24/7/365 for our own “good,” of course.

Right now I think we all should question the use of drones anywhere. They are killing machines and machines are indiscriminate, and therein is the problem. Machines don’t care or feel or think; they just do. We worry about hurricanes and tornadoes and asteroids from space killing us, but the devastation from one of those drones is just as frightening. Unfortunately, this will not be a natural disaster but a one of our own making.

Now is the time for us to say no to Big Brother and also to the danger posed by armed drones. If they are allowed in the skies over our country, it will change forever the freedom and safety we cherish most, and instead of making us safer they will imperil all those things we hold dear. Rand Paul took a stand, and now it is our turn to do so as well. If not then we better look in the mirror when one day fire rains down from the sky or our every movement is monitored. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Photo Credits: drone-U.S. airforce; palpatine-comicvine.com; big brother-forbes.com

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