As sections of the media and governments worldwide congratulate themselves for telling Israel off for shooting civilians on the Mavi Maramara earlier this week, I am struck by the absolute lack of outrage at that hideous by-product of America’s robotic assassinations: the incidental deaths of women and children.
In the course of the war on terror, we have slipped into the alternative fictional world of 2000AD in which Street Judges sentence and execute offenders instantly in their effort to enforce the law. We have lost all sense of moral proportion, shrugging off the actions of the squadron of MQ-9 Reaper “hunter-killer” drones as some kind of norm. Judge Dredd now sits at a computer terminal at a military base in Nevada, sending his robotic army wherever he wills. All the world is Megacity 1: Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq. In this alternative reality—now our tragic actuality—the world is his oyster. And we dumb clones.
How can it be that the deaths of wives, children and grandchildren are all considered an acceptable side effect of a policy of assassination? We no longer even talk of collateral damage: it is only necessary to mention that the target was an Al-Qaeda militant and anyone around him is suddenly non-human, whose death is inconsequential.
Some would point out that this is nothing beside the German blitz of British cities during World War Two, or in light of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is the death of a few children to the massacre of 50,000 civilians and the destruction of the entire city of Hamburg during one week in July in 1943? It is the way of war, is it not?
Not last time I checked. While it goes without saying that the targeting of civilians is absolutely prohibited in Islamic Law, with clear conditions laid down to avoid accidental civilian casualties, the Geneva Convention also makes plain the status of combatants and civilians on the battlefield. Civilians may well have borne the brunt of military action over the past century, but under humanitarian law they are supposed to be protected people.
It is claimed that a man said to be a leading militant in Al-Qaeda—that great spectre of the war on terror—was killed last week by a missile fired from a robotic drone in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, near the town of Miran Shah. Nobody advocates capturing those charged with terrorism or rebellion and bringing them to trial, for this is war; indeed to even make such a suggestion is to admit some sort of sympathy for the worst of the worst.
Dare we speak up for those killed alongside him though? For it is claimed that his wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were also killed in the missile strike. They were collateral damage? They were guilty by association? Or is this a new post-patriarchal age when we dare not speak of women and children for fear of patronising the victims of war? Must we remain silent in reverence to the new wisdom of our age?
If not now, when will we awake? Last July, the US Air Force released a report entitled, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” in which it proposes a drone that could fly over a target and then make the decision whether or not to launch an attack, all without human intervention. The drones are not going away, nor the so-called war on terror.
So I see those crocodile tears for Israel’s actions this week are already dry, for if the nations truly cared then, surely they would condemn these other breaches of international humanitarian law too. Isn’t it this the death of civilisation?