Wisconsin peace activists risk arrest to make their elected officials understand that someone is watching them.
Up against the drones
The use of unmanned drone aircraft to kill people must rank with the most criminal form of weaponry developed in human history. Deadly robot-like aircraft guided by operators hundreds or thousands of miles from the human beings they will kill, intentionally or accidentally, are a corrupted extension of video games, a further removal of human beings from the consequences of their actions.
The use of drones recalls a quote credited to Joseph Stalin: “Artillery is the god of war.” Responsible as he was for the deaths of millions, Stalin could claim expertise in murderous mayhem.
The comparison between unmanned drones and artillery is accurate since even the now-antiquated 105 mm howitzers I was trained to fire in preparation for the war in Vietnam could carry their deadly loads as far as seven miles.
We neither saw nor heard the missiles fired from our guns as they exploded on the firing ranges of Fort Riley, Kansas. They whistled for a moment after leaving the breach, and then silence…
Silence isn’t the approach taken by a growing number of Wisconsin activists calling for an end to drone warfare. Seven demonstrators were arrested April 24 when they walked onto Volk Field, near Camp Douglas in Juneau County, as part of a monthly protest at the Wisconsin Air National Guard site where drone pilots are trained and an $8 million drone training facility is being planned.
A report from the protesters said 33 peace activists gathered at the base and seven were arrested as they called for a meeting with Col. Gary Ebben, base commander. County sheriff’s deputies handcuffed and arrested Bonnie Block, Joyce Elwanger, Joy First, Libby Pappalardo, Mary Beth Schlagheck, Don Timmerman, and Roberta Thurstin. They were charged with disorderly conduct and released, with a June 6 court appearance scheduled.
An April 15 letter signed by 35 resisters asked Ebben for a meeting regarding the construction of a drone training facility and the RQ-7 Shadow drone training already taking place at Volk Field. The letter noted that Shadow drones carry cameras for surveillance rather than bombs.
But the Marine Corps reportedly began experimenting with armed RQ-7s late last year and $10 million was awarded to AAI Corp. in Maryland, the drone manufacturer now perfecting a weapon for the Shadow.
A member of Veterans for Peace who has participated in the drone protests told of two major concerns raised by drone warfare, be they armed with weapons or cameras: First, the disassociation of the drone operators from the violent results of their weapons; and second, the end of the “unsurveilled era in human history.”
Like the former, the latter concern is very sobering. A Canadian company, Aeryon Labs Inc., “provides robotic solutions to real-world problems,” according to its website. “Recently proven in several military trials…the Scout allows police, military and civil users to easily collect real-time intelligence, with a system small enough to fit in a backpack or car trunk.”
Using a headline of “urban warfare,” the company promotes itself with a story about how South Korean police and military “flew a Canadian-designed drone as part of advance security preparations for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul where protesters clashed with police.”
The official name is unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), armed or not. The Volk Field website shows photos from 2010 of RQ-7 Shadow training exercises, describing the 22-person UAV platoon’s pilots, camera operators, maintainers, and support crew.
The New America Foundation, a public policy think tank, analyzed U.S. armed drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2012. The number peaked with 118 in 2010, called “The Year of the Drone.” The study shows that 295 strikes during those years “killed approximately between 1,782 and 2,768 individuals.” Of those, “reliable press accounts” described 1,480 to 2,297 as militants. That means that nearly 20 percent of the fatalities were non-militants.
Uncertainty about who or how many are killed by drone strikes is reflected in the study data, an interminable list of incidents and obituaries. Each strike is numbered, dated, and located.
Headings include: “Militant leaders killed,” “Militants killed,” and “Others killed,” followed by a numeral. The news sources providing the information are also listed along with an “assumed target.” For example, a strike on December 26, 2009, in Afghanistan was launched on an “assumed target,” a house of a local tribesman Asmatullah, “apparently linked with Taliban.” The number of militant leaders or militants killed was “unknown,” while “others killed” numbered from three to thirteen.
The Predator is an armed UAV used by the U.S. Air Force and the CIA in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Predators cost between $5 million and $10 million each, depending on how they’re equipped.
The CIA used a Predator in Afghanistan for the first time in 2002, according to “A Brief History of Drones” by John Sifton, in a February article in The Nation. Killed was “a tall man” mistakenly targeted by someone in the CIA as Osama bin Laden. In fact, after a cover up, journalists learned that the three men killed were foraging for metal from U.S. air strikes so they could recycle it for “about 50 cents per camel load,” wrote Sifton.
In his conclusion, Sifton points out that drones minimize “pilot risk and political risk.” Even so, despite the distance drone operators are from their victims, Sifton reports that the operators can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and “operational stress.” Reducing political risk in the waging of war is the least desirable of possibilities in a democracy, because it further removes citizens from decision making.
That’s why groups like the Madison Pledge of Resistance and its drone protests at Volk Field are all-important in letting elected officials and military leaders know that they are under public scrutiny, and that the political risks are very real if those leaders ignore public opinion.
“Drones foreshadow the idea that brutality could become detached further from humanity, and yield violence that is, as it were, unconscious,” wrote Sifton. “Unconscious” brutality is antithetical to the principles of peace-loving people around the world.
Future events regarding the vigil against drones at Volk Field will be listed on the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice website at wnpj.org.
May 1, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."