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Drones: Is It Wrong to Kill by Remote Control?
Illustration by Amanda Duffy

It's an Unfair Fight

Paul F. M. Zahl is president emeritus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and the author of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans).

America's use of unmanned predator drones to kill people by remote control is laying up for us a harvest of judgment to come. And I don't mean just the judgment of God, but also an enduring hatred of our country on the part of defenseless people, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There are two primary reasons for this. First, it is wrong to conduct war when one side in the fight does not see the mortal results. The United States Air Force and the CIA operate predator drones thousands of miles away from the intended targets.

From our side, the operation proceeds entirely through the filter of a far-away video camera. There is no possibility of making eye contact with the enemy and fully realizing the human cost of the attack.

This argument is useful against many forms of combat, including almost all air bombings. George Bell, the bishop of Chichester in the Church of England during World War II, used to carry in his pocket photographs of charred human remains from Royal Air Force bombing missions in Germany. He argued that if the British pilots could just look at those photographs, they would refuse to fly any more missions.

The same thing applies to predator drones. A technician can sit in front of a console at Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas and conduct a lethal operation while being entirely insulated from the thing he or she is doing. (Incidentally, the number of innocent casualties of drone attacks may be much higher than official reports, based on credible reports from people on the ground.)

In addition, ...

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Drones: Is It Wrong to Kill by Remote Control?
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August 2011

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