It Is Time To Have That Conversation About Drones

While Newtown is still fresh in our minds, can we find room in our hearts to talk about our drones?


Before Newtown, we passively endured many multiple murders by deranged men, in malls, movie theatres, and college campuses.  What has finally moved us this time were the little children. 

Powerful feelings of anger, vulnerability, powerlessness, and sadness seem to have focused our minds on doing something about the millions of assault weapons and other guns freely swimming in our national sea.  We are all mourning with the victims and their families.  It is unbearable to think of those 20 little bodies lying on the floor of their primary school, especially after learning that each was chewed up by 3 to 11 bullets; or of the unspeakable misery of those parents having to bury their children.  Many could not look upon the bodies of their children because of the damage caused by the high velocity bullets emanating from the assault weapon used.

The President gave a wonderful speech at the Newtown memorial service last weekend.  He said, “we are left with some hard questions”; that “every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm”; but that we haven’t done a good enough job keeping our children safe; that “we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everyone else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.”  

No, we are not doing enough, and “we will have to change.”  “If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited on Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.”  “Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage?”  “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children . . . is the price of our freedom?”

It is because of the simple truth of those words of our commander in chief, and the importance of the questions he raises, that we must now, in the midst of our pain here at home, reflect upon and talk about drones.  Our drones.  The drones that have become our weapon of choice in our wars abroad.  The drones that this same President wields.  The drones that kill children. 

At least 178 children, as young as three years old, have been killed in Pakistan and Yemen by our drones.

I know that President Obama does not intentionally target children, or innocent women, or men, for that matter.  Indeed, he claims that the drone strikes are precisely targeted to avoid “collateral damage.”  But after the deaths of 178 little kids, he – and we -- must be conscious of the fact that there is a substantial likelihood that more children will be chewed up and obliterated by the future drone strikes he authorizes in our name. 

The killing of these innocents by our drones is therefore done knowingly, and we are all morally responsible for them.

Some of the hard questions raised are these.  Can the President’s words in Newtown and his deeds with drones be reconciled?   Does our responsibility for not killing children or permitting their killing stop at the water’s edge?  Are the Pakistani and Yemeni children just theirs, or are they ours, for whom we also bear responsibility, when it comes to their lives and limbs? 

People all over the world have expressed their anguish over the loss of Newtown’s children.  In our globalized, interconnected world today, do we all share responsibility for keeping children safe in one global “community?” 

Don’t the Pakistani and Yemeni children, and their anguished parents, belong to that community?  Are we prepared to say that the price of American freedom is the violence and carnage we visit upon these children? I am not, not after Newtown. 

If, Mr. President, “they are all our children,” then “we have to change.”  We will have to stop the drone strikes and fight our enemies with other means.  Hew to the spirit of your words in Newtown, and as part of the action to be taken in response to the horror we have 

Issy December 22, 2012 at 12:22 AM
These are two completely different situations and I the author is disingenuously trying to score cheap political points. What if the SWAT team had got to Newtown and in a shootout with the gunmen killed two children, yet saved all the others? We would be thanking them for the bravery. The drone attacks are targeted at known terrorists who would not hesitate to kill our children and yes it is unfortunate that their children might die, but there is a greater good.
JJ December 22, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Mr. Herbst, I read your Bio and NO where in there do I see that you were in the military, served overseas or have anything to do with National Policy. You're a lawyer and I'm happy for you. Regarding drones? They are extremely effective and that's WHY the enemy has started this campaign in America with "do gooders" like you to get rid of them. You are indeed entitled to your opinions; Thank a Soldier, Marine , Sailor or Airman for that. However unless you have served in Afghanistan, Iraqi, Pakistan or Yemen your comments are USELESS to those who unfortunately served there and know better. Enjoy your idyllic life because someone paid the price for that free ride for you. BTW, drones have NOTHING to do with the CT tragedy; stop piling on.
Ann Fanizzi December 22, 2012 at 09:47 AM
The price is indeed being paid. All over the Middle East, parents and children are dying and orphans roam debris-laden streets due to drones inflicting what we call collateral damage.
Aidan December 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM
An asine bit of connect the dots.
JJ December 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM
So I guess you served there too General?
Ann Fanizzi December 22, 2012 at 01:33 PM
The dot is violence perpetrated against innocent civilians.
Aidan December 22, 2012 at 02:05 PM
The dis"connect" is from reality.
Ross Revira December 22, 2012 at 02:39 PM
This country will never be conquered by a foreign enemy. This will not be necessary as long as the writer of this article and bloggers like Ann Fanatic continue to tear down the institutions that protect us from our foreign enemies. Anybody without a political agenda would see that civilian casualties are the direct result of the terrorists setting up shop in civilian areas thus using them as human shields. The military has such strict rules of engagement that many times it puts our soldiers in harms way to protect civilians.The terrorists are hoping people like Herbst and Fanatic can sway public opinion away from the terrorists evil deeds and paint America as the guilty party. Same goes for Hamas firing rockets based in schools and Mosques into Israel. Why won't the America haters connect the dots? WE all know the answer.
Bob Zahm December 22, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Another country applying the US' drone policy could conceivably use them over US territory to attack "foreign terrorists resident in the US". Is that something we want to support? It may sound far fetched to many, but it is clearly one of the implications of the way the US has been using drones in Pakistan without the explicit, written authorization of that government.
jeff meyer December 22, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Context. Context. Context. Why is our nations military engaged within Afghanistan and Pakistan? It is because of Al-Qaeda and their desire to destroy our nation. Said nations have turned a blind eye to Al-Qaeda in that publicly they denounce said enemy while in private they facilitate their endeavors of promoting terrorism against the USA. War is terrible. Granted, it is humanity at its worst. However, should our nation ignore the threats and capabilities of Al-Qaeda? I think not. Furthermore, at the risk of sounding heartless, I much prefer drones over boots on the ground. Afghanistan and their so called opium running leader known as Karzai is not worth one ounce of brave American blood or the billions we send to Afghanistan every month. Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe, NY
Ann Fanizzi December 22, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I know my country right or wrong. BTW - there is a proposal to have drones fly over the US also.
Ann Fanizzi December 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM
) More Unmanned Aircraft Will Be Flying In Domestic ...www.huffingtonpost.com/.../drones-Sep 19, 2012 – Expect to see more of these unmanned aircrafts flying overhead by 2015. ... What do you think about drones flying over U.S. airspace by 2015?
jeff meyer December 22, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Correct me if I am wrong but did not Al-Qaeda declare war on the USA through OBL well televised proclamation over 15 years ago? Did not OBL decree that American civilians were fair game as military targets since we support the USA government? Did not this decree plant the seeds for September 11 and various other attacks against Americans and American interest? It is Al-Qaeda that started this war. Sadly, their civilians are bearing much of the consequences. It as been often stated that when you sow the wind you will reap a whirlwind. JM Tuckahoe, NY
Luis Quiros December 22, 2012 at 04:36 PM
We do not need to be taken over by the enemy. We have done it to ourselves. We are the enemy against justice. It's not just the guns or mental health. It is all of the above that leads to the lack of a moral spine in the US. Corporations now run this nation. The Constitution becomes meaningless when too many are in peril. The mothers who are losing their children to Drones cry just as hard as ours do from unjustified killings. Being patriotic does not equate to being moral. That's why we are a Third World nation though we disguise it. We just refuse to examine it. Keep trusting in capitalism; see where it gets our children. There is no better time to discuss this. In fact, school killings, outside the inner cities are an issue marked over a decade ago by Columbine. The Journal News quoted my comments in the headlines at the time. Calling ourselves a Democratic nation does not mean we live up to it and “enforcing” democracy outside our borders distracts us from the consequences of neglecting our moral compass and the inevitable unpredictability of Mother Nature.
JM December 22, 2012 at 04:39 PM
It's a good bet you were not so "accepting" of the killing during the Bush years.
Robert Guttman December 22, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Keep in mind that the ones who want drone attacks discontinued are the ones against whom those attacks are directed. That is because drone attacks are hurting THEM, not because they are hurting innocent women and children. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda couldn't care less about the lives of innocent bystanders, including those of women and children.
dita von struedel van trappyodel December 22, 2012 at 04:53 PM
It is us against them, that is all there is to it.
Walden Macnair December 22, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Condemning our drone attacks because their killing civilians is ridiculous. Yes, civilians are being killed because combatants are living at home with their children while trying to kill us. This is not WW II where there was a front line and armies met head on. This is a new kind of combat, in the cities, in the mountains, in the houses that they live in. This was and still is their choice, not ours. If we can kill them with drones and not risk the life of any of our military men and women then it's tactically and morally the right decision. My heart goes out to the military personnel who have been injured or killed, not the slime from al qaeda. Where was your indignation when they killed three thousand of our citizens?
John J. Timmel December 22, 2012 at 05:22 PM
What "other means" to fight the enemy does the author have in mind? Moral persuasion? In WWII, Tokyo and Berlin were regularly carpet bombed by hundreds of heavy bombers. Thousands of people were killed during each mission, most of whom were civilians, but it was necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion. A war fought by drone attacks will never be won. General LeMay, who was serious about defeating an enemy and winning a war, would have Waziristan, and all the Taliban rearming and hiding there, cleaned out within two weeks. If you say you're in a war, and you intend to win it, there only one way to do it, and it isn't with drones. If you're not ready to do what is necessary to win, then just get out now and stop wasting the lives of your men.
JJ December 22, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Jeff..........agree again.
JJ December 22, 2012 at 05:28 PM
If they're up there to protect OUR borders; WHO CARES?
Aidan December 22, 2012 at 05:37 PM
"We do not need to be taken over by the enemy." Genius.
JJ December 22, 2012 at 05:37 PM
@Robert Guttman..........BINGO! Drones are extremely effective and the enemy doesn't have a defense against them so they CREATE these scenarios and this PR campaign that drones target the innocent. ALL MANURE. The Taliban and AQ use these "innocents" as shields the same way Saddam Hussein used schools, Mosques and hospitals as headquarters for his military, supply depots for weapons and ammunition etc. No one wants to harm the innocent but the rules in warfare have changed. It's called Asymmetric Warfare or 4th Generation warfare where PUBLIC OPINION is being used as a weapon. There's certainly enough gullible people in America to swallow that "stuff" too.
Aidan December 22, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Yup. Too bad simple is passé.
Bob Zahm December 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM
@Robert Guttman - I believe the relatives of the innocent bystanders killed also want the drone attacks stopped. Or do you think that they care less about their families then you do about yours? But even if the drones were 100% successful at ONLY killing the terrorists / Al-Qaeda / etc, that would still not make the case that another country could use the same policy we're using to operate drones over the US.
Aidan December 22, 2012 at 06:53 PM
"What "other means" to fight the enemy does the author have in mind?" Flowers.
NorthCountyHound December 22, 2012 at 08:17 PM
i put the killer drone right up there with the cell phone ezpass and pressure sensitive toilets as the best inventions in my lifetime.


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