Yes, Killing Innocent People Is Kind of Frowned Upon, But What’s the Alternative?

I picked on the Atlantic yesterday for publishing some hack promotionalism by Scott Gerber.

Today, in passing, I just want to draw attention to another bizarre editorial choice by that outlet. See to my right.

Yes, Killing Innocent People Is Kind of Frowned Upon, But What's the Alternative?Joshua Foust is their go to write for drone coverage. And in fact he is many people’s go to guy for that topic. I had read some criticism of him, somewhere, at some point, but which I can no longer find, alleging that he had strong ties to the defense industry and thus his analysis was perniciously skewed.

Whether or not that is the case, I find him on average to be rather middle of the road on the use of drones abroad and at home. However, the sub-heading for the front-page story took me by surprise.

“Yes, they’re unpopular. What’s the alternative?”

What?! We’re not talking about something like the the debt here. “Yes, sequestration is unpopular. What’s the alternative?” the sub-heading puts forth the implicit argument that killing people is a problem because it’s unpopular. Which is sick.

This piece of Foust’s in particular doesn’t get much better from there. He takes a look at the “pros and cons” of drone use, but from the unexamined position that what they are used to achieve, for instance killing terrorists and “militants,” is unquestionably necessary, and thus it’s just a question of whether the drones are the best or only way to achieve this.

Working from that constrained and toxic framework, it’s not wonder that the piece and its title are able to address the question of the incidental but inexcusable killing of men, women, and children from such a cold and sociopathic position.

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10 thoughts on “Yes, Killing Innocent People Is Kind of Frowned Upon, But What’s the Alternative?

  1. I’m afraid we won’t have a discussion about drones until AQ obtains them and we start seeing them rain down on San Diego and Omaha.

    Then of course they will be cowardly weapons of mass destruction.

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  2. The alternative? The alternative is that we accept the possibility that ending drone strikes may (or may not, if ceasing drone strikes and foreign wars decreases terrorist recruitment) marginally increase the threat of terrorism. The alternative is that we think seriously about whether a hypothetical American life really outweighs an innocent life overseas.

    Sadly, nobody seems interested in doing that. I can actually see where this comes from: I’m current in a graduate-level International Affairs programs, and the assumptions underlying the piece are the same one’s we’re taught. A core assumed objective of foreign policy is to maximize domestic security. One of the rare times we discussed ethics in a class, I was taught that the security of the state was the primary moral imperative of a state’s foreign policy, because if there were no states, everyone would be far worse off (sort of a combination of Hobbes and the “go to Somalia if you don’t like it” argument). Thus, if you believe that killing off more members of Al Qaeda makes America safer, the only question is “how should we do it?”, not “should we do it?”. It’s perfectly plausible that, within government circles, this kind of thinking is so ingrained that they don’t even think about “lives of people who aren’t citizens or residents” as anything other than a secondary or tertiary objective, something to try to minimize provided all other objectives (e.g., “eliminate the ability to Al-Qaeda to function through elimination of its personnel”) have been achieved.

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    • “The alternative is that we think seriously about whether a hypothetical American life really outweighs an innocent life overseas”

      You should actually prefer the system be that way. Totes serious.

      If American (or anyone else’s) foreign policy is predicated on the assumption that every person in the world has equal standing in the eyes of the American government, then the logical conclusion is the American government should do everything to ensure the rights and privileges of anyone in the world are equalized.

      In other words, it would no longer be enough to say ‘let’s stop drone strikes in Warizistan’ – which one can easily justify even under a “Americans first” policy. The necessary condition would be ‘let’s make sure they have Obamacare and are recognizing gay marriage in Warizistan’ – which is going to take a whole lot more drone strikes.

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      • I’m quite willing to deal with sins of commission first, and deal with the sins of omission in order of priority. The latter means that we focus on saving lives in places where we can do so without taking lives; once all of those potential lives are saved, and nobody is dying of hunger or preventable disease in places that aren’t conflict zones, we can discuss the ethics of humanitarian intervention.

        I don’t see how “don’t kill innocents in Waziristan” logically leads to “kill more innocents in Waziristan so we can enforce our policies on them”. There are plenty of ways to save non-American lives that don’t require military action.

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  3. You have to understand that this is the sick twisted nation of America you’re talking about. The alternative is slow torture.

    As a nation of cowardly sadistic bully-worshipers, Americans dote on torture and genocide. Nothing brings an American to his feet with his hand over his heart reciting the pledge of allegiance more than the sight of a strapping 250-pound man beating up a defenseless child. Your typical Americano lacks the courage to rape an underage girl, but will eagerly hold her down for someone else to rape. This is the nation, after all, built on the genocide of the native American indian, a nation that started using waterboarding not in the 1970s in Vietnam but in 1902 during the Philippine campaign (where waterboarding was known joshingly as “the water cure”).

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