Drones: Weapons of normalized mass destruction

Scout Hutchinson, Opinion Editor

On Aug. 29, 2021 the United States carried out what they have claimed to be their last missile strike in its 20-year war in Afghanistan. Initially, the drone attack was considered a “righteous strike” by the military but has now been proven as an extremely deadly mistake. After a thorough investigation, the Pentagon admitted that the airstrike, which supposedly was intended to target a car bomber, actually resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians. The 10 civilians were members of the same extended family, and seven of the deaths were children.  

While this admission was long overdue, we must acknowledge that this is not the only time civilians have been killed through drone attacks. The only difference is that this time they couldn’t be written off as collateral damage because the only deaths were of civilians. The fact of the matter is that drones kill civilians more often than they just kill the “intended target.” 

However, the unclear ethics of war in a new and always changing technological age allows us to ignore these facts and state that at least we got the “terrorist,” a term with no definitive meaning. The use of drones also creates a distance between the soldiers operating them and the communities and people the U.S. is supposedly “protecting.” 

By operating from a computer screen, usually out of the potential combat zone, drones further dehumanize people by categorizing them as either targets or collateral damage, creating a video game of mass destruction. 

As technology continues to develop, drones have been championed as a new form of “ethical” destruction and violence, when in reality they have led to mass death and destruction of entire cities. This has also led to a sharp increase of refugees in need of asylum due to the destruction caused by the very countries they now seek help from. 

A London-based civilian harm monitoring group released a report this year that stated the United States has declared at least 91,340 strikes across seven major conflict zones in the ever-changing and extremely vague “War on Terror.” The report concluded that at least 22,679, and potentially as many as 48,308 civilians, have been killed in these strikes. These numbers do not include the over 38 million people who have been displaced due to ongoing violence created by drones and airstrikes in the last 20 years of U.S. occupation, according to the New York Times

Ultimately, American troops do not have to put their own lives at risk when operating drones, which makes them seem like an ethical form of killing. This logic weighs the lives of U.S. soldiers as more important than the lives of civilians in conflict zones. This needs to end. We must stop ignoring the mass annihilation and destruction carried out in the name of freedom.

Illustration by Ally Kim.

Government reports and media coverage of the War on Terror also feeds into this false rhetoric, creating public misconceptions. These entities center the number of American lives lost before giving an extremely vague number of civilians. Similarly, the coverage of airstrikes and drones who kill the intended target always preface the “terrorist” before mentioning civilian casualties. This adds to the misconception that drones prevent more casualties than they cause, something that cannot be calculated other than through the use of surveillance and intel that can never fully be corroborated or proven to be false.  

Drones allow for soldiers and U.S. citizens to dissociate themselves from the mass destruction our country causes, which leads to more self-justification and the continued rise of public misconceptions. Real people should never be seen or objectified as characters in a video game, with targets and justified collateral damage. Human beings are not objects on a screen that can be killed by a press of a button.