THE DRONE GOES ON
AWAKENING EXTINGUISHED AMID THE ASHES
There is new evidence that humans have the capacity to never learn from their mistakes. Last week brought news that President Obama celebrated the death by US drone of the top ranking Taliban leader in Afghanistan and then authorized the sale of billions of dollars of weapons made in America to Vietnam. So, again here we go again and again. For a President often described as cerebral and a reluctant warrior, Obama is sure playing the killing fool card in America’s game of drones and international military monopoly.
The take out the leaders plan has repeatedly failed to achieve any sustainable objectives in America’s strategic killing campaign in the Middle East, Libya, and Afghanistan. The list of announced “terrorist leaders” buried in the sand keeps growing. Yet, somehow, so does the supposed threat from the routinely headless hordes.
This time is already no different, as the newly-christened Taliban leader seemed to somehow resist the clarion call of Jeffersonian democracy while vowing to continue military operations and a continued drive to expel western influence from Afghanistan, both literally and figuratively.
So, a new head appears, takes on mythical proportions, and the drones rev up for another kill. Good for the military budget, great for CNN and its ilk, and a “banner day” for the war on terror, but not so great for those living in the far-off lands blighted by war, both theirs and ours.
Then, just when you think we will never learn anything from past failure, we get further damning evidence that we will never learn anything from past failure. Introducing additional US weapons into developing countries in strategic and troubled regions of the world has never yielded anything but the increased capacity to kill and torture more humans. These sales almost always come with an escalation of US strategic planning, training, and armed conflict made in America to serve US interests alone.
This time the “lucky” country is Vietnam. They get America’s latest infusion of killing machines. But the list is long, and the results are almost always disastrous – Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Argentina and Chile, to name a few. The only winners are the American arms merchants and the American “strategic planning” industry that does its level best to ensure that the killing fields we create are in someone else’s land.
After the stop in Vietnam, the Obama road show headed for Japan. There, seemingly without the slightest nod to irony, President Obama delivered an impassioned speech in Hiroshima about the horrors of war and the imperative of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. But that speech was so much more; it shone a brilliant light on the moral bankruptcy of those in the human gene pool for whom delivering death and destruction remains the highest calling. President Obama looked the world in the eye and called for a “moral awakening”:
“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself….
The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints….
Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.
Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill….
Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.
The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.
That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.
Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again….
And yet that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mind-set about war itself. To prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.
For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted….
The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell….
The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
After Hiroshima, President Obama hopped back into Air Force One and headed home to authorize more drone strikes and finalize more arms sales. I cannot be the only person in the world who heard the soaring words in Hiroshima and seeks to measure both President Obama and his nation against those words. By any measure, America and its President continue to fail. It can only be hoped that one day America will choose to actually live by the standards enunciated by its President in Hiroshima and one day actually live by the moral precepts that we so glibly preach to others.
Obama gave a great speech. I hope he pauses to read it to himself the next time he is about to authorize new death dropping from the sky in far off lands to indiscriminately kill those in its path. I also hope that America's merchants of death and those who finance their operations pause to read the speech as well. If Obama stops authorizing and they stop selling for one day that could be one day without American death dropping from the sky. It could also be the first day of a new moral awakening.
If, however, President Obama’s speech falls on his own deaf ears and the deaf ears of those in America’s killing culture, it will serve as a fitting end to Obama's inspired audacity of hope that is slowly slipping into oblivion, to be replaced by the audacity of audacity.