US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to a suicide bombing in Pakistan during her visit there as “cowardly.” She may be right about that, but no American diplomat should dare breathe that word while unmanned US aircraft are launching missiles on houses and farms in distant lands. In a match as uneven as that between the U. S. and what’s left of Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of the cowardliness is on our side, and it’s becoming more and more difficult, even for patriots, to sympathize with the victors. Valor is unnecessary in this contest, and none is displayed. All the carnage is done by remote control.
No nation has ever had the capacity to kill with the coldness we now are able to affect. We have weapons, guaranteed to destroy populations, that can be launched from thousands of miles away, and we can keep track of targets from space. There is no contest between soldiers, but only between people, on the one side, and machines, on the other. Uniformed American terrorists, busy at automated work stations in Nevada, see more blood after shaving than they do in a month of what is now called “combat” or “fighting.” They willingly incinerate babies without ever risking a hair of their own.
The press–as we affectionately still call the news desk of our entertainment industry–is positively buoyant over the “drone” attacks, content that we are inflicting more casualties than we are sustaining. Most public policy is now carried on to satisfy these folks’ demands, and the current military adventures are no exception. Political correctness, of which newsmen are the authors, requires that Americans be victorious in all military engagements, and so explosions in foreign cities are like music to a correspondent’s ears.
There is no legal authority for what our government is now doing. Bombing people with robots is recognized everywhere but here as a war crime, and it was only very recently that our government and the media began to advocate the assassination of foreigners. It’s against our laws, and so are our various military adventures. There is a procedure in the Constitution for war, but we have not followed it, and so all of this killing is unlawful. The nation’s founders must be spinning in their graves. The idea of a sovereign targeting and killing people without arrest, trial, or any determination of guilt was an old one by the time Jefferson and Adams came of age. Although they disagreed on much, they were united against this sort of justice.
What’s ironic is the spirit of compliance that seems to be in vogue now. You can’t get people to obey the speed limits, but they seem willing and even eager to give up basic civil rights. Almost nobody is kicking about the nation’s assassination policy, even though it should raise some questions. For instance, do I, as a citizen, have a legal right to advocate your assassination? May I advocate government death squads, in general, to terminate wrongdoers? May I advocate the assassination of named individuals, such as Osama, for instance? If I say Democratic office-holders should be lined up and shot, am I doing something wrong, or am I guilty merely of bad taste? Can I say my neighbor should be killed? My ex-spouse? Charles Manson? Jesse Jackson? Janet Jackson? If I can’t do it, then neither can Obama. The law gives neither of us a license to kill.
Honor, courage and the rule of law may simply be the price a nation must pay to bask in the luxury of superpower status. Today it’s mass murder by remote control. We can only imagine what feats of cowardice will become possible if we keep to the present course.