Remote Control Security –vs-- Freedom
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
How would you like to live in oh, say, Pakistan or Yemen, or Afghanistan. I expect the usual remonstration(s) for asking such a question in the first place. But I have a point to make – or, at least TRY to make.
See, those folks live every day and every night with one eye trained on the sky. They KNOW that somewhere, way up THERE, someone is watching their every move. Plus, they know someone is going to die.
Hellfire missiles rain from their skies like lightening bolts cast by angry gods. They bring death and destruction instantaneously, with no warning, and no chance, whatsoever, to defend oneself.
Added together -- civilians and terrorists -- there have been literally thousands killed by the deadly bolts from the skies.
The thing is – those bolts emanate from no god. They are fired by a human finger somewhere thousands of miles -- or even half a world -- away. The finger presses a button, and a robot airplane -- so high above earth it is virtually invisible -- releases its payload and the missile streaks toward earth bearing it’s cargo of death.
The unseen dealer of death is a drone aircraft. There is no human being aboard. A human, or humans, control the stealthy aircraft from a control booth a very long way away. It is as likely to be the hand of a woman as that of a man dealing death on any given day.
It’s not personal. In fact, it is very impersonal. It’s a TV show. The “pilot” operator watches a small TV screen in real time while someone, way past his or her pay grade, decides who will die today.
It is most certainly killing by remote control. But is it murder by remote control? It is an interesting question for me because many of my generation find killing by drone very similar to killing by sniper in past wars. There’s something just, well, not quite “human” about it. Nevertheless, it is a fact of modern life on planet earth where war rages now and as far as the eye can see into the future.
The use of drones is NOT new. Drone aircraft were used as far back as the Second World War and with great frequency in the Vietnam War. However, the sophistication of the robot aircraft has grown exponentially since -- and so has their use.
There has been something of an epiphany for Americans of late and they/we are beginning to ask why should we Americans be concerned that this new technology may be turned on us?
Look. Building a drone is not difficult. Difficulty comes with the degree of sophistication you demand of your drone. A remote controlled model airplane with a remote camera attached and tuned so that your PC or laptop can receive its signal will do the trick as a reconnaissance or surveillance drone. It is devilishly simple.
Unfortunately, we live in a world in which there are many people, organizations, and nations with nefarious agendas. They, too, can build and deploy drones … and they do.
Recently, one of the US’s most sophisticated drones fell into the hands of one of our most dangerous enemies -- Iran. Reports tell us they have already shared the Intel they acquired from that drone with another of America’s enemies, China. Even more recent reports inform us that Iran intends to build a drone of its own using the knowledge they gleaned from ours through a process known as "reverse engineering." The obvious question, therefore, is – how long before Iranian drones will hunt down US troops and civilians just as American drones hunt down terrorists worldwide today?
New military technology always, eventually, falls into the hands of the enemy.
I was an artilleryman in the US Army. There was an old maxim then that said: “If you find the enemy within range of your guns, remember, you, too, are within range of his.”
Then, there is the fact that the US government has cleared the way for local police departments to own and operate drones in America’s skies. Private companies will also be allowed to operate their own drones in US airspace, as well.
I would mention George Orwell’s “1984,” but – we are well past Orwell’s warnings. There is virtually no privacy any longer. We are tracked by cameras and by GPS apps in our cell phones. All our electronic communications are intercepted and read by our government -- and Internet search engines know more about us than we know about ourselves. Just days ago we learned the US government has declared that all new motor vehicles in America must have “black boxes” on board to record your every move while operating the vehicle.
All of this makes the term “dropping off the grid” more and more attractive to me.
At least one generation has grown up, and become used to, having no privacy. Those of us who still attempt to hang on to whatever shred of personal privacy we can are frowned upon as some kind of old Neanderthal creep. And that’s putting it mildly.
All of this breeds an indifference to one’s fellow human beings. There is entirely too much familiarity with everyone else today. The “mystery” that lent spice to human relationships has dissipated. The value of another man’s life has all but vanished, as well.
We are assured that all the snooping, all the invasion of our privacy, is for our security. But each incremental invasion of our privacy takes another bit of our freedom. Being a little bit free is akin to being a little bit pregnant. Either one is free – or one is not free.
In ancient times the dwellers within walled cities quickly understood that though the enemy was locked out – THEY were locked in. For freedom, even at the cost of their security, many chose to live outside the city walls.
In the 21st century we still live within walled cities and even nations. The difference is that our walls are electronic and there is no effective way we can choose to relocate outside that wall.
Many of my generation will understand why we sometimes feel as if we are, indeed, residents of a prison planet.
Maybe the drones and electronic surveillance keep us more secure. But they have certainly taken our freedom.
Like the ancient Athenians, we have traded our freedom for security -- and we will never be free again.
J. D. Longstreet