Monday, October 29, 2012

Challenging Dronotopia: Part One - What We Experienced On the Road

The following excerpt is from "Challenging Dronotopia: A report of the 2012 Know Drones Tour to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and suggestions for further action," by Nick Mottern. (Download the full "Challenging Dronotopia" report.)

“U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”

In the late afternoon of September 20, 2012, in Room 101 of Maginnes Hall at Leigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a young woman student from Yemen touched off a blast of reality that startled and sobered 50 or so of her fellow students and townspeople attending a talk I was giving about US drone attacks and surveillance. Paraphrased, she said:

“I get the feeling that there are those in this room who value American lives much more than the lives of other people in the world. I am from Yemen. I am a city girl, but I live not far from a village where I have family members and where US drones killed 40 people who were doing nothing but minding their daily business. The people in the village have no idea why this happened, they know nothing of al-Qaeda; they are trying to sue the United States.”

After she spoke, there were other comments and questions, but her words hung in the air, a stark personal, undeniable witness to the fact that yes, US drone attacks are killing people and creating great suffering. For all of us there, drone killing now had a face, and the United States stood convicted. At the end of the Q & A, people went up to her to talk and to say they were sorry for what is happening; several, including me, gave her a hug and more thanked her for speaking out.

The woman, with a sweet, friendly disposition, speaking in a soft, direct but extremely firm way, crystallized what appears to be the main reason that the American public is so accepting of drone wars – that is, the widely-held feeling that Americans are exceptional. This notion and the mistaken belief that drones have enabled the US to enter an ideal state of warfare in which the US can kill without consequences are the twin fantasies fueling our drone wars, leading to the illegal killing of thousands and the terrorizing of tens of thousands more.

Her remarks were echoed the next day in the Q & A portion of a similar talk I gave at Lafayette College when a man from Pakistan said that the drones are a waste of money and effort: “You’re trying to win hearts and minds, and then you blow up people at a wedding the next day.”

The words of these people are so strange and compelling because the American press is so American-centered. Furthermore, it appears that there is a thorough-going determination among editors of major news organizations, perhaps toeing a government line, to prevent any images or commentary that could be considered “anti-drone” from reaching the American public. Certainly there is absolutely no TV coverage from the sites of drone attacks.

This truly deadly combination of America First-Ism and censorship is depriving the American public of empathy, an essential human emotion needed for learning and surviving. The woman from Yemen engaged our empathy, piercing, for that moment, the massive government/press conspiracy to suppress it.

The Tour and Our Goals

George Guerci and I visited Lehigh and Lafayette as part of the “Know Drones Tour” that took us to Dayton, Springfield and Columbus, Ohio, and Bethlehem, Easton and Lahaska, Pennsylvania, and Charlottesville, Virginia, between September 12 and October 6, 2012. This was the latest leg of the 2012 tour that has taken George, Kwame Madden, Geoff Smith and me, separately and together, since April 2012, to: Brooklyn, New York; southern New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; the northern tier of Maryland; and Hartford, Connecticut. The tour is focused primarily on Congressional districts of the 55-member Unmanned Systems (drone) Caucus, a body that is essentially a lobbying arm of the drone industry within the US Congress.

We went to Dayton/Springfield because this area, Ohio’s Miami Valley, is second only to southern California as a center for drone research and development, with the focal point Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is the home of Air Force Research Laboratory and the office that oversees the construction, maintenance and improvement of the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones. In addition, Ohio Air National Guard drone “pilots” are controlling Predator drones from Springfield Municipal Airport, attacking in Afghanistan and probably Pakistan.

Our goals were to inform people about the legal, moral and privacy issues presented by drone killing and drone surveillance and to assist local organizers in recruiting people, particularly people in their 20’s and 30’s, to work to ban drone killing and spying, as well as to do other peace work. So we focused on college and university campuses . . . .

To read the rest of the report, download "Challenging Dronotopia: A report of the 2012 Know Drones Tour to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and suggestions for further action," from the Know Drones website.

Additional excerpts available at:
No Drones Ohio: Drone Jobs, Drone Bubble, Drone Distraction
No Drones Virginia: Discussing the Deep Issues of Drones in Charlottesville with Nick Mottern from Know Drones

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