Monday, November 5, 2012

Challenging Dronotopia: Introduction

by Nick Mottern
From: Challenging Dronotopia

This is a report about an educational expedition on US drone warfare and drone surveillance that George Guerci and I undertook into parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia in September and October 2012.

This was the final leg of the 2012 Know Drones Tour1, the purpose of which was to not only to educate the public about drones but to learn what people are thinking politically across the country and to explore ways of increasing peace activism.

We carried with us two, eight-foot-long replicas of the MQ-9 Reaper drone; the Reaper is the workhorse of US global campaign of drone assassination and terror2. The replicas were extremely valuable in emotionally engaging a public immersed in an America-First culture, desperately trying to avoid the sadness of war and trying to survive economically and emotionally amidst the wreckage of a manufacturing economy.

Our method was to talk to people for as long as they wanted, to be respectful and not argumentative, and to explain what drones are, what they are doing and what they will be able to do. We said that the drone is an extremely dangerous weapon in part because it energizes fantasies of killing without consequences. We constantly had to respond to the argument that drones are saving lives.

In our presentations and conversations, we provided the following information and analysis, much of which may be familiar to you:

Drones, unmanned aircraft, have been used in various forms on a very limited basis since the early 1900s. For instance, Joseph Kennedy, a brother of President John Kennedy, died in World War II while flying a drone bomber that exploded just as he was about to bail out and have control of his plane shifted to radio control. At the beginning of the 21st Century advances in micro-technology and satellite communication have enabled a dramatic expansion in the use of drones. The US Air Force is now training more drone pilots than pilots for manned aircraft; indeed there is a shortage of drone pilots. New drone control bases are being opened in Nashville, Tennessee and at Fort Benning, Georgia, adding to existing bases in the West and East.

Drone spending is growing in the US military budget. In universities and aerospace firms across the US, there are thousands of researchers, funded by hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in military grants, working on an array of artificial intelligence, sensing, control and communications devices for new generations of drones. These drones, of all sizes, will have ever greater capabilities of attack and surveillance and the power to obliterate our privacy, safety and community, our sense of control over our own lives, our sense of identity, our economic health and our lives.

Nick Mottern speaking at the
Mennonite Church in Columbus, OH
Already US drones are doing this to thousands of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. Drones are being sent back to Libya and will be sent to Mali. Drone killing, sometimes called targeted killing, and terror generated by drones, has reached the point where Medact3, an organization of health professionals in the United Kingdom, has called for drones to be included in arms limitations treaties and made “the subject of specific legislation to limit and eventually stop their development, use and proliferation.”

Nevertheless, the drone is becoming a key weapon, if not the most important weapon, in US military and diplomatic strategy. This is in spite of the fact that US drone strikes are violating international and domestic laws; President Obama, in ordering these strikes, is a war criminal.

The drone, without a human pilot on board, and at risk, is the perfect weapon, as well as a symbol, for an American public wishing to be disengaged from feelings of responsibility and consequences of killing.

Although we are effectively at war in the nations under drone attack, Congress has made no objection to the attacks and has exercised no effective oversight on the drone wars; members of Congress receive substantial contributions from drone makers.

The major US news organizations enable public disengagement by failing to present images of victims of drone strikes, just as they have censored images of Americans and Afghanis who are being wounded and killed in more than 10 years of the Afghanistan War. Nor has the major press reported fully on the legal, moral and political implications of our drone attacks.

The major press has let stand without challenge the notion that drone attacks are saving US lives rather than the more accurate view that drones are increasing risk for Americans, essentially like throwing gasoline on a fire.

For example, the Quilliam Foundation, a British analytic group, believes that the killing of the US ambassador to Libya in September 2012 was in retaliation for the killing of a Libyan in Pakistan in a June 2012 US drone strike.

American Legacy
by Steve Fryburg
The US press also refuses to note that drones, and US troops, are engaged in long-term struggles to secure zones of safe operation and profit for Western corporations in resource-rich parts of the world. These struggles, described by Michael Klare in The Race for What’s Left, are never mentioned by major news organizations, much less the central and expanding role that drones will play in these struggles. Nor is there any talk of how “conquering” resource zones contributes to the profligate use of non-renewable resources and consequences like global warming.

Under a law enacted in 2012, drones of any size and carrying any type of weapon will be permitted to fly in US airspace as of September 15, 2015, provided “safety technology” can be perfected to prevent collisions. This presents a threat to personal privacy and to the right to peacefully assemble to protest, an essential right, particularly in the face of the erosion of the US economy.

In reaction to the human tragedies created daily by drones, a few Americans have undertaken symbolic blockades of drone control centers at Creech AFB in Nevada, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, NY. At least 60 people in total have been arrested in these witnesses. Some have been fined and others have been jailed. Most recently Brian Terrell was sentenced on October 11, 2012 to six months in federal prison in connection with his drone protest at the Whiteman base.

The most drone base protests appear to have been undertaken by the Upstate New York Coalition to Ground the Drones, directed against the Reaper drone control center at Hancock Air Base. The coalition has an excellent website.

In addition, the following peace and justice organizations have been working to educate the public about drone killing and surveillance:
Members of World Can't Wait and others
protest drones during the DNC in Charlotte
Medea Benjamin, co-director of Code Pink, and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, has been touring extensively speaking to speak against drone wars, as has retired Army Colonel Ann Wright. Medea led a delegation of 30 US peace workers, of which Ann was a member, on a visit to Pakistan in September and October to protest US drone strikes there. Kathy Kelly, director of Voices for Creative Non-violence, has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times and is helping Afghan youth who are working for peace and who want an end to drone warfare. Debra Sweet and her colleagues at World Can’t Wait have been persistent in using drone replicas to inject anti-war and anti-drone war messages at a variety of public events, such as the Democratic National Convention.

Joe Scarry, a political organizer in Chicago, is building solidarity and a forward dynamic among state “No Drones” groups through his state-focused blogs and nationwide blog network.

It is important to note that peace organizers in Indiana are conducting an on-going tour in their state opposing drone warfare.

Other nations and political/military organizations are building drones and beginning to use them. We must work not only to stop US drone attacks but for an international ban on weaponized drones and drone surveillance4.

We presented this message in key presidential election swing states within weeks of the election.

On September 17, we leafleted people lined up for an Obama rally at Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio. While we were packing up our drone replicas, after the crowd went into the rally, we could hear President Obama greeting the people and then huge roars rising up over the trees into the afternoon sky as the crowd responded to him. It frightened me to hear this kind of adulation for a person who orders executions of people in faraway places, trashing international law, raining down death and carnage from the sky. I thought of the ferocious crowds in George Orwell’s “1984”.

But it may be important to consider the roars of the crowd as cries of desperation for a savior of personal and public dreams. Columbus has weathered the recession better than most communities in Ohio, the nation’s third largest manufacturing state, which has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the last decade. At the same time, Columbus is a city that looks to a new casino for hope, has a poverty rate of about 22 percent5 and has large swaths of dilapidated and abandoned houses. Most of its residents, like most Americans, are hounded by debt and fears of being unexpectedly laid off.

To stop US drone killing and spying, it appears that we in the peace movement will have to do more than document the death, illegality and immorality of drone war. We will have to show how drone warfare is key to sustaining the structure of global exploitation that is destroying lives, livelihoods and the environment here in the United States as well as around the world.

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


1 For itinerary and other details on the Know Drones Tour see

2 To date, 15 replicas have been built and distributed to local organizers in the U.S. and four more are under construction to meet other requests. Further information is at as well as a video, Less Distance from War, that lays out in a simple direct way, fundamental concerns about drone war and surveillance.

3 The Medact report was released after we completed the Ohio/Pennsylvania/Virginia tour, but the points it makes are ones that we made on the tour, including calling for an international ban on weaponized drones and drone surveillance.

4 The 24/7, day by day monitoring of individuals and groups that is possible with drones makes surveillance itself a weapon of intimidation and terror.

5 The State of Poverty in Ohio, Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, May, 2011.

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