Friday, September 28, 2012

Drones vs. Up-Close-and-Personal Reality

(See previous reflection: Drones: Am I Responsible?)

by Joe Scarry

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Obtaining "distance" from where war and injury is happening seems like a desirable objective, and drones have been championed precisely because they put members of the U.S. military (and, all the moreso, the rest of us) at the greatest possible distance from where the actually injury is taking place. What does a confession of faith suggest about this view?

Having gained some clarity on responsibility ... and knowing the right question to ask ("Where are they crucifying people?") ... it becomes very important to ask "What obstructs our understanding?"

As Jack Lawlor has written, "Drone warfare is the apex of misperception," and overcoming misperception is central to a Buddhist approach to the question of how to live.

I see tremendous resonance with this view within Christianity, particularly with the idea that, yes, there are aspects of our world that are "out of joint" -- we call this phenomenon sin -- but that our response to this out-of-jointness is not to flee, but instead to get up close and personal, and see what's really going on there.

It has always been somewhat perplexing to me what Luther meant when he said, "my Lord ... has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death ...." What exactly does "redeeming" mean here? I can (sort of) understand a kind of exchange -- symbolically -- but what exchange, what transaction is really understood to have taken place?

For me, this discussion gives clarity to the notion that "getting up close and personal" is necessary if there is to be any hope of getting a right understanding of others -- of not just abandoning ourselves to an acceptance of the sinfulness and unknowableness of others. And, of course, that "getting up close and personal" carries risk at all times, and, ultimately, results in in-this-world death.

Redemption. At a price.

Lest anyone think that I have become too detached from the here-and-now of the conflicts in which drones are used, consider two recent articles from the New York Times.

In an op-ed entitled, "A Pointless Blacklisting," Alex Strick van Linschoten discusses the recent designation of the Haqqani network as a "terrorist" organization, pointing out that this prevents us from talking to them -- the one thing that would offer any hope of moving away from a relationship based on nothing but conflict and death. In fact, "[t]he head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael T. Flynn, said in 2010 that the group’s leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was “absolutely salvageable” and open to reconciliation." But defining him as a "terrorist" makes dialog off limits. Thus "[t]he current war effort relies heavily on drones and night raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan." The result? "[T]hese tactics often increase radicalization and enmity."

I see these ideas being explicitly adopted by at least some thinkers in the government and military. As discussed in "How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America?", there is growing interest in the idea that real-world effectiveness -- especially including in military conflict -- depends on a characteristic called "resilience" in the face of hard-to-understand behavior and phenomena. "The best weapon against terror is refusing to be terrorized." When we encounter sin, do we retreat and become "brittle and clumsy and counterproductive"? Or do we find the inner resources to move closer and find hope in humanity?

I disagree with the notion that the military framework can be made a resounding success through greater "resiliency," but I do agree that we need to recognize and work against our natural, sinful tendency to turn everyone into the enemy. For instance: "The Homeland Security Department is trying to enlist the public’s help with a program called 'If You See Something, Say Something,' which urges citizens to report unusual behavior to authorities. Well-meaning, perhaps, but officials must offer more practical guidance to avoid creating “a climate of spying,” homeland security specialists say."

By now, we have all been exposed to stories of how military pilots and drone operators begin to see people as less than human. (I talked about this in a blog post called Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt?) But isn't drone use having the same effect on all of us? Nick Mottern, director of Know Drones, a program of public education about drone surveillance and drone killing, has said that drone use is the linchpin of an effort by our government to "systematically deprive us of empathy." I can think of no better way to sum up why the distancing that is brought about by drones is unacceptable - to a confessing Christian, or to anybody else.

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

Next installment: Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?

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Top Image: Sadao Watanabe Block Print Depicting Jesus Washing St Peters Feet

Bottom Image: Carl Dix, "Ecce Homo" (Dix’s works were based on religious allegories or depictions of post-war suffering. A veteran himself of WWI, Dix was latter drafted into Hitler’s Volkssturm during WWII and was eventually captured by the French and later released. Most of his latter works had a religious basis. Ecce Homo is one of thirty-three images Dix created in a suite called MatthaĆ¼s Evangelium, which accompanied the Martin Luther New Testament. Ecce Homo are the Latin words used by Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of the John 19:5, when he presents a scourged Jesus Christ, bound and crowned with thorns, to a hostile crowd shortly before his Crucifixion. The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase into English as “behold the man.”)

1 comment:

  1. "Deprivation of empathy"indeed not to mention bomb then name and count. Seems like resilence is turning into callousness and indifference. I see you have begun to tackle the thorny issue of redemption and blood sacrifice. Thank you for these stimulating thoughts!