Drone Strikes No Simple Matter

Taiyo Scanlon-Kimura

President Obama certainly made errors during his first term as President of the United States. I also agree that many of his errors stemmed from a lack of commitment to one political direction. With this in mind, I wish to criticize the issue of drone strikes as discussed in the Review opinions piece last issue. My response may seem lengthy and irrelevant to Obama’s policy making (the latter, at least, is true), especially for a criticism of a single topic; let me clarify now that this is simply an attempt at unearthing the mental mechanisms behind the sentence fragment I find extremely problematic: “[The issue of drone strikes] is a blatantly immoral and dangerous policy.”

This Winter Term, five other Oberlin students and I traveled to Belgium to work with asylum seekers at a federal reception center. The people we interacted with came primarily from West Africa, Eastern Europe, and Afghanistan. Of all the things we gained from this incredibly challenging, rewarding experience, perhaps the most important was seeing international and comparative political issues from a non-U.S. citizen perspective. One hot topic with residents was U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Contrary to what we believed (as purportedly conscientious foreign students), many Afghani residents supported American troops in Afghanistan. When we touched upon the issue of drone strikes, typical resident responses followed as such: the U.S. military is not perfect; everyone makes mistakes. Even so, they are generally appreciated by many Afghanis. In the words of one resident, “They are trying to bring peace.”

From a young age, most of us are taught to believe that good and evil are thoroughly distinct forces that motivate, and justify, the majority of human actions. This oversimplified perspective of moral entities fuels notions such as freedom for freedom’s sake or peace won by peace. Moreover, we are almost always inclined to subscribe to this view, for the same reason a 7-year-old chooses The Hungry Caterpillar over Franz Kafka.

To call drone strikes “blatantly immoral and dangerous” is only half-true; everyone knows full well that killing people is dangerous. Meanwhile, “blatantly immoral,” to be blunt, is a facile response that presumes the critic is more informed than the criticized (in this case, Oberlin student and U.S. government, respectively).

Such a statement is incredibly selfish, for it only considers the tangible tragic loss of innocent lives and not the immeasurable protection of more innocent lives. This January I met people who had seen civil war from the day they were born to the day they fled their countries, people who understand that conflicts of this nature don’t simply collapse inwards. Freedom has a price; peace, in most cases, does not buy more peace. I expect criticism of sensitive issues such as this to seriously attempt to consider all ramifications, all perspectives, all the human elements, not just the ones that make us feel better.

Our world will always see violence. I recognize that our country has a history of instigating and twisting conflicts; I do not condone violence any more than you do. However, we are most able to make meaningful change happen (not including creative expression) when we think about what we say, what we write and what we do.

-Taiyo Scanlon-Kimura