Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
If a Drone Strike Hit an American Wedding We'd Ground Our Fleet (theatlantic.com)
480 points by gabriel34 on Dec 16, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 354 comments

It continues to baffle me why the fact they're drones matter in the slightest.

They're not autonomous, they're flown by pilots who just happen to not be sitting in the aircraft they're flying.

Manned aircraft have killed huge groups of innocent civilians more than once, but apparently that's fine because the pilot was sitting in the aircraft.

It matters because it changes the fundamental nature of combat. If a pilot is in the plane you're risking an American life, not to mention a very expensive piece of equipment with numerous safety features etc.

Now take away the risk to American life and lower the cost of the attack significantly, and viola, you've got a much itchier trigger finger now. If you've played MW3, which would you rather do, use the drone to take out enemies or risk your character dying?

A drone totally changes the dynamics of the fight. If we were able to get tons of drones and "mechwarriors", I don't think wars would be quite as difficult to justify. As technologists we are often blinded by the coolness of things. As someone who has worked on AI for drones early on in my career (for the US govt), I shudder to think that I may have contributed in some ways to a terrible technology for humanity. At the time, I had friends deployed and in my head, I thought that it's better we have UAVs than my friends coming home in bodybags...

> you've got a much itchier trigger finger now

I doubt that. It would seem that a pilot sitting in a cockpit would be a lot more trigger-happy.

Both pilots can make two types of mistake: don't recognize an enemy for what he is, or do the same thing with a civilian. If plane pilot mistakes an enemy for something else and said enemy succeeds in his efforts, the pilot will lose his place and may be his life. The drone pilot, on the other hand, will only lose the drone, which is also cheaper then a plane. But the cost of the other mistake is the same for the both of them.

So, it seems that plane pilot has actually much more reason to shoot on targets he's not sure about.

Clarification: I don't mean that the pilot has an itchy trigger finger, I mean the system or decision maker. I see how the two might be confused based on my original comment.

The commander/politician/leader is answerable and responsible for his soldiers, as such if the risk to the soldier's life is taken out of equation an attack suddenly begins to make more sense as it carrier lower risk & lower costs, therefore requiring less justification.

The reaper/predator and other drones cannot survive in contested airspace; any pilot(s) in modern combat aircraft would be at almost no risk of being shot down.

This isn't about the pilot, it's about the decision making process within the higher command structure.

Remember the downed F-117 pilot in Serbia? The repercussions of Somalia? Drones carry no such risks. The risk of political and public fall out is minuscule compared to traditional operations. Public outrage over "collateral damage" is negligible, because frankly, there is no public outrage about civilian deaths. Especially if "suspected Al-Qaeda operatives" were among the killed.

Look at it this way: it makes killing people with targeted missiles that much cheaper, which means they will want to do more of it, not just to "important targets", but to "associated targets", too.

It's basically the NSA equivalent of mass spying. If spying becomes so cheap that they can just do it to everyone, then they're thinking "why not"? Same with drone striking. If it ends up costing them only like $10,000 per target - why not kill the associated forces, too? You know...just to be on the "safe side".

> it makes killing people with targeted missiles that much cheaper

Killing people is already really cheap. What's not cheap is deciding _not_ to kill them on the battlefield, given incomplete information. Drones are helping with information and making _not_ killing people cheaper.

I highly doubt deploying soldiers on the battlefield is by any means cheap.

Neither the pilot of a fighter/bomber or a drone gets to decide on the targets. They're given orders from above based on the intel provided to the commanders. So the issue isn't itchy trigger finger of the pilot, but itchy trigger finger of the commanders. The commanders have demonstrated over the last decade a willingness to send drones into situations they would not send fighters/bombers. There are few instances of US incursions with fighter aircraft over the last few years compared to the number of incursions with drones.

The US used to send aircraft straight over the USSR!

Much of that spy aircraft predating the widespread use of satellites, and certainly predating modern drone-style aircraft. The options available were different, so of course the option selected was different.

Yes, and there was a big stink on this side of the Atlantic when one was shot down.

The thinking is it is easier to dissociate consequences when they are nothing but pixels. It become more of a video game than a reality when sitting in a safe gaming pod flying the drone. It isn't fully transformed to a game, but it is to an extent.

Compare internet forums vs f2f discussion - it is much easier to end up in a flamewar saying hurtful things on the internet when your opponents are faceless words on a screen than when it's a person sitting across from you.

Look, I don't have a position in this discussion, but your argument is prototypical for much of the others in this thread and it just seems so flimsy. Here is another totally made up argument just the other way around: for a UAV pilot, and their commanders, the 'kill order' is much more rational. Soldiers get to make decisions that are not influenced by the hate against the person who 2 minutes ago shot their buddy next to them in the head. Nanking massacre? Would never happen with drone pilots.

See? I'm not saying that argument is right. It is only just as neat, simple and (probably) wrong as the 'killing through a joystick causes more casualties because it dehumanzes the process' argument.

> It matters because it changes the fundamental nature of combat.

Said about literally EVERY SINGLE change in warfare over the centuries. I am talking all the way back to armor and catapults to gunpowder based munitions, the blitzkrieg, rockets, planes, bombs, and of course nuclear weapons.

The thing is -- it is absolutely true, but it is always true, and therefore meaningless.

Lets look at the Gulf War for example -- the US lost 113 soldiers to the enemy (an addition 35 to friendly fire)... they killed "at least" 20,000 -- some estimates go as high as 35,000+(and an additional 3,500+ civilians). The asymmetry of modern warfare is nothing new, pointing to drones as some line in the sand is just, IMHO, silliness.

"It's always gotten worse, so it should always continue to get worse."

Words like "worse" and "should" are very loaded in this context. Was the blitzkrieg "worse" than the trench warfare of WW1? Was using nuclear weapons "worse" than firebombing (see: Firebombing of Toyko, Dresdon).

"Should" used to mean "probability or expectation", then yes, it "should" continue to to get "worse" (read: change).

War is a horrible endeavor at its very core. It will always be, we try to "civilize" it via rules that are always broken as soon as things become dire. It isn't the implements or efficiency that are the problem, but the waging of combat itself.

In fairness, US owned and piloted planes are very, very, very unlikely to be shot down. There is probably more risk of a crash landing on an aircraft carrier than any of those countries shooting one down. There is essentially no American Life risk.

Someone should have seen this coming a long time ago and called them multistage-guided-missiles or some other name.

The term 'Drone' is basically used as link bait and confuses the argument... If we replace 'drone' with 'stealth bomber', is it now OK to bomb a wedding?

> At the time, I had friends deployed and in my head, I thought that it's better we have UAVs than my friends coming home in bodybags...

But that's the thing: in my mind more human soldiers means less potential for outright slaughtering of civilians. So more drones might end up raising the body count. in the long run; not for US soldiers, but for people you'd miss just as much if you'd happen to be born as their friends.

Quite sure that the person who makes the decision whether to deploy air to ground weaponry isn't the one sitting in the cockpit.

To be specific, the impossibility of retaliation is what differentiates drone attacks from direct human attacks. The reason it is significant is exactly what the article points out. As the article says:

> Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents.

Suppose, for argument's sake, that this is true: that America puts nearly no value on the lives of foreigners in the pursuit of foreign policy. Nevertheless, attacking so indiscriminately that weddings are targeted unknowingly would be unthinkable because of the tiny chance of retaliation. But with no chance of retaliation it becomes possible for depraved indifference to foreign lives to influence policy.

Now, you may not agree that American foreign policy is depraved in this fashion, but the REASON that many feel that drone strikes are morally different is because if it WAS depraved in this fashion, the use of drones would be different from the use of other military force.


> If you've played MW3

doesn't have "civilians" as a game mechanic (unlike Counter-Strike or a lot of arcade shooting games, for example), so the comparison doesn't really work.

Very interesting point, one might argue that the soldier on the ground has more of a "justification" if civilians are killed than a drone, since in the former case the soldier's life was in potentially more danger.

When a robotic combat bot/UAV is used, it is significantly harder to justify civilian casualties as it then becomes a much more cold/calculated decision. Guess it then boils down to the "precision" that is available. I don't suppose a drone can take out a single occupant in a vehicle so it's minimum quantum attack size is an entire vehicle and hence the additional casualties.

This bot driven warfare is some scary ass technology with a huge potential for abuse. Even if a future UAVs could target a single individual, that type of technology would have any aspiring dictator salivating at the thought...

Fighter pilots now have very little risk of being shot down. The only real difference is the cost like you mentioned.

In a word, commoditization.

Regular aircraft are "expensive." They're literally expensive, in dollar terms, but even ignoring that they're logistically and operationally resource-intensive to operate. You only have so much airpower at your disposal, you're limited by flight deck space and pilot availability, you want to keep some in reserve, and aircraft are a bitch to maintain. Like, a week in service per day of flight time.

Basically, you default to not using them. You don't bust them out unless you have good reason to. You don't just cruise around looking for people who look suspicious, because that would be a tremendous waste of resources that could be better-spent elsewhere. Like transporting supplies for the troops on the ground. You only bust out the planes when you have solid, definitive, verified evidence that there is something that should get blown up.

Drones flip that around. You can't quite go cruisin' around just looking for stuff, but it's worth the time & effort to check out quite a few of your semi-sketchy tips. Now you're doing a lot more operations, on less-reliable intel, and the risk of cock-ups rises significantly. But because the drones are remote, none of that risk is borne by any member of the military performing the operations; all the extra risk falls on the local civilian population. I don't think many people partaking in these operations are intentionally heartless, but this is a classic case of moral hazard, and on the margin more aggressive, risk-taking behavior is incentivized.

Additionally, putting a drone in the sky is faster than putting a regular plane in the sky. This means that planes tend to be used only against 'static' targets, which gives you an opportunity to scout & verify. Drones allow you to hit 'time-sensitive' targets, which means you are now making time-sensitive decisions. A wedding party got hit because some dude had literally minutes (or less) to decide if a collection of vehicles was a wedding or an armed convoy. I take it as axiomatic that the added time-pressure increases the number of wrong decisions.

>Like, a week in service per day of flight time.

When you read hours of maintenance per flight hour, you should remember that much of the maintenance is done on parts which are being rebuilt off the airframe.

>Now you're doing a lot more operations, on less-reliable intel, and the risk of cock-ups rises significantly.

Please provide a citation for this claim, as it is not self evident. Many claim that the increased loiter time of UAVs allow for better timing and targeting, and there has been video evidence of this. You may be correct, but you still bear the burden of evidence when you make this claim.

>putting a drone in the sky is faster than putting a regular plane in the sky.

This is untrue, as the USA has had B1 and B52 bombers continuously in flight over Afghanistan for weeks on end at many points in the war, to provide air support for ground forces. Most strike aircraft and bombers are also much faster than the UAVs.

I think the point is that the drone strikes are happening in places where the US isn't even at war. They're just bombing any place they feel like and apparently not having a pilot sitting there seems to make it ok, or something...

That's not new either. The US carried out airstrikes in Iraq throughout the 90s despite not being "at war".

I would think that it matters because the drones make killing more efficient (both in terms of financial costs and life-risk to the pilot). In other words, if manned aircraft were killing huge groups of innocents on their own, it would stand to reason that drones open the floodgates to exacerbating that problem.

It is probably easier to get pilots to bomb civilians with a Playstation controller in what looks and feels like a video game, than an actual person present.

It's not a question of "ease". Military pilots take orders; COs tell them how high to jump, and that's what they do. Either they follow orders or they are relieved of duty (and possibly face court martial).

Some drones are operated by a division of the CIA and are out of military control, however. This is probably the most worrisome aspect of the program.

However, as long as 99% of their targets are bad guys, Americans are going to continue supporting the program. It's zero risk for American pilots, and everyone likes to read about more dead terrorists with their morning coffee. More points to whoever's in charge.

Governments like Yemen's will also support it because #1 it does their dirty work for them, and #2 they can blame an evil foreign power. Win-win.

"However, as long as 99% of their targets are bad guys, Americans are going to continue supporting the program."

The problem here is that 100% of the targets are bad guys while seemingly a very low percentage of the casualties are. Americans continue to support the program because the media does not do it's job. Instead they act as a mouth piece, a cheer leader, instead of doing actual journalism.

The War on Terror, much like the War on Drugs, is a utter failure. It has ZERO chance of being successful because of tactics like this.

> Military pilots take orders; COs tell them how high to jump, and that's what they do.

Do you really think that the disconnection doesn't have an effect on some level? Whether it's the number of people signing up at all, being ready for a mission, or actually following orders?

How many people would follow the order of shooting from a controlled plane to unsuspecting people in a convoy -vs- an order to take a knife and kill an unarmed not resisting person in front of them? The end result is the same. Giving them enough distance just makes it much much easier.

Undoubtedly the video game quality of the drone program abstracts the carnage and makes it easier for the operator to sleep at night.

I recently stumbled upon an excellent, but slightly dark, browser game which explores these kind of themes. You play the role of a military drone pilot going about his everyday menial tasks.



> Military pilots take orders; COs tell them how high to jump, and that's what they do. Either they follow orders or they are relieved of duty (and possibly face court martial).

Even so, and despite all the training, some do refuse orders. They're also at least theoretically obliged to refuse illegal orders (i.e. war crimes), at least in my country.

Different countries have different definitions of what constitutes a war crime, depending on what international treaties they are parties to. Bombing wedding parties would come under what is often referred to as the Principle of Proportionality, as laid out in Article 51 of Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions and Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The United States is not a party to either treaty.

Since when is the US not a party to the Geneva Conventions?

Protocol I and Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are later agreements that added to the 1949 Conventions, the United States is not a party to either Protocol, though it is a party to all four of the 1949 Conventions.

Ah I see now. Thanks for clarifying.

Sure, and those who refuse get replaced by new ones who won't. Doesn't take long to "fix" that "problem".

>> It's not a question of "ease".

I think the previous commenter was speaking on the level of disconnect between a drone pilot and their intended targets. It's much, much easier for someone to go through with clicking a button and watching an explosion on a screen than it is to say, murder each of those people if they were in the same room.

Millions of dead from WW2 strategic bombing, disagree with you.

Wholly different scenario, fighting a real war against a tech-equivalent enemy.

Tens of millions of civilians died during the two wars.

Tech equivalency is a meaningless concept and it is completely stupid to apply it in particular to WW2 where the majority of civilians never asked or wanted a war to begin with.

Millions of Japanese civilians were tech-equivalent?

yeah in 44/45 a b29 raid vs what ever the Japanese air force could cobble together is really equivalent.

That would imply we people have trouble killing on a battlefield which would seem to be patently false.

Soldiers do have trouble killing on the battlefield; have a read about "operant conditioning", a psychological technique used in modern training to overcome it.


General Marshall discovered after WW2 that only 15% of front-line soldiers even fired their weapon at the enemy. Even soldiers don't like to kill enemy troops in the middle of a battle!

Well, first, his claim was 25%, and while my understanding is that it did end up leading to changes in training, you should at least acknowledge the large disputes on how he reached that number (e.g. based almost entirely on interviews available to him opportunistically, no documented methodology, etc).

Easier, and cheaper.

That's a really good point, and I think that it come in the name "drone." These aircraft are NOT "drones." They do not perform menial labor and they are not "thoughtless." They do not perform automated attacks. These are units of force projection that the U.S. military uses as part of a psychological warfare campaign against citizens that it deems to be a threat (or, in other words, pretty much the entire planet).

It is so annoying when the hyperbole grows to the point of ridiculousness.

You can argue about force projection all you want but the US is not trying to engage in some warfare campaign against the entire planet.

I don't know that I agree 100%.

We deploy drones in places where there are perceived terrorist threats. As you can see in collateral murder, all you have to do to be perceived as a threat is to be alive. This tells me that the U.S. government is overly paranoid.

Next, we are or will soon be deploying drones right here in the U.S. That tells me that the government perceives its own citizens as a threat or as a possible threat. This is backed up by the fact that they 'accidentally' collect U.S. citizen electronic communications.

The U.S. government makes far too many "accidents" for them to all be truly accidental.

I'm glad we can argue semantics while the world burns.

Suppose I ask you how you feel about murdering babies. Then I ask you how you feel about terminating fetuses. The way that I phrase the question is going to influence how you respond. There is a difference between "job creators", "business owners", and "fat cats", even though each of them refers to the same thing.

Words are important, and language frames every issue. "Drones" as opposed to "unmanned aircraft" or "unmanned assault aircraft" is a huge difference in perception.

Which is exactly my point of course, "drone strikes" has a certain, extremely negative connotation. Making a big fuss how they "arnt really drones you see, its just force projection" smells a lot like "enhanced interrogation" and other attempts to euphanise atrocities behind some neat, sterile sounding language.

No I'm not arguing, my point is that the terminology is what makes people so comfortable with it. It's a lot easier to be angry about a pilot or a gunner accidentally killing someone than it is to get angry about a drone, because I think a lot of people believe that drones are autonomous craft that fly around without being piloted. It's in the name "drone."

I think that's why the U.S. military popularizes the term drone over "unmanned aircraft" which even then isn't true - it's a remotely manned aircraft.

Actually, the world isn't burning. Everyone should be glad if we're talking about a wedding party bombed as a single, rare incident - if the same pilots were doing proper bombardment instead of those drones, as in previous wars, then we'd have a bunch of wedding parties killed every day and they'd be invisible in the total casualty list of a major city firebombing or napalming of a few villages.

The 'world burning' today is ten times less of actual burning than in, say, US actions in Vietnam or Korea, and hundred times less than ww1/ww2 - I'm glad that the scale of suffering is shrinking so much.

Right. Dead is dead. And hitting a wedding was a consequence of an ongoing policy carried over from the previous administration.




I think this is the point. Because we're not putting our own lives at risk, we're actually getting more callous about it. This seems paradoxical, but I believe it's true.

When we declare war on Yemen you'll be right. This is more akin to the bombings in Cambodia.

The use of manned bombers has occurred in "police actions" over and over

Yeah, it worked so well subduing MOVE! [1]

But in all seriousness, this isn't police action, its a foreign power.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOVE#1985_bombing

This is an interesting point... I think it matters - possibly for a different reason. If you imagine from the ground: a terrorist car bomb VS a drone strike, they're virtually indistinguishable. Both are explosions without warning by the 'enemy.' It's almost a joke that people condemn terrorist acts and respond in kind.

Almost, but not quite. The difference would be that the US isn't killing civilians just for the sake of killing civilians to cause terror.

That is exactly what they are doing. Terrorism is all about relatively minor, cheap, covert strikes against somebody perceived as the enemy.

The USA wont kill everyone that opposes them with such a campaign, but the point is the same as "terrorism", to send a message of fear if you dare oppose us, or associate with people who oppose us, damn the "collateral damage".

Make no bones about it, this is exactly the same kind of asymmetrical warfare that the USA itself condemns as terrorism.

I mean, yeah, that's what we're told. But the fact remains - drone strikes create terror. And on the other side, believing terrorist acts are simply to create terror is naive.

Who says that it does matter? I think the reaction would have been very similar if a manned aircraft had bombed the wedding party. Do you have any recent instances of mass civilian casualties resulting from a "conventional" bomb strike that got ignored?

Would you think we can apply this same argument when it happens to be an american wedding?? Hell no. drones or no drones, we will definitely have some policy changes and definitely some heads will roll.

If the United States had firebombed Denver instead of Dresden, yes, the US government would have made sure it didn't happen again.

For what it's worth, people had similar debates about the morality of using manned aircraft when airplanes were first invented.

The way America is conducting the war on terror is both self-defeating and morally repugnant.

It is profitable.

If terrorists disappeared tomorrow. Let's say we use our surgical strike weapons to target every cell every member, and in one hour they are gone. What would happen? Billions of dollars disappear from the pockets of everyone in the chain. Military contractors, drone maintenance, promotions, bonuses, career advancements, no more completed missions, medals, no job to go to.

So the direct financial and career incentive for everyone in the chain is to always make sure there is a stream of new terrorists, new cells, new intelligence chatter about "the Great Satan". And that is indirectly accomplished by indiscriminately bombing civilians. Everyone who is involved in picking the target and knows it is a funeral, will know civilians will die. I can't help but think they also know it is job insurance as well. They would be stupid not to.

American public via media has been tested enough during releases of so many atrocities, torture tapes, lies, monitoring that by now, I think they've built an accurate model of how much outrage will be generated and how much will actually threaten future operations, funding, reelection and so on (so far not much).

The bottom line, I don't even know and 100% believe them when they say these are all "mistakes". The incentives and the motivation, especially in the long term, is for them not to really care if civilians get bombed.

You realize that the fiction of a coherent "Military Industrial Complex" has been debunked several times right? One by the General Accounting Office showed that military contractors actually had higher profits in peacetime than wartime because they got money for 'research' and didn't have to actually produce any product.

It doesn't require coherent, self-identification to exist.

It doesn't need to make more profits during wartime than in peacetime to exist.

It only needs to have multiple actors whose interests align to produce more military funding and hardware than is needed to defend the nation.

Not that I necessarily buy in to the idea of "a coherent Military-Industrial Complex", but this doesn't really debunk much. It seems to me that peacetime profits for military contractors are dependent on the assumption that there's going to be wartime usage of the research they're doing in the short- to medium-term. Surely if we went a significant period without any military engagements, there would be far less of a push to fund the research of military contractors (I know that military research tends to make it into the consumer sphere and make us all better off, but that's definitely not what motivates the funding).

Except we don't live in that fantasy world. In reality there always is, and always has been, war looming on the horizon. Maybe we'll someday achieve a utopian, Star Trek like existence, but I don't imagine it will be anytime soon.

You misunderstand my comment. I'm not talking about a world in which war doesn't exist, but one in which a given country doesn't have constant military engagement. There's no need to think about whether this is possible, because there are plenty of countries for whom this is already true. Obviously many of these countries (Europe et al) are able to do this in large part _because_ of the US military, so I'm not suggesting that it's as simple as "we should stop having military engagements entirely". It's naive to think that we don't also reap benefits from being in a position of what's essentially military hegemony. But this doesn't really debunk the theory one might have about industry's role in ensuring that the US stays in this position.

EDIT to add: The binary way you're looking at it is also way off from reality; It seems self-evident that the more often one has military engagements, the easier it is to convince those in charge that more money should flow to military expenditures (which includes peacetime research). It's not the simple case of "constant war = military spending" vs "utopia = no military spending" that you're describing.

US doesn't have a looking war on its horizon. I will be happy to hear arguments if you don't agree.

It's not a matter of knowing that a specific war is coming, it's a matter of preparing for what may come. Wars (or, at least, situations which require military intervention) happen all of the time. As such, we will always be preparing for the next one.

The point is that humans are always fighting with one another. Until that stops there will always be a war looming.

That's cute that you think there is an inherent existential threat imposed by the rest of the world that wasn't deliberately exacerbated by those interests who stand to profit from such conflict.

Well I'm flattered that you think I'm cute, but I'm not sure where you pulled any of the other nonsense you wrote from (I have an idea). I never made any of the arguments that you claim I have.

If you read the parent, he doesn't buy the debunking of the industrial military complex because, in a theoretical world where war is not a common occurrence, the conclusion doesn't hold water. Well, that's nice, but in the real world, war happens. A lot. It always has and it still does.

The reason for this is irrelevant. You talk about war being manufactured for personal gain (with no proof I would add, but whatever). True or not, it's irrelevant. We're talking about human nature here. Do you really think a time will come in which everyone is moral and good and wars cease to occur?

If you do then you believe that we will somehow alter whatever it is that brings people like this into existence. I hope you're right, but for now you're living in a fairy tale. I prefer to deal with reality as it is, not what I wish it were.

I didn't say it is coherent. Systems sometimes seem coherent, which feeds simplistic conspiracy theories (also serve as a straw man counter-argument). In reality complex systems are decentralized but often are evolving according to some rules. Those rules make it seem as it is a coherent large system. Think of an ant hill, a beehive, how large organizations are structured bureaucratically.

Chomsky, for example, analyses this in respect to the media. Large media ends up acting in sync with government's propaganda because there are set of constraints and incentive s built in. From outside they often act _as if_ they are centrally controlled by a single government party.

Not too much peacetime going on:


surprising they'd forget the Korean war on there.

Ha, didnt notice that! Korea really was the Forgotten War.

Because it didn't end technically N and South are still at war

True, but this is in reference to the US at war...

No, I didn't realize that. But if you have some credible sources, I'd love to read it.

Debunked by whom?

You know what would help "debunk" such a thing; if there was a site where every single investment made by any member of congress was required to be listed.

That sounds extremely unlikely. Most research projects don't get hundreds of millions of dollars of funding, while a single F-22 costs upwards of $150 million.

The total program cost of the F22 is $66 billion. On a Pentagon spending request site they put the per unit cost as $354 million if you include R&D and procurement costs. So maybe it's more likely than you might think.

I wonder then, what is your explanation of why the US military behaves the way it does?

In aggregate (military contractors) sure, but there's no doubt individuals who benefit more during war time than peacetime.

One does not need to be at war in order to be a MIC.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You have made these accusations without any evidence. Be responsible and ethical and show us something real, if you have it. (note: I am not taking sides.)

There's really nothing extraordinary here; it's just boring old business-as-usual American politics.

Consider reactions to the idea that we cancel the Joint Strike Fighter program. Long story short, every politician who had a contractor working on the project in his constituency started making noise about all the jobs that would be lost if we were to shut down the program. No secret conspiracy; that was an open debate that happened in the public sector, and which many Americans were talking about over dinner.

Even the actual influencing of decisions to engage in hostilities is so everyday as to be unremarkable. For example, the big defense contractors spent a whole lot of money lobbying members of Congress to convince them that the 2009 Afghanisatan surge was a good idea. I think some wonks wrote columns about it in Foreign Policy magazine, but otherwise the news was barely even noticed.

As for how that leads to a sort of "continuous warfare" policy where we're always on the lookout for new enemies. . . I think that just emerges. If you've spending billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer money on some new toy, then at some point someone's going to start asking why. And of course if your job is tied to a project, the very last thing you're going to say is, "No reason, actually this is a pretty silly lark if you ask me." So folks start coming up with hypothetical adversaries, and starts inventing war games and conducting exercises built around these hypotheses. And things just sort of roll along from there.

We know that people go after profits. Nothing extraordinary here. What is extraordinary is the assertion that people acted unethically and (probably) also illegally.

Wall street traders were confronted with the proof that their speculation on produce futures was causing famine and actual, real deaths. They were aware, they just didn't care.

People acting unethically for profit is pretty much the American way, isn't it? It seems to me that if there's a buck in it and it's not illegal (or you can get away with it) it's pretty much justified in the US.

I don't think direct written orders have been issued to bomb civilians. What I believe is that it is left to be decided verbally or via other non-verbal signaling. Ex. "Make sure the job gets done well, wink, wink". Or just pay more per missions flown, and don't really bother punishing past mistakes. Pretty often "mistakes" become routine. Those in the chain very quickly assimilate incentive structures.

What part is illegal?

I'm guessing cscurmudgeon is arguing that it isn't.

Which, in my opinion, isn't necessarily a terribly useful question.

When it comes to where the law belongs in relation to pragmatism and ethics, I'm inclined to say that the cart belongs firmly behind both horses.

I don't really care if it's unethical or illegal. I personally just don't want to be taxed to pay for it.

> things just sort of roll along from there

“They actually like deploying. So when you go visit them in Afghanistan, in the western Pacific, you don't get questions like, ‘Oh, shoot, what's sequester going to do to me?’ They know how to spell it, but that's about it. They want to know, ‘Hey, Commandant, you know, is this going to be the last deployment I'm going to get on, or am I going to actually be able to go to combat again or be able to go to WESTPAC (western pacific) again,” Amos said. “So our morale's pretty high right now, and I think it's going to stay high as long as we give them something to look forward to. The reorientation to the Pacific has just reenergized a lot of Marines as they think about Afghanistan: ‘My gosh, we're coming out of there in 2014. What's left?’ Well, we talk about Darwin, Australia. We talk about Japan. We talk about Guam. And their eyes light up.”


> Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

For how many years were people dismissed as nutjobs and "conspiracy theorists" when they talked about NSA spying? Now we know it was all true. Would you like to make a bet as to whether or not the US military-industrial complex acts in its own self-interest when comes to the "War on Terror"? When it comes down to it, there is nothing particularly "extraordinary" about these claims.

> You have made these accusations without any evidence.

The evidence is circumstantial and based on past behavior patterns of the US government. Read "Decent Interval" and its follow-up "Irreparable Harm" by Frank Snepp, or "State of War" by James Risen (for something more recent) to get started on this history. Again, there is nothing "extraordinary" about the previous poster's claims.

>For how many years were people dismissed as nutjobs and "conspiracy theorists" when they talked about NSA spying? Now we know it was all true.

Just because it is true, doesn't mean those people aren't nutjobs or conspiracy theorists.

It's also not at all logical to say:

[Unlikely thing X] came true! Therefore, [unlikely thing Y] will, too!

Even if X and Y were incredibly similar -- in this case they aren't, at all -- that's still not a logical assumption. It's not even evidence toward Y.

There is your problem, you think unlikely thing x came true when in truth it was likely.

I'm curious what your definition of "nutjob" is, given that you would apparently apply it even to people who are correct about all of their theories.

>I'm curious what your definition of "nutjob" is

I don't really have one but if you must, it's probably someone with a dissociative disorder. I'm just noting that you don't have to be sane to be right.

>given that you would apparently apply it even to people who are correct about all of their theories.

When exactly did I say that?

You clearly implied that nutjob status is not correlated to the correctness of one's claims.

I am very sad that we did not actually land on the Moon after all. :(

It's a simple economic analysis. People tend (this word is important) to follow their incentives. If a person on welfare faces a high effective marginal tax when they start working (due to paying taxes plus losing benefits) they will not start working. If a CEO is compensated exclusively based on short-term share price, they will ramp up the share price even if they have to hurt the company to do it.

We have seen mountains of evidence that people follow their incentives even when those incentives lead to perverse, counter-productive behaviors. It's basically what the entire "Freakonomics" franchise is built on, for example.

We also know that the incentives faced by the military establishment are pushing toward more war, more violence. This is obvious, just look at the early '90s when we thought the world was going to be more peaceful. We cut back on military spending, military contractors howled and screamed.

So, while we have no direct evidence that anyone in the military establishment is willfully disregarding civilian casualties, we do have extremely strong inferential evidence that some people in the military establishment are likely to do so, now, in the past, and in the future.

Arguments like this are logically wrong. I am glad you are not a judge in real life (hint: why is racial profiling wrong?)

Yes, the argument is logically wrong... but logic is not the only mental resource we have to make sense of the world. By example, if we agreed that the truth can only be called "truth" if it is derived by "logic", there would be no scientific method, and we would still be killing each other with swords because there is no logical way to figure out, let alone unmanned flying devices, but any sort of flying machine heavier than air. Instead, you would be arguing that it is "illogical" for a simple peasant to be able to kill a noble knight that has been training in the art of war for his whole life... so those damned crossbow mercenaries are cheating and ought not to exist.

And for the example you offer, judges' very job description require them to narrow down on a case by case basis, and to make a decision based on the evidence available, beyond reasonable doubt. The ethical principle that requires this to be so is that the asymmetry of power between the individual and the State is so big that it is most fair for the whole process to start with a bias in favor of the individual.

Other situations require a different kind of analysis. And the consequence to apply this level of precision to political analysis is that no analysis (and no criticism to the de-facto policies that are guarantied to emerge anyways in this vacum of knowledge) is ever possible.

Why is this logically wrong? I think it's a given that people/corporations follow economic incentives. We even have a legally binding phrase for that to protect shareholders. No one is making explicit accusations, just pointing out that privatizing certain industries (prisons, military, etc) can lead to perverse incentives.

Please explain why it is logically wrong, and also explain why an economic analysis of a situation has anything to do with being a judge. Judges don't use pure logic, they apply logic, and a whole bunch of other tools, to the law. My comments had nothing, repeat NOTHING, to do with the law. I was merely commenting on the reasonableness of assuming that certain things are happening behind (intentionally) closed doors within the military community.

This is not a question of whether some specific person is a bad person. It's a question of whether the current incentive scheme leads to certain aggregate behavior.

Care to point out which part of argument you find logically wrong ? I mean I find it correct and I find your hint actually hinting that you are not getting it.

Blowing up a wedding is not extraordinary? 'Not taking sides' doesn't cut it - you're either doing your bit to end drone strikes like these, or you are morally bankrupt. There is no fence sitting when civilians are being blown up.

Civilians are blown up in every war, drones did not create this problem, and eliminating UAVs will not end it. If you want people to be "doing your bit to end drone strikes", you should consider that the probable counter-factual is not an end to non-combatant (civilian) deaths; civilian mortality may increase, decrease, or stay the same, depending on what tactics are chosen to replace drones.

Sorry - by drone strikes I was actually incorrectly implying the broader picture. I mean end attacks on civilians in countries you are not even at war with. There really is no moral justification for blowing these people up. Even if they were terrorists, there is no way they could have done as much damage as the slaughter of a whole wedding. The 'cure' is far worse than the illness.

> Even if they were terrorists, there is no way they could have done as much damage as the slaughter of a whole wedding.

Erm, why? You're saying terrorists can't kill 14 people?

There were more civilians deaths thatn this. If you are saying that expected number of people killed by expected number of terrorists this wedding could possibly be 14 or higher then no, it couldn't. As side effect by blowing up civilians you are creating more resentment leading to more terrorists.

> If you are saying that expected number of people killed by expected number of terrorists this wedding could possibly be 14 or higher then no, it couldn't


Thanks for the clarification, I now understand your position. I will not address the normative moral views, because everyone should make up their own mind; and I have no evidence to either prove or falsify your statement about the likely consequences of the deaths, but it seems reasonably likely (to me).

> Civilians are blown up in every war

Yes, but this isn't a war. It's a bunch of crude assassinations. There are no meaningful military objectives regrettably costing some civilian lives; these drone strikes are the primary act of war, and they accomplish nothing of value. They just breed more enemies.

What war are you talking about? What is the objective? What would have to happen for this 'war' to end?

> What war are you talking about?

Presumably the one that was either (a) initiated by the 9/11 attacks and formally recognized as already existing by Congress in Public Law 107-40, or (b) was provoked by the 9/11 attacks and declared by Congress in Public Law 107-40, depending on how you choose to look at it.

> What is the objective?

"to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by" "those nations, organizations, or persons [the President determines] planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001".

> What would have to happen for this 'war' to end?

Given the rather fluid definition in PL 107-40, it is not clear that it could formally and completely end absent a subsequent resolution of Congress terminating it.

The AUMF is not a declaration of war; it expressly avoids being called a "war" in much the same way as ye olde Vietnam. What it is is probably illegal under international law, but nobody has the standing to make the United States back down.

> The AUMF is not a declaration of war

It most certainly is an exercise of Congress' Constitutional power to declare war. It may not be a formal declaration of war under international law, but those are two very different things.

> it expressly avoids being called a "war" in much the same way as ye olde Vietnam.

Vietnam was also a war for which Congress exercised its Constitutional power to declare war. See, e.g., Orlando v. Laird, 443 F.2d 1039 (2nd Cir., 1971).

> What it is is probably illegal under international law

Please cite the provision of international law (either a treaty to which the US is a party, or a generally accepted provision of customary international law -- and, if the latter, please also provide evidence that the cited principle is a generally accepted provision of customary international law) under which the AUMF itself is illegal.

When you have an army shooting at people in a foreign country, there is a war; call it whatever you want.

So, as a New Zealander, I can hire some people to gun down innocents in the US and be on the moral high ground because I'm conducting a 'war' and not terrorism? Neato.

I have never said that war is virtuous.

'Some people' do not make an army.[1]

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/army

Weddings are not war zones.

> Weddings are not war zones.

But they can take place in them, and, more to the point, the problem that needs to be addressed in the legalities of modern war is that modern wars, increasingly, don't have "zones" at all.

I never said they were, and I do not understand how you could think I did.

If you were actually at war with Pakistan, then civilian deaths there might be explainable as collateral damage. But last time I checked, they're a US ally. Killing innocent citizens of your allies is not an act of war, it's terrorism.

It is possible to be fighting a war in an allied country, (i.e. England in France throughout WWI).

Well we'd need someone like Snowden that might leak or expose the decision process. We bomb people in countries we are not even at war with. We sentence people to death, and we keep tight control over how we do it. There is no public trial happening, no jury.

It seems to me that the incentives structure rewards a continued War On Terror. Everyone directly involved in it, tends to profit from maintaining it.

Also I refuse to blindly believe in the inherent goodness or extraordinary purity of heart of those involved. You ask for extraordinary evidence that they are incentivized to kill. Ok, I can also turn it around and take the point that those involved are by default bad, don't have pure motives, are evil and are motivated by money or desire to inflict pain and require extraordinary evidence to prove the opposite.

We have seen them lie time and time again. To the people, to Congress. At this point they have the burden of proof that their have good and pure motives at the core of their decision making. Sorry, they lost the confidence that once might have been placed in them.

Let me guess, you think there's a cure for cancer but the doctors are withholding it and Exxon Mobil bought the patent for a combustion engine that would achieve 100+ mpg.

Any industry that is built on addressing problems that people naturally have is going to generate lots of revenue. It has been proven that people naturally fight with each other. People fight over race, religion, sports, politics, and territory. Nations do the same thing.

If you think it would end terrorism by killing all current terrorists and if you think it would even be possible, I think you're misguided.

It doesn't matter what he or you think is likely happening right now. The fact is there is a conflict of incentives and in such situations people act according to the ones the closest to their personal ones. We can't expect people to be heroes against their own personal interest.

It won't change until people in the chain have incentives to avoid war.

Now let's think how to accomplish it: maybe there should be huge tax on profits for military contractors in the time when operations are going ? Maybe private for-profit military contractors have to go in the first place ? Maybe we shouldn't pay them for every piece of equipment but only for time spent working ?

As to people in the field, there are some ideas as well like freezing all bonuses during the military operations and such. The thing is it has to be profitable for individuals involved to seek peace not war. The war machine is never going to stop otherwise. The balance should be such that once high command in charge feel it's necessary to start military operations they should meet at least some resistance from rest of the chain not "fuck yeah sir!" as it is now.

I worked for defence companies in the past. There are no morals and ethics. Just profit and plunder. The parent of your post is spot on.

"I worked for war companies in the past"

Exactly that.

And I'm fucking ashamed of myself for doing it, unlike the other 132000 employees who still work there.

I was naive to the point of being stupid.

Thank you for having the integrity to not try to justify the time you spent and the money you made by enabling these madmen.

I admire your intellectual honesty, you don't see it very often when it comes to criticizing one's own actions.

Let me guess, you said something similar to all the people that said the NSA were tracking everyone.

They laughed at Einstein[0] but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

The truth of one conspiracy cannot be used as evidence for the truth of others. It simply doesn't make sense.

[0] They didn't really laugh at Einstein, but you get the idea.

The metaphor in your argument is dependent on the fact that Einstein and Bozo are two separate entities.

Once Einstein[0] had published his theory of relativity people stopped laughing, and they never laughed at him again.

[0] They still didn't laugh at Einstein, but you get the idea.

Hmm, now that is really interesting! My initial reaction to your question is, "Of course they're separate entities." But then the person I'm replying to probably thinks, "Of course they're a single entity."

Is that the true division between conspiracy-minded people and others?

I don't agree with rdtsc's either, and I am not "conspiracy-minded" just because I point out that your einstein-clown argument is fallacious.

Therefore I would not like to draw that line. I would however say it's a division between our views. I do believe that a government can be considered a single entity. Care to explain why you disagree?

The government is a collection of a lot of different entities with different views, resources, and goals. It doesn't make sense to me to say that e.g. the FDA and the NSA are part of the same entity.

Furthermore, what's being discussed involves non-government actors too. Exxon, doctors, and defense contractors are entities outside the government.

"Any industry that is built on addressing problems that people naturally have is going to generate lots of revenue."

And in the meantime, if they can make people think they have those problems, that would be even more revenue.

Like the pharmaceutical industry that sell you drugs for diseases you didn't even know existed. Or cigarettes manufacturers that want to solve your problem of not being addicted to nicotine...

I have to agree. Someone out there benefits from every single bad thing that happens out there: securities fraud, child abuse, cancer, money laundering, murder, etc, etc.

Using the same logic, nothing should ever get better because those who benefit from "bad things" will never allow them to be stopped.

The difference is, in the OP's argument, the people whose job it is to stop these bad things are also the ones who are benefitting from it. Normally, it is the police's job to stop child abuse. However, if the police force happens to be running the child abuse ring, they are not going to do anything to stop it themselves. In such a situation, there is no incentive for these things to stop.

(Note: I'm not convinced war profiteering is the driving motivator for the NSA, just pointing out the fallacy in your argument.)

Sure it still work... let's look at my list:

securities fraud - all those jobs at the SEC would disappear if they ended securities fraud, therefore they must not really want to stop it

child abuse - the cops, social workers and judges would lose their jobs if child abuse stopped, therefore they must not really want to stop it

cancer - oncologists would have no job if cancer was cured, therefore they must not really want to stop it

money laundering - DOJ would lose their jobs if there was no money laundering, therefore they must not really want to stop it

murder - cops would lose their jobs if there was no murder, therefore they must not really want to stop it

And you can't say those people I noted above are not a part of the power structure...

> Using the same logic, nothing should ever get better because those who benefit from "bad things" will never allow them to be stopped.

Thats not true because it ignores existing structures of power.

A common thief benefits from the bad things they do, but has no power to influence those that might seek to stop him, and so is convicted.

A banker who committed fraud (read: stole) during the recent financial crisis has the power of capital and lobby behind them, and walks.

The existing structures of power in place are actually designed to stop many of the bad things you describe, however there is nothing intrinsically moral about them so they can be corrupted by capital and lobbyists.

It's all about capabilities.

Back in the 80's and 90's, people who insisted the NSA did all this or that really couldn't explain how the technology would work to do all that. People insisted spy satellites could read my newspaper, yada yada.

About 5 years ago, the chips, scale-out HW, storage and Linux (thanks submitters!) reached the point where the known daily capacity of information stream or their meta could be stored by someone like the NSA or Google.

One just needs to assume technical capabilities is what defines reality.

Usenet, before Sept 1993, carried the rumor that "the CIA" was archiving all Usenet posts.

I don't think that was too off-the-wall, even in 1988 or '89.

I can recall, although not google up, at least one back-of-the-envelope effort to figure out if some organization could store all internet traffic. I think the answer was "yes", and this was done maybe 5 years ago.

> Military contractors, drone maintenance, promotions, bonuses, career advancements, no more completed missions, medals, no job to go to.

You forgot the one group of people who could actually stop this, literally overnight: Politicians.

Aren't they in the pocket, though?

They might be, but that doesn't change the fact that they have the full legal power to pull the plug on this and that nobody else on the list has that.

I will continue to refuse to believe American military personnel choose to strike otherwise-collateral civilian targets.

You're talking about moral humans, here. Our soldiers/airmen/marines/sailors are not soulless automatons, nor are officers that develop strategy and provide direction. Nor would I consider their pay to be either incentive or motivation.

Then you're a fool. Operation Northwoods[1] talked about killing American civilians on American soil. It had the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the Secretary of Defense. So let's not think that there isn't precedent.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

> You're talking about moral humans, here.

I'm sorry to break it to you, but there are immoral individuals in the US army, especially in the high ranks (where sociopath usually meet), like everywhere else.

You must have been very busy ignoring a lot of evidence then. Not that that's unusual.

They didn't choose to strike civilian targets. They played Xbox, high-fived then went home to their nice lives. That is why drone warfare is so terrifying. It makes evil into something banal.

Go watch one of those helicopter/drone/warthog strike video and listen to the guys talk. There is no compassion, no remorse, nothing. They are kids playing a video game, chuckles and trash talk included. If they could teabag them, they would.

What does your first sentence mean? Otherwise-collateral civilian targets? Let's say for arguments sake that no civilians were intentionally targeted. Why is it ok to kill civilians at all? And what civilian death rate is acceptable to you?

For once there are a lot of unethical humans as other posters point out but it really doesn't matter. The actions to kill people are often result of many relatively innocent decisions: increase funding here, agree to some military testing there, give a bit more secrecy to some people, some more decision making power to others, write some more allowing, aggressive sounding policies and suddenly everybody does what's "necessary" and people are killed.

If incentives are in place, nature will find the way even if you can't point to one single person who actually pulled the trigger.

Do they escape culpability if they do not ever choose to intentionally "strike otherwise-collateral civilian targets" but instead choose to take part in a process where there's a known error rate, and a certain amount of collateral damage will happen no matter what the intentions are?

A choice is being made in either case. Innocent people are being killed in either case.

If only we lived in a world where refusal to believe a fact changed the reality of that fact.


Read this. Follow orders or get court marshalled. Its no surprise that after objections from pilots that they started singling out people who didn't give a shit about things like ethical objectives other than shooting their target accurately.

I think you are greatly overestimating the US military's competence.

Possibly the first but its not like the USA is using indiscriminate area bombing like they did in Vietnam or the British using poison gas pre ww2 in Iraq.

Borat said it best: "We support your war of terror!"

What you say is absolutely true. But another large problem here is that the targeted countries' governments are ok with those strikes for the most part. Have you noticed that those strikes only happen in poor countries with little means of retaliation?

A large finance source for the Al-Nushra front in Africa is Jordan/Saudi Arabia. But those countries are allies to the US, so there are no drone strikes there. There are also no strikes in Iran or Syria.

Yemen government is very complicit to those strikes and it should at be mentioned in such articles.

The fact that a foreign government is okay with killing random civilians, still doesn't mean it's okay for the US to come over and actually do it.

Killing innocents from the air indiscriminately is pretty much terrorism by any definition of the word. The problem with this approach is that it turns moderates into people who hate you. If the someone bombed my family, I would hate them. It's pretty much human nature.

War cannot be conducted any other way.

The article's premise is silly -- pure and simple. If you believe war is justified in some cases, then there will be casualties. If a wedding had been hit in Germany toward the beginning of WWII, would we say US involvement should have ceased?

Involvement couldn't have ceased, since the US wasn't involved in the beginning of WWII.

For clarification, I meant at the beginning of US involvement.

Morally repugnant? I can see the case being made even if I don't agree with it.

But self-defeating? Not sure I can even see a plausible argument for that one.

Not a whole lot of choice - you want the US to just let the targets run around? Send a strike team in each time? Drop a real bomb or cruise missile (even more civilian casualties - those weapons are larger)?

What would your answer be if the "targets", instead of mysterious and scary terrorists in foreign lands, were regular boring murderers living in the US?

And not regular boring tried-and-convicted murderers, but suspected murderers who have no trial or recourse.

More like those who use persuasive hate speech.

Whenever the "targets" have been found within US jurisdiction, they have been treated as regular boring murderers!

You know what? Yes. I do. Arrest them, try them, when they reach US soil and pose a risk to the security of the US. Until then, they aren't your problem.

The funny thing is that this has been done before, but as there is not enough evidence to try them, they are locked up in Guantanamo indefinitely.

I guess drone strikes are just a cheaper solution for that problem, with less outrage than prison camps.

We have a shorter word for 'not enough evidence to try them', it's called 'innocent' or 'not guilty'.

It's very easy to not agree with the way the US government handles these sort of things, but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not doing this for shits and giggles.

It might seem nationalistic to some but it reminds me of a quote from "A Few Good Men" -

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

It's very easy to not agree with the way the North Korean government handles many things, but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not doing it for shits and giggles. After all, they have been at war for over 60 years now. It must be obvious to any patriotic Korean that the danger posed by American imperialists who still occupy the southern half of the country is ever-present and growing. Someone must guard those walls.

These types of comments are becoming the norm on HN. Perhaps someone should write a script that can generate the reciprocal of the parent like this... it'd be a neat weekend project :d

Btw, not saying the comment is bad in anyway.


And maybe eventually people will actually start thinking about the opposite position before they post something.

Or maybe they actually won't.


Yes, of course. Because there is no meaningful difference between the government of the United States and that of North Korea.

The difference is getting smaller every day. That's what this is about.

The North Korean government has liberalized a bit, but let's not give them too much credit.

It's very easy to put it in terms of "Yeah, some civilian deaths are a necessary evil which we burden our conscience with. But we do it because we have to protect our civilians", but I think it's intellectually lazy.

Because the next question that should inevitably spring up is ok, ok, but why the fuck would someone in Yemen want to kill US citizens?

Once you start answering that question, the question of morality in drone strikes becomes a lot more difficult to answer.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Al Qaeda type jihadists in Yemen who would very much like to kill U.S. citizens. Otherwise I'd agree with you that we shouldn't be there.

I think the point is that those jihadists in Yemen are the direct result of this sort of thing happening in their home towns. It's very easy to recruit someone when they just saw a whole bus of their friends and family being blown off by reasons they can't understand, from a robot in the sky, being controlled by someone miles away.

It's a whole chicken and the egg thing.

Yeah, my question was in the somewhat broader sense, as in "Why the hell is there an organization that wants to kill people halfway across the globe".

I really find this interesting.

Taken at face value, US should go and bomb with these drones a whole lot of other people too. And no, they wouldn't be "jihadists". I'm sure there is many many people in the states that very much want to kill other U.S. citizens.

Feel good nothings like this that ignore both the power and profit of the defense industry are hopelessly naive.

I also don't see how blowing away teenagers in an Afghan village who have no idea what 9/11 is, is some kind of macho statement against oppression. Pretty soon, if not already, we'll be killing young people born after 9/11. Not sure if this is the big win the GOP 'defense first' voter thinks it is. Sounds like yet another failure in policy, much like the profitable war on drugs.

When we give the nation state carte blanche on both a moral and budgetary level, expect nothing but endless abuses of power. There are 150,000 Iraqi graves that wouldn't have existed if Bush was honest. Lets not forget that. If there's a global bad guy in Nicholson's speech people should defend against, its probably the US military, and I say this as a US citizen.

saves whose lives, and why should a few of "our side" be more valuable than many of the "bad guys" (which happen to include entire families including innocent women and children)?

It should be noted as well that the entire premise of the film wasn't "the ends justify the means" but rather the exact opposite. People can do great evil while believing that every action they take is fundamentally correct and for some kind of nebulous greater good.

Unrelated, but I really hate the phrase "innocent women and children". What about the innocent men? Or the non-innocent women?

you understand that Nicholson's character in that movie was intended to illustrate the hubris and dysfunction of militarism, right? Sorkin would be amazed (actually, probably not) to see that speech being used as an actual argument...the intention was the opposite.

Eh, saves lives inside, disregards lives outside. I know it's a complicated matter, but that reasoning can't be used to justify atrocities such as this one.

"but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not doing this for shits and giggles."

Maybe you shouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt on those horrible things they are doing in your name.

Those numerous killing of civilians should require at least some questioning.

> "but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not doing this for shits and giggles."

I am very confident that I do not have to do that. How are you going to make me?

"but you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not doing this for shits and giggles."

Wait, I do? Did they pass a law or something?

Terrorism is a idea, it cannot be killed with bullets or drones.

The Terrorist we know today are a pretty much related to those people who were supported by American Intelligence agencies in the mid70-80s, against the soviet. The "Barbarians" among those folk were given advanced weapons, that America possessed, those weapons might be outdated, and America may have a upper hand, but that is only a matter of time. Sadly, this has became a chicken and egg problem.

The circle of REVENGE is a continuous one, you kill more people innocent or not, you sprout a new rebellion. They will eventually hurt you back, today or tomorrow. and the process will continue.. presidents, prime ministers would come and go by.

The only way to stop this is to actually STOP. Stop interference in ways like espoinage, drone strikes, killing of "Suspected" militants.. never given any right to appear before court.. everything. The root problem is the so called intelligence that does more than just collect information about "suspected" enemies.

Someone has to rise up and stop it. for both sides, perhaps it escape us humans sometimes, the very fact "those who are hurt are the ones who can forgive or take revenge." Thats about there it is to this.

Really sad to hear about that nameless bride/groom & family. May they R.I.P.

Not all that surpising. As was made clear during the Snowden leaks the USG doesn't consider human beings who aren't US citizens to have the same rights as Americans.

This is what I find the most troubling. I used to think the US was trying to still spread democracy worldwide but apparently internally they feel if you are foreign that means there arent any laws as to what we can and cant do.

What happens when a nation's revolutionary document becomes counterrevolutionary?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

There are two opposing views of the Declaration and the Constitution.

One view considers these documents to be the expression of the inclusive rights granted to the citizenship.

The other view considers these documents to be the definition of the extents and limits of federal and state powers.

The first view currently prevails but that was not always the case. Under the second view you can not waive your right to remain silent, or waive your right to unreasonable searches. In other words, being Mirandized doesn't grant the right. It's simply informing you of what you always have.

That's something important for you to realise. The next step is to understand that the US government didn't change much lately meaning that idea you had in your mind was never true since at least the end of the second world war. Then you get to wonder how you got to believe that in the first place.

You're right maybe it was a misunderstanding and maybe its misinformation but I couldve recalled Bush saying something along these lines about Iraq. I also believe some of my grade school teachers may have put these ideas in our head. I dont not fault them for it they were just trying to paint a rosy picture of America abroad.

Just so you anyone knows, not all americans feel the same as our govt. does.

Democracy is grown (locally), not "spread" by foreign intervention. The US didn't become a democracy itself by getting invaded. If anything, it was the opposite, it threw away the external power controlling it.

Here's something that will blow your mind. EVERY country considers its own citizens to have more rights than other countries. Otherwise we wouldn't have millions of people dying every year by preventable means. And there wouldn't be widespread despisement of refugees.

Lots of countries are passive in that they don't go out of their way to help people in other countries in the ways you suggest.

The US is active in that it's actively treating citizens of other countries as second class.

Just because other countries do something deplorable, doesn't mean the United States should do it too.

It's not all US citizens. Only well-connected, wealthy US citizens have rights. The rest of the US citizens are semi-disposable like the rest of the world.

There are two Americas now; the first consists of those who perform surveillance and the second are the suspects.

While the above parent tree of comments is mostly correct, I can't help but feel like the commenters are just regurgitating sound-bite memes. I wish there were less of an echo chamber around here.

Lead and they will follow. Or post meta-commentary without helpful value.

> USG doesn't consider human beings who aren't US citizens to have the same rights as Americans.

Of course? Ask Chinese citizens about their right to free speech.

> Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said."

> The New York Times reported in 2013 that the Obama Administration embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties, which in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.

So 5 people were of military-age and male? Given a size of 22 people, it sound reasonable. I wonder how many were children.

The business of considering all military-age males as combatants is really not all that surprising to me. I live in New York and here, in some neighborhoods, the police consider all minority males 14-40 (I really have no idea of the top end) to be suspected criminals worthy of a random search while simply walking down the street. This is the way we treat people. We deem one group of people to be a threat and they immediately lose their rights.

Edit: I seemed to have forgotten that it is black and hispanic males in New York who are stopped.

Not white males.

I don't know how I left that bit out. Edited.

> We deem one group of people to be a threat

A minority male between 14 and 40 is more likely to mug someone than a 70 year old caucasian woman; that's not something made up by racist conservatives. But if there's such a thing as rights, they must apply even to higher-threat demographics.

One interesting exercise is thinking about base rates of mugging, and likelihood ratios for mugging, and discerning your own personal "4th amendment suspension" breaking point for each percentage.

I didn't call anyone a racist conservative. Also, I dont have a breaking point for "4th amendment suspension" in the case of people not suspected of a crime walking on a public street.

> people not suspected of a crime walking on a public street.

But they are suspected of a crime, because of their demographic category.

I should have explained the thought experiment more: Suppose future sociologists identify some identifiable cluster of traits that corresponds with a 99.9% likelihood of committing a mugging on any given day--if you see someone with these traits, it's overwhelmingly likely that they've either just mugged someone, or they're just about to mug someone.

With that level of certainty, you're either in favor of unreasonably searching them and seizing their mugging weapons (or some other intrusive measure like constant monitoring), or you're in favor of unnecessary muggings.

The reason this is a thought experiment is that no real-world identifiable group is that likely to commit crimes. But there is a measurable likelihood ratio, even if treating everyone equally is more important than it.

> The New York Times reported in 2013 that the Obama Administration embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties, which in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.

How fascinating.

Obviously we need to re-count the number killed during the 9/11 attacks - surely all military-age males killed were combatants - they were just fighting in a war they didn't know had started yet.

The first quote is from Yemeni officials, while the second is describing the Obama administration's policies.

I think it is time for a world-wide ban on armed drones, period.

Just like we have international treaties for other horrible things like mustard gas.

Do all the reconnaissance you can get away with. But I don't want a tired, overworked, morally disconnected 20-something sitting in a trailer somewhere in the US, pulling a trigger to kill unquantifiable targets anywhere in the world. Or any other country doing it to anyone else for that matter.

I don't really understand the outrage over drones specifically. This constant bombing of foreign countries is terrible, but I don't understand why the "drones" part of it is also considered bad. Why is a tired, overworked, morally disconnected 20-something sitting in a trailer somewhere in the US worse than a tired, overworked, morally disconnected 20-something sitting in a cockpit of an F-16?

As mentioned in other comments in this thread:

From a political point of view, drones are much more attractive than traditional methods. You won't see the corpses of dead Americans being dragged through Mogadishu with drones. You won't see captured pilots being paraded in front of a camera with drones.

We won't see captured pilots being paraded in front of a camera with regular piloted aircraft either, not ones flown by the US against any likely current target.

I suggest googling F117 and Serbia.

I suggest googling "how to make points in a less irritating and confrontational way than telling people that you suggest googling something".

In any case, I remember it fairly well, no need to look it up. Which current likely target is a heavily-armed state with a strong air defense system?

(North Korea is a possibility, although I have to wonder just how good their air defenses are these days. It also strikes me as a target where drones would be a great idea if it ever comes down to a shooting war.)

I'd also like to note that the F-117 shootdown didn't involve the pilot being captured, much less paraded in front of a camera, although he certainly could have been.

Cheaper, no risk to personnel, personnel don't need to leave the country and families, less public opposition in general means that drone strikes are far more likely to be used compared with conventional attacks even though logically there isn't much of an ethical difference (except for a breach of Geneva conventions by having drone operators stay in civilian areas) given that a strike occurs.


This is simply not true, the US has both signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention [1], though it still has to destroy some of their stockpile [2].

[1] http://www.opcw.org/about-opcw/member-states/

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/11/us/u-s-chemical-weapons/

This piqued my interest. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, was signed by the United States on the same day it was opened, January 13th 1993 [1]. It came into force in 1997.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Chemical...

I was cast into doubt by the same comment. The United States military does not make use of even things like pepper spray as a non-lethal weapon specifically because of being a signatory of treaties against use of any chemical warfare.

Pepper spray is useless in a combat situation. Wind and other factors mean that it could benefit your enemy more than you (same with other chemical weapons). Also, why bother when we have flash-bang grenades, sonic weapons, and white phosphorous. Not to mention, in war deadly force is authorized under even the most trivial of circumstances. Why pepper spray a guy and take a risk when you can shoot him and not take a risk?

If civilian police uses mace for small-scale arrests during riots, MP's could do the same thing for example during protests around embassies in non-war-but-dangerous circumstances. Except they don't.

I don't think the GP was suggesting dropping pepper gas bombs, or using mace cannons while storming an enemy outpost.

Then the military can call in the civilian authorities if its not a military matter and they can use whatever methods they deem appropriate. This isn't some kind of wonderful humanitarian gesture by the US military, its just proper role separation. If the shit hits the fan, its deadly force. You don't roll out soldiers for fun. They're trained to kill, not be cops.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with the concept of banning armed droned, but I don't think the operators actually get to pick and choose the targets. I don't think the operators have much discretion at all. Those orders, especially orders to fire, likely come from a commanding officer. The same probably applies to fighter and bomber pilots too, though they may have more discretion when it comes to defending the aircraft.

As opposed to a wired fighter jock inbound in a fast mover who has only one pass before he bingo's and might have .5 seconds to decide if he should abort or not - having less pressure will result in better decisions.

Why does it matter where the operator is? How about a ban on killing unquantifiable targets?

Modern fighter pilots can be just as overworked and have about the same risk of dying from being shot at.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact