Perhaps in a whimsical mood, Sigmund Freud cited some unusual evidence for the aggressive impulse he found in mankind. In his essay “Reflections on War and Death,” he writes that French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau “asks the reader what he would do if without leaving Paris he could kill, with great profit to himself, an old mandarin in Peking by a mere act of his will. Rousseau implies that he would not give much for the life of the dignitary.” Imagine if great numbers could so exercise their will. What violence would be unleashed, how many prostrate bodies around the globe who never knew what hit them. Ecstasy!
And so it has come to pass. With the will to do it, the United States—that is, the White House—can now eliminate undesirables anywhere in the world by means of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, with over 2,300 remote executions so far. A case in point was the assassination last September of a U.S. citizen, suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, as he was driving in Yemen. This was accomplished with less oversight than capture and extradition would have required—paperwork and negotiations avoided. Clean.
Attorney General Eric Holder says execution by drone is not assassination if the victim is threatening the state. It may not be due process as provided by the U.S. Constitution, but it’s “judicial process” as decided by the White House. Holder offers only scant details on the targets—classified, you know—but rest assured they have been painstakingly selected, and we are at war, though not, to be sure, in Yemen. That country, we’re told, at least partially approves of these attacks.
Pakistanis have complained that too many civilians are killed in American drone strikes. At a recent meeting with President Obama, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani demanded that drone attacks stop in Pakistan. No way, responded Obama. They’re needed to wipe out terror.
That’s what they all say, notes Freud, a congenital skeptic. Acts of violence are usually given some justification, deserved or not, to relieve the conscience. In this regard, he quotes Shakespeare’s Falstaff, who says that when excuses for any doubtful action are needed, reasons are “as plenty as blackberries.” Pick away. And drones can continue to pick away without impediment.
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