A cold breeze that lingered from yesterday’s welcome cooling rain was blowing intermittently, softened every now and then by a warm gust from the west, when Koko and I went walking this morning.
The wind disappeared altogether when the sun rose, staining gray fans and swirls in the eastern sky a vivid burnt orange that faded to coral pink, casting Waialeale’s base in an ethereal golden light.
Koko was the first to spot my neighbor Andy, greeting him with upraised paws and a whine as he asked whether I’d run into trouble getting my car back after it was towed in Honolulu. No trouble that money couldn’t solve, as is so often the case in America, although I later learned, when recounting the story to a friend who moved to Kauai years ago from Oahu, that his cousin owned the tow yard and so he could have gotten me a break on the towing fee. “You should have called me,” he said.
And Andy advised me that the art museum has its own lot, which I’ll certainly bear in mind next time I’m tempted to peruse the galleries there, where I saw, and am still haunted by, an exhibit of Goya’s “Disasters of War.” The etchings, though small, offered a graphic account of the rapes, beheadings, castrations, hangings, piles of dead bodies, firing squads, fleeing villagers and overall mayhem that are part and parcel of mankind’s strange propensity to wage war on itself and the land.
Goya made his prints, which were not shown until after his death, as a way to bear witness to the atrocities he witnessed when France invaded Spain in 1810.
“It was so personal back then,” I remarked to my friend. “And now it’s being done remotely, by Predator drones.”
Nearly every day we hear reports of people in Pakistan being killed by these unmanned drone attacks, which appear to be primarily launched by CIA operatives. The most recent was on Saturday, with Al Jazeera reporting:
More than 40 drone air raids have taken place since the beginning of last year, most of them since September.
More than 320 people have been killed in the raids, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani security officials, district government officials and residents.
Others put the overall death toll much higher, while noting that the drone attacks aren’t quite so accurate at targeting “Taliban fighters,” various and sundry “insurgents” and the catch-all “al Qaeda operatives” as America likes to claim. As The International News reported:
Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
Indeed, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine using data collected in Iraq indicated that air attacks were the most deadly for civilians:
In events with at least one Iraqi civilian victim, the methods that killed the most civilians per event were aerial bombings (17 per event), combined use of aerial and ground weapons (17 per event), and suicide bombers on foot (16 per event). Aerial bombs killed, on average, 9 more civilians per event than aerial missiles (17 vs. 8 per event). Indeed, if an aerial bomb killed civilians at all, it tended to kill many. It seems clear from these findings that to protect civilians from indiscriminate harm, as required by international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions),4 military and civilian policies should prohibit aerial bombing in civilian areas unless it can be demonstrated — by monitoring of civilian casualties, for example — that civilians are being protected.
This kind of “collateral damage” can cause backlash. As the New York Times reported, the strikes may actually be serving to unite warring tribal factions in Pakistan against America:
Even when precise, the drone strikes often kill women and children in militant compounds. When that happens, local Pashtun customs of “badal” obligate their survivors to seek revenge.
These attacks also tend to be under-reported and down-played, even as the U.S. has upped the ante by using the MQ-9 Reaper, a faster and more powerful craft that carries a lot more firepower than the Predator. As the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network reports:
The phrase "war on terror" might have been quietly dropped from the United States's military lexicon - to be replaced (according to a memo to Pentagon staff) by "overseas contingency operation". But it is clear that to some degree there is continuity in practice in the tactics being pursued by the coalition in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An example is the relatively little reported campaign in western Pakistan characterised by what (in another euphemism) are commonly termed "drone incidents" but which would be better called air-raids.
As they operate the death machines from the comfort of their ground control stations in America, the drone operators and pilots can divorce themselves more easily from their dirty deeds. A youtube clip offers an indication of how detached — and deluded — they can be:
“You get the sense you’re a guardian angel, an eye in the sky for them,” gushed Capt. Catherine Platt, a sensor operator discussing how the drones support ground troops.
“When you step out [of the control station], you go back home to your family and live like anyone else,” added Maj. Clayton Marshall.
Meanwhile, back in Western Pakistan or Iraq or wherever these drones have left death and destruction in their wake, it’s very much upfront and personal for the folks on the ground. They're left with the same old burned homes, piles of dead, orphans, maimed citizenry and "disasters of war" that Goya witnessed two centuries before. The more things change, the more they stay the same.