The myth of the 'good' weapon
This century has seen the development of increasingly powerful and more remote-controlled weapons. In the month of March people around the world will be Flying Kites Not Drones in solidarity with victims of drone warfare. But why focus on this particular weapon? Ellis Brooks, Peace Education and Engagement Coordinator for Quakers in Britain, reflects on the myth of a ‘good weapon’.
Planes, tanks and Reaper Drones: the myth of the 'good weapon'
Armed drones are a symbol of warfare today. The silhouettes of ‘Reapers’ and ‘Predators’ feature in the publicity of the military and arms industry, but also in those used by the peace movement. The same symbol with different messages.
For exponents of their military applications, armed drones connote technological prowess, precision and of course power. Drones are also promoted as more humanitarian, both because of the claims of precision-killing and because the drone operator is not in physical danger. For drones’ detractors, they represent a dehumanising of the killing process, callousness, breaches of international law, and ongoing imperialism.
Yet armed drones are just one weapon of many. Cutting edge and traditional weapons have featured in iconography throughout history.
World War I saw the debut of propeller aircraft as a weapon, but it was the tank which at the time became the totem of technological warfare. Prefiguring the fanfare of Armed Forces Day and modern recruitment drives, tanks rolled into town centres across Britain for the delight of the masses, encouraging the purchase of war bonds to sustain the violence on the Western Front and beyond. Perhaps the tank best represented the spirit of that age. Total war between industrialised nations needed a muscular, metal mascot.
Limited, targeted violence?
Today, war from the perspective of Britain and the USA is not framed as a contest of brute strength despite the enormous military spending of both countries. Instead, with “discriminate deterrence” and “surgical strikes”, the narrative is of limited, targeted violence.
As the apogee of remote weaponry, drones are the emblem of this vision. Particular weapons are described through a national discourse which is intended to be reassuring. Perhaps this is why the government plans to rebrand Britain’s growing Reaper fleet as ‘Protectors’.
This fallacy conceals not only the reality of armed drones, but of war as a whole. Armed drones muddy the waters of international law, kill civilians and terrorise many more, which some would argue is the intention. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that in Pakistan alone CIA drone strikes have killed 423–965 civilians since 2004.
Fly Kites Not Drones
Following from World War I tanks came a parade in the growth of profitable weapons including landmines and chemical weapons, both of which necessitated international treaties to prevent indiscriminate killing. Prior to World War II the legal permissibility of ‘strategic bombing’ of civilians was left ambiguous until it was too late. Today it is armed drones which need a treaty to deal with violations of sovereignty, extrajudicial executions, unaccountability and even the prospect of autonomous killing.
Drones are just one product from a prolific arms industry, but we must challenge the symbolism of a ‘good weapon’ which attempts to make acceptable the quest for new modes of killing.
Campaigning against armed drones, Afghan Peace Volunteers chose kite flying as a symbol not only because it is such a popular pastime in their country, but because the kite represents the peace and freedom weapons like drones have denied them. A clear blue sky that might tempt a kite flyer is also ideal for a Reaper drone to prowl unseen. Through boldly flying kites, they reclaim that sky for peace.
Join them and fly kites not drones.
Imprisoned in Harwich Redoubt, Howard and the other COs decided to refuse work of a “military character” but agreed to cleaning and catering. In another edited extract from Howard's writings, he describes life as a prisoner at Harwich – and how it was cut short.
The government faced resistance on other fronts. Parliament passed the Munitions Act, restricting industrial action in war-related industries. This did not stop workers in radical areas, such as the Clyde and South Wales, from going on strike illegally.