Progessive “progress”?

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During the Bush administration, suspected terrorists were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. Some critics (including Obama) argued that it would be better to view terrorist acts as crimes needing prosecution and punishment rather than as acts of war needing retaliation. Now the Obama administration, eschewing American soldiers on the ground and imprisonment or interrogation without “due process”, is relying instead on blowing up the terrorists in drone attacks. There is a tactical difference, and a legal similarity, between the two approaches. The difference is that the live prisoners at least had the possibility of revealing important information, whereas the corpses at the drone attack site do not. The similarity is that the death penalties meted out to the drone attack targets and their friends also lack legal “due process” and trial in a civilian court with lawyers present. To me those were, and still are, interesting topics, but it seems that many who found them interesting during the Bush administration are not interested in thinking and talking about them now. Why is that? Forward progress in developing our morality and ethics seems to be stalled.

However, progress in science and technology continues. (Actually, it seems to me that that disparity is at least 500 years old now. During that period, progress in science has been real, whereas progress in ethics has been mostly imaginary, existing mostly in human imaginations as an artifact of human narcissism.) Because of aerospace science, the US President will soon be able to deploy a small fleet of Lockeed-Martin / Kaman “K-MAX” unmanned external-load helicopters “as-is”, carrying a squadron of weaponized Lockheed-Martin unmanned “SMSS” vehicles The K-MAXes will drop the SMSSes near the target, and they will carry out their attack against a terrorist wedding, or whatever. After the “battle”, the K-MAXes will be able to go in to retrieve the surviving SMSSes and airlift them back to base, with no American humans being physically present for any of it. The unrecovered vehicles will be taken by the “enemy” to Iran for reverse-engineering, to discover and duplicate the latest tech secrets used in their design. However, one capability is still missing: that tactical plan does not yet include the option of capturing any suspects alive, imprisoning them, and interrogating them. Aerospace science "progress" means for military applications what it has meant for the last 100 years: increased ability to kill along with reduced risk of dying. But Augustine and Aquinas, cited by Obama during his Peace Prize acceptance speech, would not view that as "progress" at all. Hundreds of years ago, both of those guys viewed killing as far more problematic than dying.

Maybe all of that is OK from a “liberal” point of view, as long as no American soldiers are killed or injured, and none of the corpses are at any point subject to imprisonment or interrogation without due process. Maybe the meaning of the term “liberal” is changing over time, like everything else.

I suspect that living in Africa has enhanced my ability to imagine an attack like that from the point of view of the targets, and to extrapolate from that viewpoint what the long-term impact of it might be on America’s reputation in the world, and American success in the global war on terror. An obvious part of it will be the spread of the sentiment: those Americans who just send their demonic death machines to kill us, and are afraid to come out and fight us themselves, are the worst kind of vile cowards. But I’m just an ordinary guy, whose viewpoint does not matter much. For Samantha Power, current US Ambassador to the UN, it matters a lot, when she finds herself (for example) recommending to the President and to the UN that we keep soldiers out of Libya, but launch air attacks against one side in the Libyan civil war. From a distance I watch Samantha and try to see what she is seeing, but my perception of it remains unclear.


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