In getting prepared to teach a World History class on the rise of the West in the 15th century, I re-read a brief, yet apt, essay on “ethnocentrism.” One such definition of this idea holds that ethnocentrism can prevail when one nation’s unfavorable opinion of another is due to the latter’s inferior level of technological development. With this, my thoughts immediately turned to our country’s lamentable drone program.
As citizens of this country, it is imperative that we be empathic to the how nations view us. With each life lost to the brutal collateral damage of misplaced U.S. drones, how could we possibly be respected as a defender of human rights? Our rhetoric in defense of individual liberties and freedoms — in a global sense — does not match our actions when U.S. drones kill innocent people—the recent incineration of a Yemeni bridal party, being the most recent tragic example of this.
On record, drone technology has eliminated a goodly number of Al Qaeda terrorists, but at what price? Is U.S. intelligence up to the proper targeting of this devastating weapon? Last week’s attack on a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha Province, which killed 17 people, clearly indicates that it is not. Moreover, the ability to command such killing technology should not bring an inherent right to it use for that purpose. History tells us that such weapons will find their way into the hands of those who wish us harm. Were a U.S. citizen struck, on U.S. soil, by an enemy drone, our outrage would be profound. How is it that our government, through its actions (or its silence) vis-à-vis its drone policy, places such little value on the lives of those whose nations cannot match our level of military sophistication?
There is a shocking and sad irony when our nation which prides itself on guaranteeing life and security for its own citizens is so dispassionate when it kills those in other nations who have done us no wrong. To quote a Chinese proverb: “one should never drain a pond to catch a fish.” A massive loss of life while attempting to eliminate one specific target makes drone usage self-defeating and inhumane.
By any definition, this manner of U.S. ethnocentrism is truly toxic: on the world stage, we’ve betrayed our better nature; our drone attacks are making us more enemies than friends; and, worst of all, we have demeaned the sanctity of human life. As global citizens, we should demand a Geneva Convention to ban drones and reign-in our own country’s reckless ways. I’m reminded of the late 1960s slogan: “books, not bombs.” Let Amazon.com use drones to deliver the latest best-selling novel to our door, but, by all means, please let us do what we must to stop our country from killing our fellow world citizens.
John H. Connelly is a history teacher at Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford.