Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Weak Suffer What They Must

"Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." ~ Thucydides in the Melian Dialogue

Athens was strong.
In 415 BC the Athenian democracy deemed it necessary to subjugate the island of Melos in its struggle with martial Sparta. Famously, the Athenians demanded the Melians to surrender using the threat "the strong do what they will". Melos did not relent.  Athens invaded and laid waste to the small town,  island, and it's inhabitants. The use of power by Athens in this manner is how governments interact with each other ever since.

Technology has moved far beyond the spear and shield used by Greeks. Today we use drones. Drones are unmanned vehicles that can reign down violence upon the unsuspecting. Drones hover silently over a target for hours, sending image and sound to operators hundreds of miles away, even to bases in the mainland United States. When an enemy is identified, drones can make deathly strikes without warning.

Modern will.
The United States has made more than 400 such attacks in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen in its war on terrorism. More than 3,000 have been killed in covert programs operated by the the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command). Although estimates vary, between one half and one third of those killed using these tools were non-combatants. The lowest estimates are that over 170 of those who died by drone strikes were children. As with Vietnam 'body counts', the U.S. counts any military aged male killed in a drone strike as an 'enemy combatant'.

The Executive Branch argues that international law and the 2001 resolution “Authorization for Use of Military Force” makes legal the right to self defense against individuals linked to al-Qaeda or terrorists. This law includes using drone strikes against both foreigners and U.S. Citizens. Both Bush the younger and Obama have engaged in drone strikes using this legal argument.

Recently Jay Carney, a spokesman for the President, said “first and foremost that is (the Presidents) responsibility to protect the United States and American citizens." He continued "In order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives, we conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats to stop plots, prevent future attacks, and again save American lives." Later Mr. Carney added "These strikes are legal. They are ethical and they are wise. The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al-Qaeda terrorist to insure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life."

Some say that the drone strikes are immoral. Use of these weapons erodes the confidence in the government’s commitment to the rule of law and protecting the accused. When targeted killings are against U.S. Citizens, they argue that it denies due process and they are unreasonable seizures of a person's life, violating the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Using the constitutional framework, it is said that citizens and foreign nationals are protected against violence without trial.

The front line is now often near our homes.
Another popular anti-drone contention comes from the ex-military leader of the U.S. war in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal saying “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one. “

Is it not strange that the murder of 27 plus children and teachers in Sandy Hook has created such outrage, while hundreds of other children killed by our government do not bother us? Our application of morality, our sense of justice even, places the value of our own citizens lives as superior to those of foreigners.

Drone warfare is a clear example of “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” As with Athens of old, the morality of warfare can be perceived as a 'good' to the strong and as an 'evil' to the weak. The perspective of the violence depends upon who has the power to do their will. The points made by both those for and against the use of drones as means to violence upon their fellow man follow along lines laid down those many centuries ago by the Athenians. The language and technology have changed, but the dispute on use of force remains the same.

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Beach Bum. I pushed the wrong button and deleted your comment. My mistake.

  3. Well put, your introduction reminds me of Thrasymachus' words on justice from Plato's Republic. Its a testament to the fact that we do not inhabit a world "post history". Our darker tendencies follow us into our current age, and attempts to repaint ourselves into the exceptional creatures we think we've become neglects the reality that governs us still!