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Killers In The Skies: Why Drones Are Everywhere Now

The drone symbolizes a new kind of corporate-driven war that destroyed 200 years of American tradition

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War would now be fought not for or by the citizen, but quite literally for and by  Lockheed MartinHalliburton, KBR, DynCorp,  Triple Canopy, and  Blackwater (later Xe, even later  Academi).  Meanwhile, that citizen was to shudder at the thought of our terrorist enemies and then go on with normal life as if nothing whatsoever were happening.  (“Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed,” was  George W. Bush’s suggested response to the 9/11 attacks two weeks after they happened, with the “war on terror” already going on the books.)

Despite a paucity of real enemies of any substance, taxpayer dollars would  pour into the coffers of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, as well as a new  mini-homeland-security-industrial complex and a burgeoning  intelligence-industrial complex, at levels unknown in the Cold War years.  Lobbyists would be everywhere and the times would be the best, even when, in the war zones, things were going badly indeed.

Meanwhile, in those war zones, the Big Corporation would  take over the humblest of soldierly roles -- the peeling of potatoes, the cooking of meals, the building of bases and outposts, the delivery of mail -- and it would  take up the gun (and the bomb) as well.  Soon enough, even the dying  would be outsourced to corporate hirees.  Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan would be flooded with tens of thousands of private contractors and hired guns, while military men trained in elite special operations units would find their big paydays by joining mercenary corporations doing similar work, often in the same war zones.

It was a remarkable racket.  War and profit had long been connected in complicated ways, but seldom quite so straightforwardly.  Now, win or lose on the battlefield, there would always be winners among the growing class of warrior corporations.

The All-Volunteer Force, pliant as a military should be, and backed by Madison Avenue to the tune of  hundreds of millions of dollars to insure that its ranks were full, would become ever more detached from most of American society.  It would, in fact, become ever more foreign (as in “ foreign legion”) and ever more mercenary (think Hessians).  The intelligence services of the national security state would similarly outsource significant parts of their work to the private sector.   According to Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, by 2010, about 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top security clearances were private contractors and “close to 30% of the workforce in the intelligence agencies [was] contractors.”

No one seemed to notice, but a 1% version of American war was coming to fruition, unchecked by a draft Army, a skeptical Congress, or a democratic citizenry.  In fact, Americans, generally preoccupied with lives in which our wars played next to no part, paid little attention.

Remotely Piloted War

Although early drone technology was  already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973.  There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war -- all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans.  Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself. 

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, anymore.  They would like you to use the label "remotely piloted aircraft" (RPA) instead.  And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until --  claim believers and enthusiasts -- it will pilot itself,  land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even  choose its own targets.

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