Killer Drones: Glimpses of Nietzsche, Joni Mitchell, and America’s Legacy

Trying to make sense out of the latest bizarre events about how our thinking as a nation has changed I drift back to yesteryear before the near destruction of our Bill of Rights.  Wading through the battered pages of our Constitution, I see the corpses of habeas corpus, the right to privacy, the right to due process and a jury of your peers, and I shed a tear for what once was.  How did all this happen?  Has the fear of terrorism transformed us into a country of fearful strangers?  Have we become a Bubba nation whose purpose now is to expedite justice at the end of a gun barrel?

How did we lose the right to habeas corpus, to know our accuser?  What happened to our right to an attorney?  To make a phone call?  Did things happen so fast that we just missed it?  Are we Americans truly discussing the merits (or evils) of torture?  How did that little ditty slip past us without notice?  Have we really come to believe that torture is justified?  Have we become so afraid of terrorism and our own shadows that we have come to condone torture?  To increase our odds of not getting blown up by terrorists?  Like, in before it happens?  Do we even sense that we have devolved into a state of from which there is little hope of turning back?  Or that in condoning torture that even we cannot be safe from having it come back on us?  That we, too, lose the right to be free from being tortured?  Is this a bad dream?  Does the United States really capture and ship overseas for rendering, suspects who someone in our government deems to intend us harm?  Can such a whim now be the norm instead of our having the right to a fair trial?  Is the price we pay for becoming the Inquisitors worth it?  Remember the warnings of Nietzsche:  “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

And what of those in power or position who get to judge who is to be rendered?  What if personal vendettas exist where a decider only needs to finger an individual to have him disappear and be rendered and rubbed out?  What if the one who decides to list another individual has an ulterior motive?  Perhaps the decider fears being replaced by someone more competent?  Why not just put him on the list and have the problem (and the person) disappear without appeal or the right to be heard?  What if the decider is part of a love triangle?  No problem.  Just put the competition on the death list.  Case closed.  Forever.

It was 1960 in Western Civilization class when I first heard the term, “Might is Right.”  Such a nonsensical phrase, I thought.  See, just because you or a nation had the might did not mean that you or your nation was right in whatever it decreed as the rules and law of the land for all citizens to live by.  But that was years ago.  It might have worked for Hitler or Stalin or the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, but those were barbarians, leaders gone amuck with purges, killings of Jews, invasions of countries, and sneak attacks just because you could get away with it.  They needed to be checked, and they were by the Americans, the Brits, and the rest of the free world.  We won; they lost.  After the dust of WWII settled the world needed to lick its wounds, repair its territories, and rethink its various forms of governments.  The United States and its allies emerged as the “white hats” who won the war and saved the world from the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Kamikaze Japanese extremists.

But what of the United States, the white hat guys?  Were we in our infancy as a moral nation at the time to believe that all men were created equal?  And that we should treat others as we wanted to be treated?  That we all had unalienable rights under the Constitution?   

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

I concede that things can become tricky when it comes to human rights.  To wit, what if, a person or group of people commits destructive acts toward another person or a nation?  Obviously, the events of 911 come to mind.  Terrorists attacked us.  So do terrorists have the same rights as those who do not or did not conduct terrorist acts toward another or a group of people?  It becomes difficult to say that they have the same rights as those who did not conduct destructive acts toward others.  Thus, the term “enemy combatants” was fashioned to fit the example.  These people it has been said, do not have the same rights as those who do not inflict deliberate harm on others.  Yet what of the right to trial and proof by a court that a person is guilty or innocent?  Doesn’t everybody have a right to a fair trial?  And if not, why not?  It is a fertile ground for being arbitrary and judgmental.  And the buzz words “national emergency” allows the president (and others under his direction) to act swiftly and sometimes without the consideration of due process of the law.  It is a game-changer when it comes to our rights under the Constitution. 

So is “might right?”  Or does anything really matter other than might? 

But let us be philosophical.  Does the end justify the means?  Ergo if torturing works to get us the information to save our asses from being bombed by terrorists then why bother with the details of human rights?  Why not just wipe out the possible terrorists before they strike?  Why not use our best judgment to rub them out before any harm is done to us?  To hell with reality, why not just take our best shot based upon our best guess and to hell with due process and the right to a fair trial?  No trial.  No bother.  Just eradicate them.  After all, “Might is right” and it’s better to be safe than sorry.  I have heard this argument before, and somehow feel empty at the end each time.  Something seems to be missing. 

Recently, a Bill Maher HBO Real Time panel discussed some of the legal and moral points of America’s use of “killer robot” drones.  The general feeling I got from the panel and Bill Maher was that in a world of bad choices, perhaps the arbitrary use of drones to nip terrorists in the bud before they could do harm was not such a bad idea.  Wow.  Has the worm turned that much? 

Bill Maher and his Real Time panel weigh in on the use of drones

Is expediting justice by taking out “potential” terrorists more important than our image of the kinder and gentler nation we used to be?  You remember those days when we wore a white hat and condemned other countries like Russia, e.g., who would invade and occupy weaker countries and subject them to communist rule?  Why we even went to war with North Viet Nam who invaded South Viet Nam because by force the NVN invaded the South.  Have we become the kind of arbitrary nation which we used to condemn?

It has become worrisome to debate.  It is a double-edged sword.  Was the American dream that all men were created equal in the land of the free just a pipe dream?  That we will not have to suffer the arbitrary whims of other flawed human beings in power at the time?  Must we adapt to the reality of the world where terrorism looms in the shadows?  Must we become more draconian in our beliefs as we expedite justice to dispatch terrorists before they strike?  Should we strike them first before we ask questions?  Is it better to kill them in the dark of night with drones and Hell Fire missiles to save us before another 911 visits our shores?  It is a dark question to ponder.  In the years to come, I cannot help but ponder who we will become as a fearful people expeditious in matters of conscience and of justice.  Will we miss who we used to be?  Will we hear the haunting lyrics of the song by Joni Mitchell?

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”