A Small Matter of Honor

Some would say that there is no honor in war – that "honorable warfare" is an oxymoron. At the very least, military rules of engagement should be consistent with the Geneva Convention and have a basic respect for human rights.

One of the United States’ new weapon systems brings our national dishonor to a new level. On July 16, 2007, Charles J. Hanley – AP correspondent reported that General Atomic Aeronautical Systems, Inc. is the contractor for the MQ-9 Reaper, an unmanned drone. This weapon system will allow the soldier to spread death and destruction while sipping a slurpy seven thousand miles away. That’s not a fair way to fight. Ask anyone who has ever witnessed a bar room fight. Most would agree that when the big guy with the knife attacks the unarmed weakling at the end of the bar, it’s not fair. Fairness and honor go hand-in- hand.

The Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and an Allied Signal turboprop engine. It can reach an altitude of 50,000 feet – 9,000 feet higher than a Boeing 737. The Reaper is designed to carry fourteen air-to-ground weapons, or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs. The mere existence of this unmanned WMD delivery system is an act of international terrorism. Imagine how the U.S. would react if another nation had fully armed planes flying over this country.

This weapon system endangers, not only those in other countries. The only publicly reported assassination of a U.S. citizen by the Bush administration was carried out by a Predator – a much smaller drone than the Reaper.

CBS reported:

The Bush administration said the killing of an American in this fashion was legal. According to CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen this is legal because the President and his lawyers say so — it’s not much more complicated than that. Congress has no great political incentive to tie the hands of the White House in going after these sorts of adversaries. And the federal courts won’t get involved unless and until someone challenges the practice — and that’s not likely given how these things typically play out.

This is just the new reality, says Cohen — new rules for a new kind of war– and there really isn’t much anyone who doesn’t like it can do about it right now. The president has the authority to order the killing of enemy soldiers in wartime and that authority apparently has been extended to a much cloudier area.

"I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here. There are authorities that the president can give to officials," said Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, after the attack. "He’s well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority.

Whether causing bombs to be dropped from a comfy spot thousands of miles away, or strapping a bomb to your body in an attempt to retaliate for aggression against your country – both acts deserve condemnation because both are apt to kill civilians. Both are morally offensive, but there is an additional aspect of honor which is violated when one side has such an enormous technological advantage over the other.

In an age of techno-warfare, how much responsibility falls upon the intellectually and financially elite. Is there a moral burden that applies to the engineers, the technicians, and the stockholders? A robotic aircraft cannot be a conscientious objector – its human creators should be. When the hardware and software commit the war crime, who is guilty? All who have been complicit in the funding, design, and manufacturing processes must be held accountable. This includes the taxpayers who are the ultimate financiers of war.

There are moral giants who walk among us. On July 17, 2007, ABC News reported that David Gross asked his boss for a radical pay cut.

"…I was having a hard time looking at myself in the mirror," Gross said. "I knew the bombs falling were in part paid with my tax dollars. I had to actually do something concrete to remove my complicity."

The San Francisco technical writer was making close to $100,000 a year. He didn’t know exactly how big of a pay cut he would need to fall below the federal tax threshold, but later figured out he would have to make less than minimum wage.

In any event, his employer turned him down and he quit. Gross, 38, now works on a contract basis, and last year he refused to pay self-employment taxes…"

Judgments about the morality of waging a techno-war fall upon all of those who enable this form of killing. Congress is at the top of the list. Without the funding from Congress, the Reaper and other weapons would not exist. Voters who repeatedly vote for candidates who are members of the Democratic or Republican Parties are most responsible. Both Parties have a long history of supporting wars of aggression.

William Blum, author/historian, once said, "A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn’t have an air force." The reverse implication of Blum’s statement is that an air force is terrorism on a larger scale.

The use of an unmanned plane to drop bombs is an act of terrorism. It violates the most fundamental concepts of honor. Since this weapon system will cast a long shadow on any hint of national honor that may still remain, it is incumbent on the citizens to have this weapon defunded.

Is it possible that the contract to design and build the Reaper was awarded as a reward for Congressional junkets? James Ridgeway, Mother Jones – Washington Bureau Chief reports:

"… one of the top corporate sponsors of congressional trips turns out to be General Atomics, a relatively small California defense contractor that far outspent its industry competitors. The company makes the Predator reconnaissance drone… after five years of picking up lawmakers’ travel tabs, in 2005 the company "landed promises of billions of dollars in federal business."

In some of these foreign visits the staffers would be joined by General Atomic officials. Representatives of US embassy sat in on some of the meetings. Randy "Duke" Cunningham’s office took $53,000 in trips to Europe and Australia sponsored by General Atomics…"

The Reaper is grim. There is no honor in warfare. There will be no honor in Congress until there is conscientious objection in the voting booth.