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Last Thursday, UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center hosted a symposium focused on examining the ethical and tangible repercussions of using drones for targeted killing.
A set of panelists presented art, research and activist projects addressing various drone-related topics, including the United States drone war in Pakistan. The event was part of IHC’s year-long series entitled “Fallout: In the Aftermath of War.”
Drones are a type of unmanned, remotely operated aircraft able to track targets across battlelines and perform surveillance and air strikes unseen from thousands of feet in the sky. The implementation of this technology has attracted a great deal of controversy in recent years.
According to Nancy Mancias, one of the event’s panelists and the coordinator of the Ground the Drones campaign, keeping pilots out of harm’s way is one advantage gained from drone warfare, but this safety can come at the cost of added civilian casualties. Mancias said there seems to be no consequences for the drones harming innocents in the War on Terror.
“We have hundreds of innocent civilians who have been killed in these drone attacks and there hasn’t been any transparency or accountability,” Mancias said. “These families who have lost loved ones have never received … any sort of financial justification from the U.S. government.”
Film and media studies professor Lisa Parks, the director of the Center for Information Technology and Society, said another concern is the danger civilians face when associated, whether geographically or culturally, with terrorist suspects.
“In such an area [where terror suspects may operate], anyone and everyone is at risk,” Parks said. “Daily life is haunted by the specter of aerial bombardment.”
However, panelist Marko Peljhan, co-director of the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, said the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is not quite as new as it seems. Missiles, for example, are and have been capable of autopilot since World War I. He also said the damage drones cause to civilians is not a new factor of modern warfare but an unfortunate side effect of warfare itself.
“My belief is this [drone warfare] is not so novel as it is made up and believed to be by the media,” Peljhan said. “But the underlying issues are a much older and still unresolved remnant of when technology really entered war in such a destructive way.”
The symposium discussed various other long-term effects of drone warfare, including the trend towards a more distant and less emotional way of war, thereby making acts of violence easier to commit. In response, panelist Casey Cooper Johnson, writer and director of the short film “UNMANNED: A Filmmaker’s Journey,” said in his experience, operators of the drones learn very quickly that their job carries extreme consequences, and the possibility for innocent deaths at their hands is very real.
According to IHC Director Susan Derwin, drone warfare is drastically changing the way wars are fought. The event, she said, was intended to inform the community and explore drone warfare’s effect on society. Education on the public’s side and transparency on the government’s is key to maintaining an active dialogue about the issue, according to Derwin.
“Part of the series is devoted to looking at this kind of fallout, meaning the fallout on individuals but also the social, political and cultural fallout in a global context,” Derwin said. “Drone warfare is really the next stage in active combat, active war …[and it] continues to raise issues about the soldiers fighting in these wars, the operators themselves.”
All upcoming Fallout events are free. An on-campus drone debate will also take place in April. For more information, email the IHC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of March 4th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.
Photo courtesy of MarketPlace.org.