Are We Driven by Compassion or Sensationalism?

Cartoon, Comic, Foreign Policy, Politics

I’m really curious about what people think they’re doing when they’re doing something evil, casually. I think it’s really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it.

– Louis CK

There’s a lot of talk about why drone strikes are necessary.  In my mind, there are really only two arguments that can be made:  first, that we, as Americans, should not allow such things as terrorist attacks to happen – no matter the cost of preventing them.  This point is difficult to argue against because it comes from a very subjective viewpoint, rooted in pride.  If one thinks killing innocent people, so to preserve a sense of ‘American immortality,’ is justified, so be it.  However, I’d (like to) think most people would disagree with that sentiment.

The more common argument is that the drone program keeps us safe.  There is this attitude that while, yes, the collateral damage is tragic, this is a necessary evil for the sake of our safety.  This is a more practically-minded argument that attempts to weigh cold, hard effects with moral implications.  In essence, the underlying belief of this argument is that the additional safety provided by the drone strikes is worth the moral cost of killing innocent bystanders.

In previous posts, I’ve gone into the nuts and bolts of the program: where the strikes occur, who the strikes kill, whether or not these people pose a real threat to our national safety, whether the strike zones are actual “battle zones,” etc.  For this post, let’s just assume the professed intentions of the drone program actually are its effects.  Taking the safety benefits as a given, I’d ask the reader have to look at this article from two years ago.

In the article, the reader will find that the actual risk of being killed by a terrorist attack is 1 in 20 million.  Therefore, in order to justify the drone strikes, one would have to say that a 1 in 20 million chance of dying is so remarkably high that it warrants taking actions in which innocent people are killed.  What does this say about all other potential threats to our lives where the chances of dying are much higher?  If bombing a household of people on the other side of the world is a fair price to pay for reducing ones chances of being killed in a terrorist attack, then one would certainly be justified in blowing up a family in an SUV, so to reduce the risk of being killed by said SUV while driving.  After all, the likelihood of being killed in a car accident is 1 in 19,000.

I imagine the sensible person is having a rather visceral reaction to that thought.  So I’d ask the reader to keep in mind that we’re not examining the emotional aspect of this argument – only the purely practical aspect.  What is the measurable benefit of the drone program?  And do the ends truly justify the means?  If the answer is yes, I’d say we’ve a few other – far more risky – issues we may need to consider new remedies for.

The content of the cartoon tries to draw a fair parallel between what happened to Trayvon Martin, and the outpouring of national sympathy surrounding his death, with the deafening silence surrounding the innocent victims killed by the U.S. drone program.  I’d truly like to believe the chorus of compassion heard from the American public for Trayvon Martin was genuine, and would also like to believe that the innocent children killed by a program which our tax dollars fund would evoke a similar – if not a far more severe – reaction.  Therefore, given that we know the practical implications and the real risk of both terrorism and its proposed remedies, once again, do the ends justify the means?

Below is a video posted by The Young Turks.  It was the first time I saw the parallel drawn between the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the drone program.  See if you find it as compelling as I did:


Have another look at the Naming The Dead Project.  I think there’s nothing more perilous to our collective moral standing as a nation than to let ourselves forget that the innocent victims killed in our drone attacks are real, flesh-and-blood people – not just statistics.

And here is the original video from which the quote in the cartoon was pulled:

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  • esteban

    Look I can’t say if your a Muslim, as far as being compassionate, the Islamic faith has no compassion accept for a brother. Doubtfully, I think that if the world was run by Muslims, there would be more blood shed. I have never seen an out cry by moderate Muslims about the slaying of a Christian or any other person not of Islamic faith by Muslim. I am more or less agnostic you would probably think i was an atheist, also i think a car accident is just that not terrorism. what ever you perceive you need to believe that everything is relative.
    Look at historic, geographic and religious beginnings that has kept Islam alive. I don’t think it is the answer!