The Sniper and the Drone

Modern American militarism presents Catholics with many grave ethical considerations. One current dilemma is how we should respond to the popularity of the movie American Sniper and the tendency of many people to declare Chris Kyle an “American Hero.”

Jacob Hornberger at the Future of Freedom Foundation has written a thoughtful and provocative review  of the controversial movie. Mr. Hornberger, taking a Catholic perspective, focuses on the sin of wrongful killing by American soldiers:

“The assumption has always been that if you simply convince soldiers that they are fighting in a just cause, even if it’s not true, they won’t feel guilty about what they are doing. I don’t think the human conscience can be so easily fooled. I think that slowly it starts eating away at a person, sort of like acid.

And the problem is that soldiers who killed people in Iraq have a difficult time healing because they can’t confront the central problem — that they killed people wrongfully in an illegal, unconstitutional, immoral war of aggression. They can’t confess that grave sin. They relegate themselves to dealing with PTSD rather than with unresolved guilt over the wrongful killing of people.”

Similar moral quandaries arise over the use of executioner drones, especially for those Catholics who defend participation in warfare as a form of self-sacrifice worthy of a Christian — i.e., risking one’s own life to protect your comrades-in-arms and countrymen back home. Just last Memorial Day weekend, I heard a priest in California give a homily praising military service based on the words of Jesus in John 15:13:

“Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

But what is sacrificial or risky about drone warfare, the infamous tactical innovation of the War on Terror?

Neve Gordon has written a review of a new book called The Theory of the Drone. Mr. Gordon outlines the profound moral questions raised in the book:

“Just as importantly, drones change the ethics of war. According to the new military morality, to kill while exposing one’s life to danger is bad; to take lives without ever endangering one’s own is good. Bradley Jay Strawser, a professor of philosophy at the US naval Postgraduate school in California, is a prominent spokesperson of the ‘principle of unnecessary risk.’ It is, in his view, wrong to command someone to take an unnecessary risk, and consequently it becomes a moral imperative to deploy drones.

Exposing the lives of one’s troops was never considered good, but historically it was believed to be necessary. Therefore dying for one’s country was deemed to be the greatest sacrifice and those who did die were recognized as heroes. The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of ‘self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.’” [my emphasis].

We can only imagine what demons will torment the drone operators as they struggle for the rest of their lives with the severe cognitive dissonance of “heroic” drone warfare.

Catholics beware of the Sniper and the Drone.

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