Drones: Time to Listen to Larry the Fat Guy
About a dozen years ago, when Larry Summers was appointed President of Harvard, I asked an undergraduate what she thought of the selection. She replied, “I don’t know, some fat guy.”
Thus, did Lawrence Henry Summers, 27th President of Harvard and former Secretary of the Treasury, become “Larry the fat guy.”
Despite a rocky tenure resulting largely from his prickly personality, Larry the fat guy is definitely no dummy, but for all his achievements, the idea of his that stands out most in my mind was probably a throwaway line.
“If you have a difficult problem, try asking someone in another field.” Sometimes, a different perspective can be illuminating.
Could the use of drones be difficult enough to warrant using the Larry-the-fat-guy technique?
The premise of Homeland, a popular TV series, is the impact of a drone strike gone awry and, at least in Pakistan, there are an increasing number of strikes, whether or not well-targeted. http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/
In a recent poll, U.S. adults were asked several questions about drones and here are their answers.
“Do you think the U.S. government should or should not use drones to…
“Launch airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists?” — should 65%; should not 28%
“Launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists?” — should 41%; should not 52% (for some reason, American victims reduce support by 24%)
“Launch airstrikes in the U.S. against suspected terrorists living here?” — should 25%; should not 66% (geography alone reduces support for drone use by 40%)
“Launch airstrikes in the U.S. against U.S. citizens living here who are suspected terrorists?” — should 13%; should not 79% (again, geography reduces support for drone use by 28%)
Interesting but not dispositive because polls tell us what people think not what should be done, since people don’t always know what should be done.
The pro-drone case seems relatively straightforward.
Collateral damage (the killing of civilians) is significantly decreased — although not eliminated — as compared with other methods of dealing with combatants. Think Dresden, where an entire city was flattened. Or Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo, the last by fire bombs rather than atom bombs.
Drones are far safer than piloted aircraft because the driver is located in Nevada or Florida rather than in the sky above Waziristan. No coffins to Dover.
Drones are cheaper.
Drones are really good at getting the job done, at least as determined by those charged with doing so. “It’s for your safety,” as we are often admonished by anyone in authority.
Curiously, it is apparently okay to use drones – actually the Hellfire missiles fired by drones – against the leaders of groups though not the leaders of countries, but that is another story.
The anti-drone case seems to depend on the person making it. If one is a hammer every problem is a nail.
“Any collateral damage is too much,” argue those who care for the well being of civilians.
Those on the ground point to slaughtering wedding parties and other family events.
Government officials decry violations of sovereign air space.
There are other cases both pro and con but all are worth considering because drones are headed our way – perhaps more for snooping than killing. If the manufacturers have their way, law enforcement officials will soon have them.
For two reasons, I have always given more weight to the views of those at the pointy end of the missile than at the flaming end.
First, drones are not that hard. The larger the target the dumber the drone can be. If aiming at a building, a model airplane might well be sufficient.
Second, the public relations are both “far more important” and “terrible.”
“Far more important” is easy: World War I would have ended much sooner if the carnage had appeared on Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook, let alone cable news.
“Terrible” is where we listen to Larry the fat guy and ask an athlete. With drones, there is no contest because the offense is so far ahead of the defense. Nobody has any interest in the Super Bowl winner versus the Sixth Graders. It is simply not fair.
Meanwhile, drones have their own Washington trade association — the Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International — and the Senate and House have drone caucuses.