Are we asking the wrong question? (Drones Part Two)

A query in search of words.

“My son is a soldier in Afghanistan. If a drone will protect my child from harm, so be it.”

​I listened and I trembled inside. The parent spoke at a public lecture critical of our government’s use of drones. For a few moments a stillness settled on the room. I do not take the parent’s statement as rebuttal to the speaker. Rather, I remember it as an implicit question: how do I reconcile my concern for my child with criticism of government behavior?

​For that moment we stood on common ground: the speaker, members of the audience, the parent, and myself. Discussion stopped. In the stillness I felt this common ground slipping from beneath us. And after a few heartbeats, the room was filled with words about legalities, disclosure, and accountability.

I continue to reflect on that moment, remembering that I have, as many of us have, witnessed similar moments since the days of Vietnam. During those five decades we have seen these moments repeated when shared concern, even skepticism, about a foreign venture is deflected. Whatever the defects in the policy, we hear that we need to support our children in uniform or that our security requires that certain prices be paid.

When the parent spoke, how might I have responded? I remain uncertain. While analytical arguments about political systems and cultural values and about complexities of effective dissent provide necessary perspective, that talk seems insufficient by itself to address this question in search of the right words. After all the talk about constitutional questions, this place may remain barely explored. The parent’s response silences criticism of state policy. And criticism of state behavior often evades the parent’s question. The answer lies somewhere beyond the question: do I stop the drones or do I support our loved ones?

And so I feel drawn to this still point in time. At once I empathize with the parent and remain no less convinced that the drones are wrong. Moreover as a parent I know that these killing machines kill children over there. Today a parent in Afghanistan may be saying that if it were not for the drone, he would be having dinner with his daughter.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that we are asking the wrong question. Today I do not know the words for my question. Yet I feel it necessary to continue searching. I feel so when I stand at my community’s Saturday peace vigil and meet neighbors who are friendly to the dream of peace but conditioned to be fearful for their security. Again, the problem is posed as a choice between either peace or war with little ground between. Repeatedly though in different ways, I feel common ground slip away. Perhaps a first step may be taken simply by taking a deep breath and not stepping out of that still place.

Good work is being done that may enable us to sit in that still place between seeming opposites or irreconcilables for a bit loner. Last year neighbors in my community gathered in groups to read and discuss Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” and the Charter for Compassion project. That discussion continues in several forms including the Nonviolent Carbondale project. Parker Palmer comes to this place in his “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit”. And Living Room Conversations works to bridge political division.

​I am imagining a long process of undoing deep habits of thought that we share and that stymie our imaginations. But the wars have been going on for a long time, so long that we may simply call it The War. Learning the facts and calling for disclosure of government behaviors informs the discussion. But I wonder. The facts alone about drones or other policies once disclosed may not mean that they bring us forward. Intellect helps, no doubt, to address recurring concerns. Yet intellect alone may remain stymied, as it was that evening, without union with compassion and listening. Perhaps then we can work with that parent.

3 thoughts on “Are we asking the wrong question? (Drones Part Two)

  1. Somebody is asking the wrong question, for sure. “How do I send my son to war and protect him from harm?”

    Ever since body bags were coming back from Vietnam by the tens of thousands, the US military has been trying to re-shape war in a way that will reduce the visible harm to US service-people, and thus reduce the clamor of citizens for an end to war. Bloodless war is what they have convinced Americans is possible. Bloodless for our side, anyway. And no visible enemy blood on our TV screens, so we won’t have to be squeamish about what we are doing to other people’s sons and daughters. As long as parents think the Pentagon can protect their children from harm, while sending them into combat zones, and citizens don’t see blood and guts on the evening news, there will be few of us asking them to rein in their war-making. (Have you noticed that the big talking point with FCNL lately is that we’re spending too many tax dollars on the wars? Money, not physical or moral harm, is what makes an impact these days. Granted, the mis-spending of tax dollars is also a moral issue, but it isn’t at the top of my list for why I will not shoot my enemy.)

    Maybe the wrongness of the question goes back even farther in history. “How do I give birth to a child and ensure that no harm will ever come to him or her?” Even if we lived in perfect peace with one another, we could not eliminate any chance of harm. My brother’s brother-in-law was riding his bike on a peaceful street in Virginia when an oak tree fell on him. Not a branch–a whole tree. Life is risky. Maybe we should take stock of the many ways that harm can come to us, and make our peace with that. Then do our best to reduce harm–to ourselves and others–and leave the rest to God, “whose service is perfect peace.”

  2. May I come to dwell in your world? The music of your spheres mentors my efforts to listen empathetically to disparate identities. In the aggregate, that empathy can reduce the number of physical guns in play.

    • Peter

      Thought you would like to see the kinds of people in my world. The message below is a comment to a blog posting I wrote for a Quaker listserve. Bet you don’t get response like that.

      Michael C Batinski Professor of History Emeritus Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale IL 62901 home 26 Hawthorne Hollow Carbondale IL 62903 618-549-0682

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