“So what would Albert Camus, the great moralist of the 20th century, think about the latest innovation in administrative murder, Obama’s drone program, a kind of remote-control gallows, where the killers never see their victims, never hear their screams, smell their burning bodies, touch their mutilated flesh?
The conscience of the killer has been sterilized, the drone operator, fully alienated from the act he is committing, can walk out the door after his shift is over and calmly order an IPA at the local micro-brew or play a round of golf under the desert sky. He is left with no blood on his hands, no savagery weighing on his conscience, no degrading images to stalk his dreams.
Drone strikes, Camus would argue, are not just meant to kill. They are programmed to terrorize. In this regard, whether the missile strikes its intended target or incinerates a goat-herder and his flock is incidental. In fact, the occasional killing of civilians may well be a desired outcome since collateral deaths intensify the fear. This is punishment by example, not for any particular crime or impending threat, but merely because of who you are, where you live, what you might believe. These new circuitries of death are meant to humiliate, subdue and dehumanize.
As more and more evidence of Obama’s secret killing operations in Pakistan and Yemen began to leak out, public squeamishness over the deaths, especially of civilians and targeted American citizens, began to mount. Uncomfortable questions were raised, even on the political right. To salvage his program, Obama announced that new guidelines would soon be imposed on his high-tech assassinations.
But Camus would be the first to warn us that such regulations should be viewed with grave suspicion, since they will likely only serve to legitimize and normalize state murder, by making lawless killing legal.
Camus stresses that in the long run such killing regimes can only sustain themselves if they are indulged by a nation’s elites: its press, its intellectuals, its political movements. And here we must confront the torpid moral character of the American left, which has been flaccid in the face of the drone killings, insensate to the mangled bodies, suffering and fragmented lives on the far side of the world.
Our task is to shatter this indifference, to condemn and resist the killing done in our names, to reassert the primacy of individual life over state authority. Otherwise, we become accomplices of the long-distance executioners.”