by Bishop Richard Pates,
Bishop of Des Moines
When a new technology develops, society must sometimes rush to catch up to its ethical ramifications. Take drones, for instance.
A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that U.S. drone strikes killed as many as 3,337 people in Pakistan alone from June 2004 to September 2012. For many Americans, the issue of targeted killings by unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, is murky, complicated by the need for national security in a post-9/11 world. It rises occasionally to public attention, as it did following the reported killing on May 29 of the Pakistan Taliban’s second in command, but the questions raised by these events quickly fade.
There’s something about the detached nature of a drone strike that feels cleaner than, say, unilaterally invading a sovereign nation. However, the Pakistan body count rivals even that of the 4,409 U.S. troops killed in Iraq.
This should give Americans and our leaders pause, as it suggests our usage of this technology far outstrips the amount of reflection we’ve done on the subject. The distance many people feel from this issue does not reduce the ethical concerns involved, nor does it make the negative impact of drone usage any less severe.
The widely recognized “just war” theory is the Catholic Church’s guideline for determining when it’s acceptable to go to war. It includes determining whether an attack is imminent, whether the force used is discriminate and proportional to the threat posed, and whether there is probability of success. Of the people killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan (we have also used them in Yemen and Somalia), as many as 883 were civilians, including 176 children…