Thursday, September 27, 2012

" 'Once The Rockets Are Up...' "

" '... who cares where they come down; / That's not my department,' says Wernher von Braun."

V‑2 Replica,
Thus sang the incomparable Tom Lehrer in a deeply bitter song (YouTube) about the infliction of more than 3,000 V‑2 rockets by Nazi Germany on five nations (Belgium, UK, France, Netherlands, and Germany itself), starting in September 1944 and continuing for several months. The fatalities were not heavy... in London, each V‑2 killed on average two people... but the effect was terrifying, and there was basically nothing the Allies could do in response, except to pursue the European war effort as vigorously as possible. I have been reading Studs Terkel's "The Good War" (quotes are a part of the title), especially interviews regarding Londoners' reaction to the V‑2 strikes, and it is clear that for all the people's courage, the V‑2 was a terrorist's weapon, as surely as an IED or other homemade bomb today. And Wernher and company were therefore terrorists.

Predator Drone
Today, the US military, and two US presidents so far, are distressingly fond of UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, "drones" for short. Drones in one form or another have been around since 1916, and, again in one form or another, in actual use since the Vietnam War. Today's drones, UASs (unmanned aircraft systems, including ground control), in use since 2005, piloted remotely from the battlefield (if indeed a battlefield is involved at all), launching missiles at ground targets, are less than precise in their targeting:
... Since 2006, drone-launched missiles allegedly had killed between 750 and 1,000 people in Pakistan, according to the report. Of these, about 20 people were said to be leaders of Al Qaeda, Taliban, and associated groups. Overall, 66% to 68% of the people killed were militants, and 31% to 33% were civilians. US officials disputed the percentage for civilians.[29] ...
You can find most any value you want for the percentage civilians killed, depending on the political views of a given web site's author, but there is little dispute among non-US-government sources that the number is relatively high. It almost seems at times as if any person killed by a missile launched from an American drone is automatically classified as a "militant," and how are they to defend their names? Many of the civilians have been killed while going about their daily business, not participating in any hostile activity... in one well-known incident, a wedding party was attacked, killing 37 people, mostly women and (more than half) children. Given the imprecision of remotely piloted drone attacks and the (relatively) small numbers of people killed, the UAV is ultimately a terrorist's weapon. And hence Barry and company are terrorists.

Eventually, Wernher von Braun became one of "our boys," and his image was rehabilitated for public consumption. (Clearly, Tom Lehrer didn't get that memo.) The question is whether Barack Obama, who is not a bad human being, can be made to see that engaging in terrorism makes one a terrorist, no matter how virtuous one's person, no matter how noble one's cause. Every child needlessly killed in a drone attack is not only a moral atrocity but also a motivation for future terrorist attacks against the US, and I for one will not be surprised when they happen. If Mr. Obama wins a second term (which I sincerely hope he does, because his opponent is a man of no virtue whatsoever that I can perceive), we have to begin his reeducation in the content of the Geneva Conventions and the limits of warfare to which any civilized nation must be subject. As he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, perhaps we can hope for the best. [/mild irony]

ADDED: worth reading is Glenn Greenwald's New Stanford/NYU study documents the civilian terror from Obama's drones.


  1. Shirl's mum when she was a child discovered what V2s could do. One landed on her street (Ainslie Avenue in Romford) It destroyeed a lot of houses including her famiy home. She her mother and her baby sister were in the shelter her father built below the greenhouse in the garden. It saved them from inury but the entrance was blocked by rubble and it was hours before they were dug out.

    Unsurprisingly she was a lifelong claustrophobic until her death in 2003

  2. jams, notwithstanding the numerically low casualty rate, the Germans sent so many of the damned things over that a large number of people were injured or killed by them. I've never experienced the kind of fear described by Londoners interviewed by Studs Terkel, not even when I was bicycling for transportation in Houston (a moderately scary experience in itself).

    It seems to me that W.W.II and its immediate aftermath may be the only time in which the wellbeing of noncombatants was even considered worth paying attention to. I am dismayed that the US transformed itself during the Bush Jr. years from a stalwart supporter of human rights, the international court, etc. into a repeated flagrant violator of those same rights. As a citizen, I did not sign up for that, and if I can find a way to influence our government to put a stop to it... a big "if," I realize... I shall do so.

    (BTW, Terkel made the quotation marks part of the book title as a reminder that the concept of a good war is oxymoronic.)



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