Friday, February 15, 2013

Imminent Threat

One drawback of a “news fast” is that it denies us the opportunity to polish our linguistic skills. Let me illustrate this with a current controversy (those on a fast might wish to skip a sentence). Evidently killing American citizens using drones is Okay if they are an imminent threat to the United States. Here imminent means “near at hand” in time; threat means “a hostile intention.” The use of drones in such a context is preemptive—in that nothing has actually happened as yet—except awareness of an intention to commit a hostile act. Soon. This is the Bush doctrine personalized, as it were.

How far is Yemen from the U.S. coast? 7,129 miles away—15 hours by air. “Imminent” therefore means about 15 hours. The presumption is that the targeted Individual not only has the intention but is also the person to carry it out. Otherwise problems arise, even if “preventive war” were justified. What happens to the logic if the Individual acts through surrogates? The droning of the fellow might be justified if the surrogates had sworn on some holy book that they will only commit the terrorist attack while the Individual is still alive—and furthermore, word of his death can reach them fast enough, therefore before they explode the bomb. If no such oath was sworn, and if the Individual is not coming himself, the droning is just vengeance—in advance.

Evidently, since George W. Bush, preventive war has become acceptable, indeed unquestioned—itself a curious deformation of logic. Under that logic, the probability of attack is viewed as certainty—which is a linguistic error of the first order. But given that it is accepted, the citizenship of the Individual becomes the really core issue in this new doctrine. Why is his American citizenship controversial? The controversy must derive from American exceptionalism—another idea that seems to have achieved transcending status. Killing an Arab is Okay, indeed shrugged off. He need not even be a threat, imminent or otherwise. Enough for his demise to be known to be on the wrong side of history. But an American citizen? That’s a being above mere human status. The right to equal treatment under the law has been modified, evidently, as we’ve expanded the concept of preventive war. The American citizen must be physically located on United States territory to deserve the right. If he is elsewhere, it is best for him to keep his intentions to himself.

News fasts will also prevent us from delighting in such discoveries as the following. A drone is not just a pilotless plane. It’s also a male bee that makes no honey. And it is also a kind of dull recitation in which the words, for all practical purposes, make no sense at all: as the words of this new doctrine—or of the Bush Doctrine that gave them birth.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this drone policy... it is wrong and simply indefensible. I can not see it as anything but the crossing of the Rubican... In this new century, the United States has become something other than what it was on the International stage for most of the last century, or, as Anna would say, back in the 'nineteens." It fills me with a true sense of dread.

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