Monday, June 8, 2015

Do Non-American Lives Matter?

In April we learned three months after the event that an American drone strike in Pakistan inadvertently killed Warren Weinstein, an American held as a hostage in Pakistan. President Obama made a public apology, stating “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”  (“American killed by US drone in Pakistan,”, April 24, 2015.)
Unfortunately this was not the only innocent person killed by drone strikes. An Associated Press article by Sebastian Abbot attempted to make the case that few civilians have been killed by U.S. drones (e.g., “Most killed by US drones are militants, study finds,” Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 2012, p. A3). The article establishes that 30%, meaning “only” 30%, of those killed by drones in Pakistan were civilians or other non-militants. That 30% at that time—over three years ago—amounted to about 56 civilians or other non-militants killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan. The killed included children. Later, on July 22, 2013, the London-based non-profit The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that a Pakistani document revealed that “of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes . . . at least 147 of the dead . . . are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.” This is not counting civilians killed by drone strikes in other countries.
The killed civilians were not in a war zone. They were not on a battlefield. They were killed similar to the way Warren Weinstein was killed, inadvertently in an attempt to kill the active perpetrators of violence.
There was no public official apology from President Obama for the death of those innocent Pakistanis.   The reports of these deaths of innocents, when such reports existed at all, were mostly hidden in small articles in back pages, often under reassuring headlines like the one above.
The only conclusion I can draw from this sequence of events is that the United States regards the life of an innocent American far more highly than that of an innocent Pakistani. (Did you make the distinction in your own mind: “Oh, those were not Americans, they were Pakistanis?”)
There has been a persistent national preference for preserving American lives over other innocent lives. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath cost several hundred thousands of Iraqi civilian lives, all in the name of advancing democracy and perhaps civilization. Iraqi civilians, including children, were pawns in a global contest for power. Their lives apparently did not matter—
at least not enough to warrant the kind of official regret expressed by the President about Mr. Weinstein.
It should not surprise us, then, that there are people in Pakistan and the Middle East who hate the United States and are resorting to terrorism in an attempt to destroy it. Unfortunately, the behavior of our country towards innocent lives is creating its own enemies. This behavior and the reactions to it cannot but help lead us down the road towards greater conflict and more war, increasing the threat of involvement of those with or developing nuclear weapons.
It should be clear from these events that reflect relative indifference to non-American civilian deaths that we as a nation continue to be headed in the wrong direction.
What can we do to turn our nation around and make it a force for lasting peace? Killing innocent civilians of any nationality in any country is not the way to do it. Regarding civilian deaths as merely collateral damage is not the way to do it. Treating American lives as more important than the lives of non-Americans is not the way to do it.
             What this indifference to non-American civilian lives reveals is a rejection of the values underlying democracy, values that maintain that all people are of equal worth.