Thursday, March 7, 2013


The Empathy Gap

The fascinating Teju Cole talks to Mother Jones about drones, Twitter activism, and identity:

TC: Killing a bunch of people in Sudan and Yemen and Pakistan, it's like, "Who cares—we don't know them." But the current discussion is framed as "When can the President kill an American citizen?" Now in my mind, killing a non-American citizen without due process is just as criminal as killing an American citizen without due process—but whatever gets us to the table to discuss this thing, we're going to take it.

The drone tweets are almost impossible to read, but that...would be the idea.

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Nicole, thank you for posting about this.


Really interesting read.


like your style@j


And now I have another twitterer to follow! Thank you, Nicole - that was really interesting.


So... we should have gotten a warrant before storming the beaches at Normandy?


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll We were formally at war with Germany (who was occupying that section of France), but we aren't even informally at war with Pakistan and we've been drone-striking them for years.


You may make that distinction, but Cole doesn’t, at least not in the interview. And if the problem is lack of Congressional authorization, couldn't that be resolved by an appropriate act of Congress (to the extent current acts of Congress don't go far enough)?

But actually, I’m being facetious, trying to point out in a probably-too-cryptic way the illogic of opposing a war through opposing its process. Look, does Cole think the U.S. should be using military force against people in other countries who are trying to bomb U.S. citizens or doesn’t he? If the answer is that he doesn’t, then he should say that. It’s goofy to attack drones as a method of warfighting when your real objection is the war itself. Would Cole be satisfied if all of these strikes had been done by piloted F-16s? Would Cole be satisfied if all of these strikes had been done by 19-year-old Army Rangers brought in by helicopter to shoot the target face-to-face?


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I guess Cole doesn't. Probably I was thinking of Rachel Maddow's book where she talks about how the drone program has even less oversight than the non-wars we've fought since WWII, since it's mostly done by intelligence agencies under Presidential authority, rather than the military (which has more checks and balances than the CIA), and how since there's no US soldiers at risk on the ground war can be made very lightly, with no real discussion before, during, or after. But I guess Cole couldn't fit that into a tweet.

Sean Lai

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Cole says pretty specifically in the interview linked in this very post that his drone strike tweets are about extending the circle of empathy to the victims of American strikes. That seems to pretty clearly make his work about the consequences of American militarism, not about some specific technology.

You are not the only one I've seen concern trolling about how "drones" aren't really the issue, and it is grating. We know it is not drones per se that are the issue; if it was, Cole's tweets would all be about how drones are putting hard working American soldiers out of work, or some similar BS, rather than short humanizing accounts of victims.


@Sean Lai
"Concern trolling"? Hey now, not everyone who expresses disagreement is motivated by a desire to irritate you.

Sean Lai

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll You're right, that was an unkind assessment - I apologize. But my points are simple: for one, some people really are concerned about the process and it is a disservice to their point of view to pretend they don't exist or that their view is irrelevant, when in fact it is a perfectly sensible one (a helpful analogy might be: someone might support the death penalty, but only for certain crimes or after following certain procedures, and not in any other circumstances).

And for two, I think Cole is clearly not interested in drones per se but in illuminating the lives of the victims of our attacks, mirroring his Small Fates tweets. I think this is pretty obvious by looking at the format of the tweets, and at the interview. So I think your criticism is really wrong-headed here, whereas it might make sense in a different context (for Rand Paul, maybe).


The drone strikes have already killed an American citizen, but I guess since he wasn't in the US and was a member of Al Qaeda that doesn't count?

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