A talk and essay delivered by Heather Ashley Hayes at the Social Life of Guns Symposium at Amherst College on March 3-4, 2017. Drawn from new interpretations of her work in her book Violent Subjects and Rhetorical Cartography in the Age of the Terror Wars (2016, for more information see "Violent Subjects" tab at left).
Since 2010, what the world has come to know as the terror wars have been dominated by new developments in weaponry. War fighting’s history is rife with changes to help distance a weapon from the “authorized” user of that weapon, from bayonets to tanks and more. The arrival of unmanned aerial vehicles in the form of armed Predator and Reaper drones embarking on targeted killing missions throughout the Arab world certainly amplifies this effort to new levels. The deployment of a weapon with terminal consequences alongside its ability to surveil, track, and ultimately, target human beings outside of declared war zones without the immediate presence of an operator poses a number of questions. Much of the focus on armed drone use however has come in the form of assessments about the efficacy of the weapon, accuracy of its targeting mechanisms, or the legality of its very use. The Obama administration’s near complete silence on the armed drone program was broken in July of 2016 when death tolls from the weapon’s use by the U.S. in non-declared war zones were finally released alongside an executive order attempting to curb civilian deaths brought about by the weapon’s use. However, little if any scholarship has explored the life of the drone itself, the way the weapon as actor functions. In addition, few connections have been made to the way the life of the drone may inform, guide, and expand the life of guns. This essay will confront these questions, examining the personless weapons known as armed drones, used by the U.S. against almost entirely Arab, Muslim populations as part of their efforts in the terror wars and thinking about their being as it relates to the way that guns are deployed, used, and come to have a life of their own as well.
Specifically, this essay will analyze three components of the armed drones currently used as part of the U.S. terror wars: their aural capacity (that buzzing sound), their scopic capacity (their roaming eye), and their killing capacity (their ability to act based on directives). The drone itself is a living being in this sense, with the ability to watch, the ability to speak, and the ability to act, often with terminal consequences for those whom it acts upon (and sometimes those who direct it to act). Understanding the drone as its own self-fulfilling set of logics will allow us access to think about the expansion of personless weapons programs both within war fighting projects and within domestic policing spheres. This gives us unique insight into gun proliferation and the trajectory of gun use and exchange. The seeming rush with which both the U.S. military and domestic police forces are developing these technologies exhibits ways that weapons threaten to take on lives of their own. With the Dallas Police Department deploying a “bomb robot” to kill a suspect in the wake of the police shootings there in July of 2016, the imperative to understand this trajectory is more pressing than ever.
In short, this essay will ask: what is the body of the drone able to do and how does it access its power? How do its aural and scopic capacities facilitate its growth as a preferred information technology of policing and war? How does this personless weapon arc inform our understandings about the social life of guns? And ultimately, what ethical explorations have been shielded from debate as a result of any weapon gaining supposedly self-fulfilling logics as efficient ways to police and govern populations?