No room for the buzzing of the drones on the big rock candy mountain

Posted on 14 March 2013 by nsharkey

An article in yesterdays Globe and Mail (Canada) emphasized the psychological impact of drone strikes combined with noisy surveillance. Something that is often overlooked is the impact on civilians of the constant buzzing of drones overhead. They may be mainly used  for surveillance but even the occasional strike means that no one knows if the buzzing is going to lead to their death. This type of unpredictability and  uncontrollability creates a learned state of total helplessness in populations. But one thing that it does not do, is build up a network of friends.

“Much of the conversation about the impact of these strikes has rightly focused on the moral and legal costs of these civilian casualties, but it is a mistake to judge the impact of the U.S. drone program only by the number of sorties or kills. When this is the sole basis for evaluation, it is easy to argue that there is nothing particularly unique about this form of warfare – that these people would have been targeted and killed by U.S. Special Forces or manned aircraft had the drone program not been in place.

But this type of analysis misses a defining characteristic of the drone program that makes it qualitatively different from the less sophisticated weaponry that it is replacing: Ubiquitous drone use blurs the line between citizen and militants.

The psychological impact of drone surveillance, when combined with the civilian casualties we already know occur during strikes, leads to significant negative strategic costs that need to be incorporated into our assessment of the drone program.”

The author, Taylor Owen, extensively uses the report Living Under Drones, by our friends at Stanford and NYU law and commissioned by Reprieve. But he adds new insights about the psychological trauma in Gaza – anticipatory anxiety keeps people from attending social gatherings such as weddings and funerals. This message cannot be repeated enough

Owen talks about the New York Times Journalist, David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban:

“David Rohde described both the fear the drones inspired among his captors, as well as among ordinary civilians: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”

Read the full article – Drones don’t just kill. Their psychological effects are creating enemies

Noel SharkeyPhD, DSc FIET, FBCS CITP FRIN FRSA is Professor of AI and Robotics and Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield and was an EPSRC Senior Media Fellow (2004-2010).

Categorized | Analysis, News

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