Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 77

DRONES, HONOR, AND WAR An MQ-9 Reaper takes off March 2009 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. the use of armed drones, and the classical conception of honor and courage in war. In this context, both academic literature and popular media tend to portray the drone as a symbol of America’s cultural disintegration. What emerges in the antidrone discourse is a critique of modernity, and a melancholic longing for imagined traditions of bravery and honor. A Weapon of Cowards? In The Thistle and the Drone, Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University, and a former senior fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, suggests that the drone is far more than “the twenty-first century’s most advanced kill technology.”2 He sees weaponized drones as the symbol of the cultural clash between the United States and the tribal Muslim societies in the “periphery.” According to Ahmed, who studied the Pashtuns, Yemenis, Somalis, and Kurds, the use of drones represents America’s new reliance on a martial ethos that is no longer about traditional military values. The American use of drones, Ahmed claims, shows that the United States does not abide by the same rules of honor as ancient cultures. Instead, it embraces a modern philosophy that is alien to the people it attacks. Therefore, Ahmed explains, Muslim tribesmen see drone warfare as “dishonorable” and “blasphemous.”3 Tribal societies, Ahmed contends, are deeply rooted in tradition, making sense of the present through their MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force) understanding of shared experience. Men in these societies, Ahmed contends, live by an ancient code of honor passed on through generations by the actions and oral narratives of a community’s elders. The tribal lineage system is characterized by its martial tradition, and the ancient code of honor and revenge. The claim is that the essence of tribal societies is a tapestry of courage and pride, and a sense of egalitarianism, and that these features have remained remarkably unchanged through time. In the novella Hadji Murad, Leo Tolstoy writes about the strength of a Muslim tribal leader facing imperial Russia, and a century later Ahmed detects the same fortitude in the tribal societies he studies. Ahmed argues that, coming from this stable tradition, tribesmen do not respect the new ways in which Americans fight. The drone comes to represent American power, overwhelming and, by definition of its very modernity, unfair, unjust, and unnatural. Honor is equated with the traditional, while dishonor with the modern. It is not only ideology that defines what is or is not honorable but also the techniques or modes of warfare. Ahmed remarks that Americans can fight bravely, and they have proven to be brave, in past battles. There is a sense of nostalgia in this argument. Ahmed turns to World War II to pinpoint a historical moment that he claims showcases American bravery in combat. In the past, he argues, the American soldier could win battles through hand-to-hand fighting that 71