Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22





Théorie du Drone (Theory of the Drone) by Grégoire Chamayou and Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill are essential reading in order to better understand the art of war today. Both follow the evolution of technology and of military drones themselves. Our planet is becoming — at the height of its technological prowess — a human hunting ground.

The art of war no longer exists the way Clausewitz imagined it: a fundamental structure involving the ideas of the duel, of confrontation; the concepts of sacrifice and heroism no longer apply. This is, in fact, the clinching argument for those who defend the use of drones. This postulate of “post-heroism” is not exempt from criticism, even inside the U.S. Army; Air Force pilots apparently do not appreciate the questioning of the military ethos provoked by the systematic use of drones and the very idea of war. The kind of asymmetrical wars waged until the late 20th century (think slingshots versus a tank) seems now to be part of our prehistory. We now wage war by touch screen. This immediate distancing actually de-realizes death. War becomes entirely parodic. And even if this kind of war remains illegal in terms of most international treaties, it is nonetheless the reality for a certain part of the planet.

Let’s imagine a guy named Bob. Bob is an Air Force pilot. He flies thousands of miles every day — over Eritrea, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — but without ever leaving the control room of a military base located somewhere in Nevada. He is also never late to dinner with his family. But Bob the soldier is also an outlaw. He intervenes in zones that are not officially at war, but rather what we call the “permanent war.” Bob flies a Reaper: the name given to an extremely effective combat drone. He commands the data set of the drone in order to preventively assassinate Islamic fundamentalists suspected of inciting terrorist attacks.

Every Tuesday, President Obama approves a list of people who are to be eliminated some- where on this planet. The list is established in part by using the giant pool of data collected by surveillance drones. It is called the “Kill List.” Tuesdays in Washington are called “Terror Tuesdays.” The combat drones swoop down in various areas of the planet like invisible avenging gods, drilling their targets, who will barely have time to glimpse the flash preceding the explosion.

Predator and Reaper drones are equipped with multiple programs practicing data fusion. They combine series of patterns and other data using statistical algorithms to detect abnormal behavior. The essential objective of these programs is to “distinguish between normal and abnormal activity.” All of this in a sort of militarized rhythmic analysis that is becoming more and more automated. These algorithms become an automated predictor of the worst, whose objective is to anticipate a future attack.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, there have been frequent errors, and many civilians have been the victims of the deadly action of these drones; in military terms they are called collateral damage. We should also note that many of these criminal errors seem to focus on ritual assemblies, such as parties, baptisms, and marriages. Probably because a party is a break in the routine of the daily schedule. A group of people assemble for a party; of course the behavioral database will see it as a meeting to pre- pare a terrorist act. Even with our highly specialized technology, wars and celebrations mirror each other in the algorithmic conclusions of our globalized surveillance programs.

“I press a button here — and a silhouette disappears in an explosion there.” The pilot is not near his drone; he controls his weapon thousands of miles away from the theater of operations. And as the drone itself is also not near the potential enemy — it flies silently 6,000 meters overhead — the pilot is not shooting at a human being. “There is no human flesh on your screens, just the coordinates and some non-identifiable shapes.” The figurative reduction of the human being to an amorphous moving shape makes shooting easier. You can compartmentalize your actions, and an effective drone pilot must possess this ability to detach. “It’s odd,” says Lieutenant Colonel Michael Lenahan [a Predator pilot], “You’ve just shot a missile at someone, then after- ward you take your kid to his soccer match.” The pilot must forget the pixelized smoke, the avatars of dead bodies scattered across the killing field.

We know that a porosity exists between war and civil society in terms of its mercantile value. This has become widespread with the social networks, such as Facebook, or the data behemoth Google, which accentuates the porous continuity between civilian and military data (and the famous targeting of data as war marketing). Using behavioral analysis, we can track the clientele the same way we hunt terrorists. And even if we are shocked by the docility and voluntary subservience of these civilians wanting to be connected 24 hours a day, the client is nonetheless a target. We want to know where he is. “Find, fix, and finish,” is the theme song for the permanent war, ever since the 9/11 terror attacks, for the Joint Chiefs and other military personnel. Three years later the planetary social network Facebook came out, this giant vacuum cleaner sucking up all our data under the guise of a festive, friendly community. Which is the absolute opposite of the celebration that Georges Bataille defines as “gay abandon in a world limited by fear.” A celebration that the algorithmic programs of the drones may methodically misinterpret as terrorist conspiracies.

The use of a drone implies that its targets are presumed guilty. The drone is the mechanical agent of the permanent war, which is a pre-criminal war. It seems that Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report has become part of our reality and will become even more so in the future. “It is about fighting a just war,” said President Obama, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. But as Grégoire Chamayou explains, “Drones terrify us. They produce mass terror and are inflicted on entire populations.”

I suggest also reading the September 2012 report published by Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law, Living Under Drones. Testimony about psychological terror is massive: “We are permanently under surveillance; they’re always up there, and you can never predict when they will hit you.” This report about war and hunting human beings forces us to confront a new violence: that of digital data being used against Man.

John Jefferson Selve, formerly the publisher of the erotic magazine Edwarda, is now at work on a new literary and pictorial magazine, Possession Immèdiate. He lives in Paris.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

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