Necro-Ethics part 3. Virtueless War and the Suicide Bomber

The New Clouds, by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

Having drawn on Kant’s categorical imperative to argue that Drones are an immoral form of warfare, and then used orthodox price theory to claim that drones make war more likely, Chamayou’s next step is to move on to one of the most brutal themes in Drone Theory; his comparison of the drone pilot with the suicide bomber. One gets the impression that, on balance, Chamayou favours the suicide bomber; at least he forfeits his life.

Actually, Chamayou condemns the suicide bomber in the same way that he does dronized warfare; the suicide bomber violates the principle of jus in bello­ by removing himself from at least the possibility of retributive justice by annihilating himself, the drone pilot through subtracting himself from the theatre of conflict altogether.

In such a dronized environment of what Chamayou calls “virtueless war”, a strange inflection takes place in which the suicide bomber comes to represent a corrupted version of bravery and self-sacrifice reflected back at Western society. As Chamayou puts it, “the old idol of martial sacrifice, falling directly from its pedestal into the enemy clutches, has become utterly repellent, the epitome of moral horror” (p.87). The invulnerability of the drone pilot also has the perverse outcome of making civilians the favoured quarry of suicide bombers as easy targets.

As to the question of the damage that drone pilots suffer themselves, Chamayou tends to downplay this, holding to the idea that risk is only risk if bodily harm is at stake. In Kill Chain, however, Andrew Cockburn makes the point that drone operators suffer high rates of PTSD, since they stalk their targets for hours if not days on end, loitering just outside of their target’s visual range and gaining an intimate picture of their comings and goings before the kill is made in Ballardian high-definition. They then complete their shift and take a short drive home to their families — such a level of psychological compartmentalisation is simply too much to bear.

Although mentioned several times already, part 4 of Necro-Ethics will undertake a more detailed exploration of Chamayou’s invocation of the concept of ­jus in bello and the writings of Carl von Clausewitz in his critique of drone warfare.