Drones: A History from the British Middle East

By Satia, Priya | Humanity, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Drones: A History from the British Middle East


Satia, Priya, Humanity


During the presidency of George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched a secret program that put hundreds of unmanned surveillance and attack aircraft into the skies over Iraq, Afghanistan, and later Pakistan. After Barack Obama came into office, drone use increased dramatically. He and Gates grew convinced that constant, ubiquitous drone surveillance coupled with airstrikes triggered remotely would solve U.S. tactical problems in these regions. The U.S. government has refused to share even the most basic information about drone use and attacks, but estimated figures for CIA-run strikes in Pakistan alone are about three hundred since Obama came into office, killing roughly three thousand individuals, including several hundred civilians.1

The fascination with technology that dominates most historical accounts of drones does not leave us any wiser about the uses to which they are being put or their likelihood of success in achieving their goals, for political and cultural factors have had a critical influence on the invention of and response to policing by drones.2 I offer here a history of the tactical imagination behind drone surveillance, which at once illuminates the politics of their reception in the places in which they have been most heavily and controversially employed: Iraq and the region familiarly known as "AfPak."

Many critics of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, focus on remote piloting as their most controversial quality, but as others, too, have pointed out, distancing technologies have long been central to the history of warfare, invariably prompting fears of the ways in which they casualize violence.3 Certainly, drones remove aggressors entirely out of harm's way, to an unprecedented distance, raising all kinds of questions about the place of martial values in American warfare. But, as we will see, close-up surveillance on detailed screens also allows a new kind of intimacy. From this historian's point of view, the technological innovations of drone warfare distract from critical continuities with earlier uses of air power. By minding those continuities, we gain crucial insight into why drones are doomed to fail in their current objective. The crux of the matter is not so much that drones are unmanned but that they promise panoptic aerial surveillance of a region understood as otherwise essentially unknowable. For this has happened before: although drones are used all over the world for a range of purposes, their initial deployment over Iraq and AfPak was shaped by historical factors dating from the early twentieth century, when the British first came to control these regions with airpower. That initial experiment failed, which in itself does not bode well for today's analog. Furthermore, memory of that first experiment ensures that today's stands even less chance of success.

Aerial policing was invented in British Iraq after World War I. The key features in favor of an aerial regime were that (i) it was cheap; (2) it promised omniscience in a land of mystery; (3) it was discreet; (4) it was romantic; and (5) it signaled cultural respect. Today's drone surveillance and policing are intended to offer similar advantages, indeed, to more perfectly fulfill the ideal of panoptic surveillance. They are inspired by an aggressively propagated myth about the success of the British air control regime in those parts of the world, a myth so powerful that it almost singlehandedly secured the survival of the newly created Royal Air Force (RAF) after World War I. Today, too, it remains profitable to many vested interests (the Pentagon, drone manufacturers, the CIA, and so on). To understand the continuity between the past and the seemingly revolutionary present, we need to first understand how and why aerial control became the British panacea for an intractable situation in the heart of the Middle East.

Cheap and (Theoretically) Omniscient The Practical Advantages

The British occupied the three provinces of the Ottoman Empire that make up present-day Iraq during World War I. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Drones: A History from the British Middle East
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.