Goodkill… Or Not

Sharon with Janie at Beale AFB

Memorial Day seems a fitting time to review the movie Goodkill,” now playing at the Magic Theater in Nevada City.  The movie, based on actual events, portrays a morally-conflicted and psychologically-tormented operator of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”), played by Ethan Hawke.

Even though the plot includes some obvious Hollywood enhancements, it presents some basic facts about drone warfare, facts that are little known to the US public.  For instance, drone operators accidentally kill civilians, but sometimes see that civilians (including children) are present and proceed (or are ordered to proceed) anyway.  “Signature strikes” do not target individually-recognized terrorists, but groups that fit a particular profile.  A “double tap” means that after a drone attack, a second drone targets rescue workers or people attending the funeral of victims from the first attack.

The movie allows the viewer to enter into the discordant life of a drone “pilot”—wearing your flight suit even though you’re not going to fly, entering the cramped but air-conditioned “cockpit,” holding joysticks and looking at computer monitors, endlessly watching people thousands of miles away, being given the order to strike a particular target whether you think it’s right or not, calling “goodkill” when a target is obliterated, stepping out after a shift into the sunlight and driving home to your family, not being able to talk about it without breaking security clearance, silently processing what you have done.

Several drone pilots in the movie clearly believe that they are “protecting American lives” and congratulate each other when they are successful in their targeted killings.  The commander, played by Bruce Greenwood, struggles with the morality of some of the killings, but articulates the official view.  He says to the trainees:  “Do any of you think that if we stop killing them, they’ll stop killing us?  No way.  That’s not going to happen.  So we can’t stop.”  There is one lone voice of conscience, a female drone pilot, asking questions throughout:  “So we can never stop?”  “Did we just commit a war crime?”  “They are 7,000 miles away.  What immanent threat could they pose?” She also states the obvious—that we are creating more terrorists through drone attacks.

The Ethan Hawke character brings to life the studies showing that  drone operators suffer from stress disorders as much as those in combat do.  On this day of remembrance, let us resolve to do everything in our power to end the nightmare of war for military personnel, civilians, and the earth itself.  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

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Read Sharon’s previous blogs on drone warfare here

From Beale to Baltimore:  No Justice, No Peace

Beale April

On Tuesday sixteen of us were arrested as we demonstrated against drone warfare at Beale Air Force Base, where pilots at computer stations guide Global Hawk Drones in identifying targets for Predator and Reaper “killer drones.”  Advanced robotic long distance killing machines are not only cruel, unethical, and illegal; they are a waste of the precious lives of our brothers and sisters in other lands and a waste of tax dollars that could be used to create better lives here and goodwill around the world.

Before crossing the line onto base property, we stood holding panels with drawings of children killed by U.S. drones, while someone read aloud the names and ages of some of the hundreds of children whose lives have been cut short.  As we called to mind each child by repeating their names and ages, many of us were in tears.  We were also mindful of the bereaved families and communities, including Baltimore and Ferguson, where black and brown men are so often abused and killed while in police custody.  The domination and violence of our military, police, and prison systems will never bring peace.  Instead, they contribute to an ongoing cycle of violence that is spinning out of control.

Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell, co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, joined us for this action.  They have both had recent, first-hand experience with the injustices of the prison system.  Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly was released just days earlier after spending three months in federal prison for an anti-drone action at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.  Peace activist Brian Terrell recently spent six months in prison for nonviolent action against drone warfare.

As we crossed the line and were arrested on Tuesday, we delivered a letter addressed to the Base Commander, which said in part:  “Our purpose in delivering this letter is to urge you and other military and civilian leaders to end your participation in the U.S. drone warfare program and begin to work for peace. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war…but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, including countries where we are not at war, such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” After being arrested, we were all cited for trespassing and released.

I believe that the ongoing anti-drone protests at Beale and at other Air Force bases around the country are helping to touch people’s consciences about the cruel immorality of drone warfare.  Just a few days ago, the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board wrote Deeply Flawed Drone War Takes More Innocent Victims, a strong critique of the U.S. drone program.

This was a touching and tearful ritual, undertaken in solidarity with the children and families who live their lives in terror of the “killer drones” hovering above.  It was also a joyful celebration of nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic exploitation, and hardness of heart. We cannot dehumanize “others” and make them expendable, not in Pakistan or Yemen, not in Iraq or Afghanistan, not in Guantanamo or in U.S. prisons, not in Baltimore or Ferguson.

No one is expendable.  All lives matter.

No justice, no peace.

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Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.

Find updates about various actions at Earth Justice Ministries Facebook page.  Stay current with Beale activities at the Occupy Beale AFB Facebook Page.