Drones, a vestige of the lingering War on Terror, have become a subject of fascination in the last decade. The devices have killed thousands, and raise the ire of critics who note, “we’ve become too far removed from the blood and horror of war; we’ve begun treating war like a video game.” Andrew Cockburn’s Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins opens with a transcript of drone operators working from a remote location. Half a world away, they’re unable to recognize the subtleties that even those on the ground must grapple with before engaging. Predictably, the attack does not go well.

Cockburn captures the chaos in the opening chapter almost too well. If asked to measure the book’s worth on this chapter alone the reader might feel puzzled, unable to determine if moving deeper into the narrative might be worth the effort. But it is.

Kill Chain takes us to a remote village in Laos where, two decades after all manner of explosives fell from the sky, no one’s quite sure what happened. Residents have no name for their enemy, and once it is identified they have no recourse but to shrug it off. The repercussions of drone activity can be felt closer to home as well. Cockburn takes us to the well-lit halls of our own government buildings, where shadowy decisions about the fates of remote, faceless victims are made. We are immersed in a world of euphemism where talk of assassination comes dressed as the less sinister “targeting.” It’s the military industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about. And it’s run wild.

The author argues that bombing targets “back to the Stone Age,” as the saying goes, has led to further radicalization. Weddings and funerals become scenes of devastation. It becomes easier to kill than to question, and those we perceive as our enemies become more enraged as their desire for revenge becomes more intense. Rather than a more intelligent form of warfare, a higher form of killing, one might conclude that we’re witnessing a crueler, less intelligent form bound to have wildly unpredictable consequences.

One could dismiss Cockburn’s book as a paranoid drop in an ocean of post-9/11 hysteria if it weren’t so well-reasoned, passionately argued and thoroughly researched. He points fingers, but not without cause. Cockburn tempers frustrations with military actions by patiently unveiling his argument. But it’s hard not to read Kill Chain and feel a growing tide of anger and compassion rising from the pages.

The prose and pacing can slow to a crawl at times, but slower passages are necessary for what they reveal about the complexities of our times. With the CIA, corporate interests and the U.S. military all implicated in these pages, the reach is indeed wide. But Cockburn manages it all just fine and leaves us with questions that linger and a sense of deep discomfort that won’t soon lift.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Hunt Sales Memorial: Get Your Shit Together

Stamped into his personality and his music is a boldness that commands respect. …