Since 1915, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has stood as a community of believers from all faiths and traditions in opposition to war and violence in all of its manifestations. FOR-USA was established as a branch of an emerging global movement that would soon become called the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), founded in Cologne, Germany the year before as two men – one English and the other German – shook hands with the promise that even if their countries engaged in belligerence, that they would resist war and dedicate their lives to the pursuit of reconciliation.
Each generation of conflict – anywhere on the globe, but especially here in the United States as we are the world’s largest purveyor of violence – has implicated its seemingly innocent citizens in the tragedies of death and destruction. Endless and serial war inculcates in the American public writ large both cognitive dissonance and moral injury as our country continues to destroy communities, civil societies, and indigenous cultures at home and abroad. As religious, social, economic and political beings in our own homes and communities, we are complicit as taxpayers, as designers and manufacturers of the instruments of war, and as human fodder for the military and prison industrial complexes.
As people of faith and conscience whose government increasingly engages in mass murder by remote control and extrajudicial killings of fellow global citizens as well as our own, we are challenged to our very core to stop war in all of its aspects and manifestations. This includes drone warfare, which is perhaps the most malignant as it is most surreptitious. A young person hired fresh out of college can simply launch a drone from Hancock Air Force base in Upstate New York killing dozens, and then nonchalantly walk their dog in a peaceful suburb an hour later.
The United States has a 400-year history of waging war against people of non-European descent, and has no qualms continuing its opportunistic and exploitative reign of terror at home and abroad. Today, this is true more than ever before as people of color are insidiously ensnared into military service as a means to escape poverty, oppression, and the cradle-to-prison pipeline. What is different now is that our fiscal year 2021 Department of Defense budget has peaked at $733 billion, $7.3 billion of which is earmarked for unmanned weapons systems. In addition, the name, location and religion of the enemy has changed as Americans have been inculcated by an ideology of the U.S. Empire, that equates Muslim with “terrorist” and Islam with “ideology of terrorism”. More often than not, today’s victims of drone warfare and surveillance are Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and other Muslim majority oil and resource rich countries.
For the reasons above, FOR supports an International Treaty to Ban Weaponized Drones and Drone Surveillance. As members and representatives of faith-based communities, and as people of conscience, we are deeply concerned about the evil and immoral proliferation of weaponized drones. While the lives of US soldiers are not put at risk, we are culpable for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians – and for acutely traumatizing a generation of children who do not want to go outside to play because of the relentless sinister hum of drones flying overhead. Moreover, the death and destruction instill in our victims a natural enmity for the United States, which will likely manifest in future internalized, horizontal, and externalized violence.
At the same time, as is the case with all weapons, lethal drones are bought, traded, and sold – often creating scenarios in which all parties to all sides of all conflicts possess them. This shift in culture away from nonviolence, multilateralism, and alternative means of conflict resolution and community-building must be reversed and undone. Unilateral knee-jerk death and destruction by remote control by state and non-state actors is why FOR endorses a total ban on the development, storage, sale and use of weaponized and surveillance drones.
There are additional aspects of drone warfare that FOR finds particularly disturbing include:
- Perpetrators of drone attacks are never charged, tried or convicted in a court of law;
- Drone strikes kill innocent people, including children;
- Drone strikes violate other nation’s sovereignty;
- Drones in the hands the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command keeps the program veiled in secrecy;
- Drones make killing more abstract, impersonal, antiseptic, convenient and “easy”;
- Our Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to an abuse of executive power;
- Drone strikes fuel anti-American sentiments, radicalize local populations and perpetuate an endless cycle of violence and the sale of weapons, which bolsters the war economy;
- The accessibility of drones, and ease at which they can be weaponized or used for surveillance purposes, makes it easier for non-state actors such as paramilitaries, militias, and insurgent groups to acquire and use drones thereby perpetuating old conflicts and creating new ones;
- Drone warfare is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous universally agreed upon covenants and conventions of international law.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation calls upon people of faith and conscience to discuss, within their communities, the ethical issues posed by the proliferation of drone warfare. We ask them to demand: 1) government transparency and accountability consistent with the values of a democratic society; 2) the banning of weaponized and surveillance drones; and 3) the regulation of drone use so as to promote a just, peaceful, and prosperous global community based on the rule of law, and with full dignity and freedom for every human being. Remembering the two men – one English and the other German – who shook hands in 1915 with the promise that they would resist war and remain friends, we call upon the government and people of the United States to use our moral imagination to envision and create a world without war – a place of Beloved Community.
The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson is the Executive Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA, the US branch of the oldest international interfaith peace and justice organization employing the transformative power of nonviolence to resolve human conflict. She is the executive pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY and President of American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York.