Firing a Hellfire missile at a wedding party or a funeral is an act of terror. The US has committed these acts and others like them. Weaponized drones are terror weapons. They accomplish nothing except death and destruction. When operated by stand-off personnel thousands of miles away they kill people, embitter the survivors and postpone any real peace between peoples. They must be banned by treaty from use by anybody.
I first heard about weaponized drones in 2009 at a funeral for a peace activist friend. While there, Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, later Voices for Creative Nonviolence, mentioned in passing that activists in Nevada had recently been arrested at the gate of Creech AFB saying no to drones, and that more could be done.
Activists from all over upstate New York and beyond soon focused on the 174th Attack wing of the New York Air National Guard at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse. There, on April 22, 2011, 38 of us were arrested for doing a die-in in front of the gate. In our area, Hancock is the primary site for piloting these drones targeted against people primarily in the Middle East.
That was the first of three arrests for me at that gate. I spent 10 days in a county jail for the second one. Over the years I have been arrested for nonviolent actions at various locations 30 times over 45 years from 1973 on. Each time I do this, always in community, I do it in a spirit of love and responsibility saying no to war and yes to the making of a just peace. I risk arrest not because I want to be arrested or tried or jailed, but to communicate a call to conscience to all of us to lay down our arms, face our fears, and embrace each other in our full, flawed, but beautiful humanity. The usual issue at hand has been nuclear warfare, but also the bombing of Vietnam, the making of weapons systems in Broome County, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, free speech issues at the Pentagon and the White House, an attempted weapons inspection at Lockheed-Martin in Owego, and other times.
What was unusual in my experience in the trial of the Hancock 38 was that we used the defense of international law. Citizens have not only the right but also the duty to do whatever they can to stop their government from committing war crimes such as firing Hellfire missiles at social gatherings. Ramsey Clark, attorney general under Lyndon Johnson, testified as an expert witness to that effect but the judge ruled against it being applicable in this case. An international treaty would help make this argument even stronger in court.
International law took a major step forward on January 22, 2021 when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the TPNW, passed by the UN General Assembly by 130 votes, signed by 86 nations, and ratified by 52 of them took effect. Nuclear weapons have always been immoral, now they are also illegal. This was a momentous occasion that was over 75 years in the making. The majority of humankind has now spoken that nukes must not exist. Period. The US should change its position, sign the treaty and ratify it, making it the law of our land. The ball is now in Washington’s court.
The same could and should be done with weaponized and surveillance drones. The TPNW happened because people gathered together with a vision, formed the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and made it happen. ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. They continue their work to bring the nuclearized states on board, leading to dismantling their bombs and delivery systems.
Having a law against weaponized and surveillance drones would be a necessary and very valuable tool in the hands of those working for a world without war. What is needed is the political will to enact such a law and enforce it. Promoting a treaty like this requires imagination on the part of those who know of atrocities. We not only need to see the harm that weapons of terror and mass destruction have done, and continue and threaten to do, but also the imagination to envision the possibility of a different reality. We need to dream and work into existence the reality of a social order that establishes justice for each and every person. That will bring true peace.