At My Real Job: Drone Warfare


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

47 Responses

  1. Avatar Phil K. says:

    Nit: “University of Notre Dame”, not “Notre Dame University”.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Fixed.  But exceedingly odd.  We don’t say the University of Johns Hopkins, the University of Loyola, or any others I can think of offhand.


      • Avatar Phil K. says:

        The only thing I can think of is that it seems more common when the university is named after a place: University of Chicago, University of Kansas, etc. Notre Dame’s full name is the University of Notre Dame du Lac, referring to the twin lakes on which the campus is situated.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Possibly.  But if we’re going to get all language-intensive, the governing noun in that phrase is “dame,” not “lac.”  The latter is a mere modifier.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:

          Again on the tangents:  Locally we have:

          • University of Michigan
          • Michigan State University
          • Central Michigan University
          • Northern Michigan University
          • Hope College
          • Madonna University
          • University of Detroit

          So seems to be location based.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            A quick google sez

            The property was then known as Sainte-Marie-des-Lacs (Saint Mary of the Lakes) and had been called that since Father Stephen Badin, frontier missionary priest, bought the property from the government in 1829.


            Another explanation would be that it’s the Blessed Mother’s university, seeing her as “alive” and a patron [saint], not that it’s simply named after a dead person.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Which is why Loyola University is particularly apposite.  Also Xavier University, Saint Joseph’s University, and many others.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Dunno if you’re agreeing or not Jason, on the property having been named for Our lady of the Lake[s].

                The patron saint angle works in the Catholic sensibility, such as Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels [Los Angeles] and Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul [Philly].Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’m saying that even for Catholic saints, the tendency in the names of universities is toward [Person’s Name] University.  As with Loyola, Xavier, and Joseph.

                If the University of Notre Dame was named for the property, and not for the saint, then that might fit the pattern better. But it’s weird for a Catholic university to differ in this way, as if to insist that it was not named for Our Lady!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Loyola University of Chicago.

                I just BLEW YOUR MIND.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                There’s also College of Notre Dame of Maryland, which seems to fit the rule “In naming an institution of higher learning, the Virgin Mary and her titles may appear wherever they damn well feel like it.”  Madonna University =/= University of Notre Dame.

                Also:  King’s College.  So far the only other even pseudo-personal name to so appear in a university.  And given that the college was not named for one particular king, but bore its name because it was under the patronage of the king(s), it’s a doubtful one.


              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I forgot University of St. Francis in PA, where half my high school class went.  Also University of St. Thomas, MN.  Rare, not unknown, which is why it didn’t sound discordant to my Catholic ears.  But whatever, man.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Ah, these I’d count as genuine examples.

                And did you forget that I was raised Catholic?  Roger Bacon High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, class of 1994.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Yes, I did forget, Jason.  Must be why you still hold out for natural law. 😉Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                But you’re still not replying to me.  Try to keep it that way.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            No, no, no. No!  Just no.

            I fully admit without argument that “University of [Place Name]” is common and standard.

            I challenge you to find any other universities in which the proper name is “University of [Person’s Name].”

            In that context, I find Madonna University an almost perfect counterexample to University of Notre Dame.


            Carnegie Mellon University

            George Washington University

            John Carroll University

            Howard University

            Tufts University

            Et cetera et cetera.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        University of Pennsylvania

        SUNY, CUNY.

        /lurk (yup, still not responding to ya)Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          On your first point, they’re bad examples, because they’re not what we’re talking about.

          On your second point, you’re simply wrong.


    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      University of California at (x).Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Again, I’m looking for a university named after a specific person, for which “[Person’s Name] University” is considered always improper, and the formal name runs “University of [Person’s Name].”

  2. Imagine what it will be like when everybody has drones.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Pretty much.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      What the game theorists call a suboptimal equilibrium.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      We won’t have to imagine for too much longer.   If something like this is available to hobbyists, I’d imagine specialists have much better stuff that I haven’t heard of.

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Criminals have had plenty of stupid shit for a while. Grenades, etc — you name it. most of the time it still doesn’t get used. stuff’s valuable, ya know?Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      What will it be like?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Imagine Iran gets intel claiming that some high-value CIA target lives in your neighborhood.

        (Does he?  Does it matter?)

        Drone heads out, levels your house, returns, and no one’s the wiser.

        I imagine that happening a whole lot more in the future.Report

        • Avatar Katherine says:

          I suspect America’s got a lot more in the way of anti-aircraft defences than Iran or the mountainous areas of Pakistan do.  Not to mention a massively stronger military overall.

          If Iran, or any other country in the world does that, America can and will flatten them.  The US does it as a matter of course because the global balance of military forces dictates that the most any country hit by the US can do is make protests, or maybe kick out a few US officials.

          If we reach a time where any country or group, regardless of technological advancement, can access drones, the arguably more important question is what happens if Burundi gets some and decides to knock off a guy in Rwanda?  What happens in the Lord’s Resistance Army gets their hands on some?  At present that seems a tad far-fetched, but technology is certainly becoming more advanced and more broadly accessible every day.Report

  3. Avatar Pyre says:

    It is an old argument that dates back to the crossbow (a weapon that one pope argued could mean the end of life on earth).  The further you remove someone from the actual act, the easier it becomes.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      A crucial point.  Like when citizens can send their own off to war with no shared sacrifice and no evident costs.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Aside: In finding a new game to play last night, I cracked Saints Row The Third.

        One of the first things you do in this game involves UAV drones. (You’re breaking into a military installation… you know what, I’m not going to explain it.)

        It was very, very weird to see footage that could have come from a Congressional Hearing being played for laughs. Almost creepy.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:

          Riding the tangent:

          I do love what that says about your character:

          Her:  We need guns.

          Shaundi:  I know a guy that can get us a piece.

          Her:  No.  We’ll hit the National Guard Armory.

          Shaundi:  WHAT?!?

          Her:  Are you going to say they don’t have guns there?

          I put the UAV in the same box.  This character is not going to do ANYthing small scale.  If she can go over the top, she’s going over the top ~and then some~.


      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        One common argumentative framework that leans in the pro-war direction is that the members of an all-volunteer armed force will know that they face a certain amount of risk when they sign up, so sending them is ceteris paribus more justified than sending a conscripted force.

        While this is certainly true, it is interesting and more than a little horrifying to watch as this mindset gets deployed in the service of having <em>even more</em> wars.  Surely the fact of an all-volunteer force can’t ever legitimize a hypothetical war that was of a purely reckless character or had a purely amoral purpose.  So how does this same fact legitimize marginal steps in either direction?

        Let’s postulate that this same fact, that of the all-volunteer force, justifies wars up to some limit <em>L</em>, whether in recklessness or in relative lack of compulsion on our part.  Grant this merely for the sake of argument.

        In the moral landscape before us, volunteers will enlist knowing that wars at limit <em>L</em> are expected of them.  But not beyond.  How strange and specious it will seem to them, after enlisting, to be told that they knew they might be entered into wars at limit <em>L</em> + 1!


        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Also, I hate this commenting system.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

          Well put.

          The issue of recruitment leads me to believe that volunteer enlistees are not always fully aware of the exchange they are entering into.

          However, I’m largely in agreement with you, but would prefer that we as a nation stay consistantly on one side or ther other.  That is, if we’re going to have a volunteer fighting force, we need to confront that part of that means people are free to support/not support other peope’s choice to enlist, and that, it being an individual’s own choice, we owe them nothing outside of what was due to them according to the origional agreement they signed.  If in 10 years, they decide that agreement sucks and they regret making it (something that is probably rarely the case), it’s on them, like taking too many college loans.

          Or we go the other route, make X amount of service mandatory for all, and have each compelled to serve in what capacity they can, as they are called on to do, with the costs and benefits more clearly displayed, more evenly shouldered, and more explicitly declared.

          The idea of a volunteer citizen army in a democracy made sense back when revenues and authority were less centralized, and before their was a military industrial complex.  In the current period I’m not sure that combination is tenable, at least not in the form it currently takes.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            The idea of a volunteer citizen army in a democracy made sense back when revenues and authority were less centralized, and before their was a military industrial complex.  In the current period I’m not sure that combination is tenable, at least not in the form it currently takes.

            The problem lies with the military industrial complex, I’d say.Report

          • Avatar Renee says:

            I have not met a senior military officer who thinks we should go back to conscription.  Possibly they weight too heavily their recollections of the Vietnam era forces.  But they certainly feel that the morale of the forces is much better when the members have ‘voluntarily’ signed up.  Keeping morale up is always a tough task . . . they don’t want to go back to a system where people are legally required to be there.  With the influx of technology, we can manage to have a hugely powerful, but smaller numbered voluntary force.

            Interestingly, this probably has the effect of reinforcing the separation of (not only the military but also) the military-industrial complex from society.  Which, I think we all agree, is bad.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    First a toy, then a tool, then a weapon.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      Hrm.  How about…

      …Toy <-> Tool <-> Weapon <-> Toy <-> Tool <->….

      You’ve got something there, but I think it’s cyclical and you can enter the paradigm at any point…Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    The moral-distancing aspect of drones is a real problem, but as someone upthread mentioned, this is the nature of military technology. On the other hand, some people – like the CFR – think the Vietnam Syndrome was caused by shortening the moral distance of military action. The moral costs of war were made too apparent. So the real lesson of Vietnam was to not get involved in protracted engagements with TV cameras running.

    That’s why we saw methods change in Iraq I and the ‘invention’ of shock-and-awe. Get in quickly, kill-bomb-destroy randomly and indiscriminately, get out before nationalistic enthusiasm turns to counting body-bags and such. The premise, I guess, is that US citizens fully support slaughtering other people, but only in discrete time frames. So for these folks, drones are win-win: we get all the killing without the public ‘squeamishness’ about seeing US troops come home in boxes. For ‘those at the highest levels’, this might be justified as moral progress.


  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    The Pakistani defense network could shoot down the drones any time they wanted. 

    They haven’t.

    The reason that the drones are being used is not to avoid losing pilots; it’s because the drone can stay on station for far longer than a piloted aircraft can manage.  The “humans at risk” thing is only relevant in situations where you’re trying to penetrate an advanced and hostile air-defense network.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      The Pakistani defense network could shoot down the drones any time they wanted. 

      They haven’t.

      I’m pretty sure you’re right about the second claim.  I’m less sure about the first.

      The reason that the drones are being used is not to avoid losing pilots; it’s because the drone can stay on station for far longer than a piloted aircraft can manage.  The “humans at risk” thing is only relevant in situations where you’re trying to penetrate an advanced and hostile air-defense network.

      It’s also relevant to just war theory.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        If “just war” is your concern then we need to step back from drone warfare, even, because most of the weapons used by modern airforces are self-guided smartbombs that might as well be drones.  The only thing the aircraft pilot does is say “go to this point” and release the weapon; after that it flies itself.Report