A THEORY OF THE DRONE by Grégoire Chamayou


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If you are what you eat, then you are also what you kill with. Q.E.D.

The idea that there might be a philosophical theory behind, or at least something philosophical to say about, the use of remote-controlled weapons is a very French one: In this instance, it’s not so much the Montaigne-born drive to understand the world as the Barthesian one of fearing letting something obvious go by unremarked. Chamayou, a “research scholar in philosophy,” gamely codifies what has gone unsaid: In war, soldiers have to draft a narrative that turns the moral violation of killing into a “virtue, not something prohibited.” This is easier done, by his suggestion, when one is looking into the eye of the enemy. But what of the drone operators, tucked safely away in a bunker in the desert? Well, they are “in a sense both in the rear and at the front, caught up in two very different moral worlds that pull their lives this way and that.” Nonetheless, the military has admitted that some drone operators far from the front have to be treated for PTSD. “If it is true that weapons constitute the essence of combatants,” the author writes, that begs the question, “what is the essence of those who fight using drones?” The implication: A machine, of course, which makes the state behind the murderous technology a sort of machine, as well. In the end, having been treated to a light survey of the ethos of mechanized war, readers are left with the sense that this is the product of someone who must enjoy the unhurried leisure of not being chased around by one of the killing machines he’s writing about—a first-world ponderer of third-world problems, perhaps.

Chamayou does land some good points in this rather arid exercise, but one would rather have a Camus than a Derrida on this point.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1595589750
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2014


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