Up until a few years ago, the word drone was most commonly used as a verb. If someone droned on and on, they talked about something in a boring way for a long time, so you might get stuck next to someone at a party who spent the whole evening droning on about work . . . or golf . . . or his mortgage. If something made a continuous low buzzing noise, like a big bee, it also droned, so if you lived near an airport, you got used to the sound of planes droning overhead.
Over the last few years, though, most of the times that I’ve heard the word drone used, it’s been as a noun and it describes small flying machines that are controlled from the ground, and that don’t have pilots. Depressingly, this is because we are now living in the age of drone warfare, where killing enemies in other countries is done by remote control. Just this week, the US carried out a drone attack in the south of Somalia, killing several militants linked to the al-Shabab group in the process.
The use of drones has been very controversial and has divided public opinion. Those who support their use claim they make the United States safer by taking out their enemies and weakening terrorist networks. They also believe that drones allow for precision bombing – they can be aimed at small targets and they cause fewer civilian casualties than traditional ways of bombing. Obviously, they are also cost effective – it’s far cheaper to use a drone than to put troops on the ground or to send manned flights over enemy territory.
Those who are opposed to their use claim they create more terrorists than they kill, that they violate international law and that they cause people to become disconnected from the horrors of war. Quite understandably, Somalia has accused the United States of violating its sovereignty, saying the recent attack will make it harder for the government there to rule their own country.
Meanwhile, there’s a Hollywood film – Eye In The Sky – that actually treats the whole issue of drone warfare in a very adult way and has a good understanding of all the complexities involved.
Personally, I’m very uncomfortable with the way drones are used and I know for sure that if a foreign country was carrying out drone strikes in England, people here would be both terrified and furious. It’s at times like this that I wish more people here were able to see things from the point of view of other countries.
- Have you heard of any other drone attacks? Where were they carried out? Why?
- Do you think it’s OK for powerful countries to use drones? Why? / Why not?
- Has your country put troops on the ground elsewhere in the world? When? Why?
- Have you ever been stuck next to someone who droned on and on? What about? What did you do?
- Can you think of anything else in the news recently that’s been very controversial and divided public opinion?