The oldest and strongest form of propaganda in this country is the belief that white America has the right to dominate everyone else on the earth, and as president Obama functions as the whitest man in the country. The siren song of Manifest Destiny outlived the 19th century and is still alive now in the 21st. It has been called many things, anti-communism during the Cold War, and the war against terror now, but it all amounts to the same thing.As a ghetto nerd member of the hip hop generation, I came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s. In that moment, there were a few movies that were fixed in the rotation. Star Wars, Star Trek, Conan, The Final Countdown, and Flash Gordon were all canon. Star Trek fans will argue that Roddenberry's franchise invented the future. They are partly correct. However, Terminator is the movie most eerily prescient of the post 9/11 endless War on Terror world.
We are told to fear the communist, or militant Islam, or whatever the enemy du jour happens to be. The end result is the same from a people who are convinced of their own goodness and paradoxically their right to have their violent way in the world. It is never very difficult to get support for killing and maiming among people who think themselves morally superior.
The original Terminator is a wonderfully efficient action movie. Its mix of sci-fi elements, action, and warnings about "the future" was the topic of many a ghetto nerd salon. How many of us argued about the Terminator time travel paradox? Debated if T2 was better than the first film? Endlessly quoted Arnold's gun shop dialogue?
Other 1980s movies like The Day After and Threads were terrifying. Damnation Alley was memorable for the giant cockroaches that ate Paul Winfield. War Games was provocative. Red Dawn was teenage circle jerk war porn that made no sense at all...except in the minds of Reagan era jingoists like Oliver North, the white militia crowd, and teenagers who had never heard of the stopping power of water.
Terminator was the source of nightmares: I know I am not the only person of a certain age who had disturbing dreams where they hid from Hunter Killers and tried to fight T-800 series cyborgs who were impervious to our weapons. Funny though, we always found a way to win in the end. Perhaps I am the eternal optimist?
We are officially adults when our future fantasies become the real, the mundane, and the stuff of the day-to-day. There is a black man in the White House. Barack Obama, my favorite "space coon," is quite literally the stuff of science fiction. Because the genre has traditionally solved the "race problem" by writing people of color out of the story, there is a tension when we are present--one that the white racial frame must resolve if it is to remain coherent.
For example, in many recent films and TV series a black man is cast as President of the United States. But, the world is in turn faced with calamity and disaster. This motif is not a coincidence; rather, it represents a deep insecurity about what occurs when the racial order is upended.
To point, in the Terminator franchise it is a black man who is most directly responsible for Skynet and the apocalypse it visits upon humanity. President Obama is not Miles Dyson; however, Barack's willingness to unleash his UAV-Terminator army on the "enemies" of the United States is worthy of the best pulp fiction of the 1930s and 1940s.
I am not suggesting that the Predator and Reaper drones of today are at all comparable to the monstrosities of the Terminator films. The former are simply more fully evolved remote controlled airplanes that the military has been experimenting with since at least World War 2. The 3rd or 4th generation UAV's (depending on how far back you count) are not independent, could not survive in a reasonably defended airspace, are prone to mechanical failure, can be easily hacked, and their capabilities are exaggerated by those who are on the payroll of the military-industrial complex.
While the next generation(s) of these machines will incorporate "ethical governors" that help dictate semi-autonomous operation, i.e. the robots will decide who to kill according to a set of rules (perhaps most terrifyingly, these machines will even be used to torture "enemy prisoners"), at present they are just in their relative infancy.
Obama's drones are an extension of a belief that war can be done on the cheap. Coupled with the large disconnect between the small percentage of the American people who serve in the military, and the general public (as well as policy making elites), this makes conflict more (as opposed to less) likely.
There has been much information released as of late detailing the industrial scale killing apparatus of the Obama administration. There are secret kill lists. Decks of playing cards are used as visual aids in order to decide who should live and who should die. American citizens and their families are immolated by remotely piloted vehicles. Bureaucrats control multiple UAV's at one time, killing people overseas who are just image enhanced pixels on a targeting screen.
Imperial America is based on a premise of cheap life. Ultimately, some people are considered less than, and more worthy of extermination by virtue of national identity, location, color, or imagined affiliation with some political cause that is at present "hostile" to American elites' geopolitical interests.
Who can argue against sending robots to kill foreigners? No skin off of our proverbial backs, right?
There are technologies of racism and dominance. The UAV is one of these devices.
It is important to note that the Racial State was also an imperial and colonial project. As such, rationalizations for how technology could be used to kill and oppress were a necessary part of the Racial State's bureaucracy. Consequently, there were certain weapons which were only deemed fit for killing "savages." No white man should be subject to such "dishonorable," impersonal, or "cruel" devices.
This logic is a cousin to that of American Exceptionalism. By implication, the lives of people in this country are worth more than those of human beings elsewhere.
In this way, the UAV of the 21st century is like the machine gun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Consider the following passage from John Ellis' book The Social History of the Machine Gun:
By now then the picture should be clear. The machine gun was a vitally useful tool in the colonization of Africa. Time and time again automatic fire enabled small groups of settlers or soldiers to stamp out any indigenous resistance to their activities or to extend their writ over large parts of the African continent...The reasons for this complacency are not hard to find.Sound familiar?
They are to be found in the ideology of British imperialism, whose very essence was an unquestioning belief in the innate superiority of the white race, and the British in particular.
Without such beliefs it would have been impossible for the original colonisers to set such a low price on African lives. For only by holding them so cheap could the slaughter of natives seem to be morally acceptable. The belief in white supremacy was the very bedrock of Imperialist attitudes, and is evident in all their manifestations. At best the Europeans regarded those they slaughtered with little more than amused contempt...
Thus, when it becomes necessary to kill those who stand in one's way, the problem is seen in technical rather than human terms. It is simply a matter of "bagging" as many natives as possible with the minimum effort. The machine gun filled these requirements admirably...
Thus, because the machine gun had become so much a part of the imperialist sideshows, it came to be regarded, by definition, as a weapon that had no place upon the conventional battlefield. The European was so obviously superior to the African, so why would he be so stupid as to be baulked by a weapon that was really only good for bowling over 'niggers' and 'Kaffirs'?
Of all the chickens that came home to roost and cackle over the battlefields of the First World War, none was more raucous than the racialism that had somehow assumed that the white man would be invulnerable to those same weapons that had slaughtered natives in their thousands.
So the machine gun became came to be regarded as a weapon suitable only for use against native Africans and the like. Of the Ashanti campaign of 1873, the Army and Navy Journal said, 'We are not surprised that the Ashantees were awestruck by the power of the Gatling gun. It is a weapon which is specially adapted to terrify a barbarous or semi-civilized foe.'
What happens when UAV technology proliferates and America's enemies use the very same logic that the leadership class in the Pentagon, CIA, and White House does today? Is it okay if China or some other country decides that killing 10 or 20 or 50 Americans to get one "terrorist" is a reasonable return on investment?
How will the American people respond when it it is their kin who are killed by robots? Will the gloating cease? Will there be a moment of inward looking critical self-reflection, or will the mouth-breathing classes ask (as they did on 9-11) "why do they hate us?"