Still of the video What the Drone Saw by artist Omer Fast, a former U.S. Army drone operator / Source: The Guardian
This article is the first one but very unlikely to be the last one about Grégoire Chamayou‘s Drone Theory. The latter is the name of a book (Théorie du drone) that has not been translated in English yet, and that is published by the same French publisher I am regularly referring to on this blog, La Fabrique. As a complement to his activity of philosopher, Chamayou is also the editor of this excellent series of books ZONES (published by La Découverte) that are available in open access online in addition of existing in printed version. Before publishing Théorie du drone (La Fabrique, 2013), Chamayou had written Les corps vils : Expérimenter sur les êtres humains aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Vile Bodies: Experiments on Human Beings in 18th and 19th Centuries) (La Découverte, 2008) and Les chasses à l’homme (La Fabrique, 2010) published by Princeton University Press in 2012 under the name Manhunts: A Philosophical History.
This last book can be said to prepare Chamayou’s philosophical terrain to examine the specific problem of the military drone. Through it, he detects the same logic of the hunter and the prey, the absence of lethal risk for the first one and the reduction of the second one as a vulnerable running body. Like in hunting, strategies of encrypting and decrypting trajectories have to be developed respectively by the prey and the hunter to achieve their purpose: survival for one, absolute domination for the other. One thing that is particular to the current U.S. Army/C.I.A. strategy in their so-called “surgical operations” around the globe is that drones operate in countries that are not at war with the United States: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia in addition of Afghanistan and Iraq. These extra-legal raids are therefore ignoring the very idea of national borders (and nationalities) to prefer to it, a more global interpretation of the battlefield extended to the whole world. Yet, it is inexact to state that the whole world is a battlefield as it would include the body of the drone operator, who is absolutely protected from the risk of death where (s)he is. In this regard, Chamayou describes one of the historical origin of the drone as a reaction to its exact opposite: the kamikaze plane of the Japanese Army during the Second World War. Borders are therefore ignored but the battlefield is embodied by the body of the prey around which is constituted “an autonomous zone of temporary killing.” This body, wherever it will go, will therefore bring with it the virtualization of a battlefield that will quasi-inevitably actualize itself when the hunter will have decrypted its trajectory.
Chamayou, just like Eyal Weizman and his theory about “the lesser evil,” unfold the ethical constructions that justify American or Israeli drone “surgical assassination” (see an old article) and the incrementability of supposed “lesser evils” as the formation of true ‘evil.’ However, the very notion of “surgical strikes” is based on an imaginary in which a targeted individual constitutes the only body receiving the attributed martial sentence to his or her (legitimate or not) constitution as an enemy. Drones do not throw poison darts but missiles that kills every other human beings within a 15-meter radius. There is therefore an intrinsic acceptability of numerous collateral victims before even talking about the rights of the prey itself. Going back to the idea that the body of the prey is the battlefield, one has to visualize it carrying a 15-meter radius ‘atmosphere’ — Chamayou uses the word halo — that virtually jeopardizes the very existence of whoever enters this invisible zone.
We all carry this ‘atmosphere’ around our bodies. In a past article entitled “What is a Clumsy Body,” I wrote that we did not know where our body stopped and there was therefore a field of intensity beyond the usually considered epidermic surface that needed to be taken into account. We could even base a new paradigmatic of sovereignty (see another past article for more details) on it: each individual would systematically be a citizen of (and only) the immediate territory that surrounds his or her body. In the case of the American and Israeli drones, this territory constitutes, on the contrary, a perimeter of destruction that cruelly forces the prey, by the very location of its body, to contribute to the death operation that is instigated against it depending on the way it situates itself socially, with other bodies.
To go further, see the bibliography elaborated by Philippe Theophanidis on Aphelis, as well as the series of nine articles written around Drone Theory by Professor Derek Gregory on Geographical Imaginations. For French listeners, you can watch this video at a bookstore in Lille, and for the others who are interested in Chamayou’s philosophy you can watch him talk about the Hunter and the Prey in this video.