The Drone Scare in France Is Everyday Life in Pakistan

Recent mystery flights over France are frightening. But so far, they're much less so than the CIA's lethal sorties.

In France, a country that remains on edge after a recent terrorist attack, "at least five drones flew over the Eiffel Tower, the U.S. Embassy and other Paris landmarks overnight," The Associated Press reports. "It was the most audacious of several mysterious drone overflights around France in recent months. An investigation is underway into who was operating the latest drones buzzing over Paris, and why."

Perhaps it was amateur filmmaker, or a team of professional photographers, or a cartographer, or a spy. "In France it is a growing worry after dozens of sightings of mystery drones over nuclear plants and military installations and one over the presidential palace," AP notes. "Investigators have yet to find most of the perpetrators."

The most likely outcome is that nothing awful will come of these flights. At the same time, it's easy to see why French authorities and as well as some Parisians are concerned. "All the drones spotted were described as standard, small models of pilotless aircraft available commercially, which police say are too light to cause significant damage if crashed into a building, or even a nuclear power plant," The Telegraph reports. "However, the sightings have raised public fears that terrorists could find a way to attach explosives or toxic chemicals to the drones."

Weaponizing a commercial drone is possible, but less likely to kill large numbers than a shooting spree or a bomb. A drone attack in Paris seems unlikely. But the fears expressed in the press–anxiety nearly all of us would feel were we on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower as a mysterious drone approached–ought to prompt reflection on the far greater fears that U.S. drones stoke.

Critics of the Obama Administration's semi-targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and beyond understandably focus on the hundreds of innocents that U.S. strikes have killed. But the dead aren't the only people unjustly suffering. Lots of innocents who are proximate to our drone wars live in fear of being incinerated from above. On seeing or hearing a drone, they feel no mystery. They know it is armed.

The Guardian recently reported on a particularly tragic example of drone anxiety:

A 13-year-old boy killed in Yemen last month by a CIA drone strike had told the Guardian just months earlier that he lived in constant fear of the “death machines” in the sky that had already killed his father and brother.

“I see them every day and we are scared of them,” said Mohammed Tuaiman, speaking from al-Zur village in Marib province, where he died two weeks ago.

“A lot of the kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares from them and some now have mental problems. They turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.”

Much of Mohammed’s life was spent living in fear of drone strikes. In 2011 an unmanned combat drone killed his father and teenage brother as they were out herding the family’s camels.

Back in 2012, I relayed some of the interviews included in a drone report by the law clinics at Stanford and NYU. Numerous people explained how U.S. drones affected them:

An interview with a typical mother is as good a place to begin as any. She described what happens when her family hears an American drone hovering somewhere overhead. "Because of the terror, we shut our eyes, hide under our scarves, put our hands over our ears," she told her interviewer. Asked why, she said, "Why would we not be scared?" Said a father of three from a different family unit, "drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don't see them, you can hear them, you know they are there."

Said a day laborer, "I can't sleep at night because when the drones are there ... I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can't sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared." Added a politician, people "often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones."

Would you have nightmares if they flew over your house?

"When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they're always fearful that the drone is going to attack them," an unidentified man reported. "Because of the noise, we're psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. ... Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head." A journalists who photographs drone strike craters agreed that children are perpetually terrorized. "If you bang a door," Noor Behram said, "they'll scream and drop like something bad is going to happen."

U.S. drones have frightened and killed lots of terrorists and Islamist combatants too, but there is no hard evidence that the strikes have made the U.S. any safer from terrorism, and they have coincided with various setbacks in the War on Terrorism. America is nevertheless poised to start selling lethal drones to other countries.