Drones and literature

I’ve been following Teju Cole for a while, and like what and how he writes, and his playlists. This is from seven years ago, about Obama’s drone warfare., his “A reader’s war“, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2013, February 10. Cole starts out by praising the “reader in chief” Obama for his erudition that is so welcome after the anti-intellectual Bush years. Then there are the drone wars, though, one bad guy killed at 17th attempt, the 16 fails leaving uncounted “collateral damage” behind, every one a human being killed – literally – out of the blue. Cole:

I sit rigid in my seat, thinking, I don’t want to die, not here, not yet. I imagine those in northwest Pakistan or just outside Sana’a who go about their day thinking the same. The difference for some of them is that the plane is already hovering in the air, ready to strike.

And since Obama is a reader, Cole continues rewriting first lines of seven well-known books:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. Pity. A signature strike leveled the florist’s. Call me Ishmael. I was a young man of military age. I was immolated at my wedding. My parents are inconsolable. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather. A bomb whistled in. Blood on the walls. Fire from heaven. I am an invisible man. My name is unknown. My loves are a mystery. But an unmanned aerial vehicle from a secret location has come for me. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone. Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His torso was found, not his head. Mother died today. The program saves American lives.

Ironically, the current (20-11-2020) Wikipedia entry for Obama, under “Legacy”, lists the increase in drone strikes during his presidency and the plans for a presidential library almost side by side.

Obama’s successor in the White House, orange nuisance and complete failure Trump, is surely more embarrassing, and the number of his followers scary as hell. However, the erudition of his predecessor, for me, does little to sugarcoat the warfare. We didn’t hear much about it, as Cole notes as he reposts this article today in his facebook feed:

I reviewed the Obama memoir seven years before it was published.My essay drew quite a bit of fire then. I don’t care. Will draw fire now. Still don’t care.If anything, “A Reader’s War” was too tame. There are a number of things I’d write differently now. Like, all that guff about the bravery of our troops and about the president’s responsibility to “keep the country safe”: I don’t believe none of that. Safe for whom? I didn’t then either, but it was 2013, and I was still a little bit intimidated. I was hedging so that the New Yorker would publish my piece (I had about five different editors hovering over this piece—I had to fight over ever line). What I knew, what I know now, is that there’s a country that bullies other countries incessantly and tells a lot of fine-sounding lies about it. It’s all so wasteful, so brutal, so unnecessary.

Sounds about right to me.

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