The current issue of the Atlantic has a lengthy article on drone warfare, which starts off with a startling metaphor. It’s David and Goliath. David, vastly outgunned by the giant, pulls out his trusty slingshot and smooth stone, and, drone-like, takes down the enemy. Thereupon, though there is an awkward carcass to dispatch first, the adoring multitudes anoint David king and he starts on his new assignment, with the familiar historical results.
Yes, drone-like. The burden of the metaphor is that America’s introduction of drones into the wars of the Middle East (and soon into just about everything else, it appears) is technologically the same as, and not morally different from, David’s slingshot innovation.
Emotionally salving as this simile is, it misses the mark in some details. We are invited to see the U.S. in the role of David, and it would be inspiring, no doubt, to be cast as native underdog. But the original combatants both hailed from approximately the same place, whereas we have done some considerable travelling to get where we now are. Second, measured in terms of corpus, we fill Goliath’s shoes (or a factory full of them) much more comfortably than David’s sandals.
Then there is the matter of the smooth stone. There would be less outcry from the bleeding hearts, perhaps, if drones delivered one or two of those instead of their customary payload. There would certainly be less collateral damage. But the truth is that our modern slingshot hurls the most horrific destructive devices our money can still scarcely buy. We would have to imagine David armed with a quarry’s worth of rocks, encountering a tribal council, maybe, or a wedding party of Goliaths.
No, the image is pretty much upside down. Let’s rewrite the Biblical story to capture it. David, armed with his slingshot and little else, is approached by a Goliath so huge that he cannot see the top of it, or indeed any of the business end. In fact, Goliath is so large that he needn’t stir from his air-conditioned trailer, somewhere in the Nevada desert. David is not intending battle this day. He is tending his flock, or, perhaps, like Anwar Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, he is enjoying a peaceful meal with his friends al fresco. No matter. The giant takes aim and instantly vaporizes the young hopeful, together with the witnesses. There is not enough left to fill a spoon.
Here, however, the metaphor breaks down, as they all do, in the crucible of reality. For no adoring multitudes greet the victorious warrior. His workday done, he goes home to his outsized wife and children and dog. A quiet dinner, and maybe some bowling after. There’s not a lot to do in Nevada, except gambling, and this Goliath is assuredly no gambler.
He will not be King of the Jews, or of the Qaeda, or the Taliban, or anything else. Demographers tell us that, like David, the majority of those now frustrated adoring multitudes are very young. They all carry slingshots in the old tradition. The smart money is on them. For they are young, and they stay around home.