Generation Drone and Third-order Collateral Damage in Yemen

For years now, human rights groups and NGOs have been issuing disturbing reports about the harmful psychological effects on civilians living under drones. Recent findings from a study conducted in late 2014 reveal that the US government’s lethal drone policies are creating a new generation of persons who spend a large portion—in some cases all—of their life in a perpetual state of fear. These people are plagued by a sense of uncertainty about their own future and who the next victims of drone strikes will be. Alkarama’s results are laid out complete with survey batteries and graphs in “Traumatising Skies: U.S. Drone Operations and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” a 51-page report issued in May 2015.


This study corroborates previous reports on psychological harm to civilians, but its uniqueness inheres in its consideration of the effects on persons who have not lost a close family member … yet. Therein lies the source of these people’s “anxiety, stress, paranoia, insomnia, and other trauma symptoms across gender and age.” These findings reveal that, in addition to first-order collateral damage (wherein a person loses his life arbitrarily) and second-order collateral damage (wherein a person loses a loved one and suffers as a consequence), entire communities under lethal drone surveillance are suffering third-order collateral damage, which is manifesting itself in generalized depression and fear, and loss of interest in former sources of happiness.

Alkarama argues convincingly that the U.S. government is violating international conventions prohibiting “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” through the systematic disruption of these people’s ability to live in their very own communities without the constant fear of the arbitrary termination of their lives. Some US policymakers scoff at international conventions and human rights. (“International law?” asked George W. Bush sardonically on December 12, 2003, “I better call my lawyer.”) Government spokespersons reflexively mutter “collateral damage” whenever civilians are killed, and seem never to have given second- and third-order collateral damage a moment’s thought.

However, the Alkarama study also reveals that the trauma victims are filled with a desire for revenge against the people responsible for their state of unhappiness, and this is especially marked among boys, the most likely candidates for joining up with terrorist groups, particularly when their hopes for the future continue to be severely compromised by the fear that they may not live to see another day.

“Give me your blessing, I’ll kill them all!” henchman Gyp Rosetti tells his boss in season 3 of Boardwalk Empire. He may as well have been working for the US drone program.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 5: Strike First, Suppress Questions Later; and Chapter 7: The Operators