This is a post about Homeland, season 4 episode one, part one titled "Drone Queen." This is chock full of spoilers, but it's not a recap or review, more of a starting point to talk about issues that strike me. If you haven't watched the episode and intend to, scroll on by.
"You two are going to have to put your heads together and find me a way to spin this"
-CIA director, Andrew Lockhart
Since I've read two fiction books about drones I'm going to consider myself an expert. Just like the people who wrote this fictional episode. Sure, they might have done non-fictional reading and talked to people who started the drone program., but then again, so have I. (The Sting of the Drone and Kill Decision)
This episode set up all sorts if interesting conversations that we should be having in America, but aren't. Discussions about:
The extensive use of drones in other countries
The personal impact on the people and family being killed and their response
The personal impact on the people and families doing the killing and how they respond
How intelligence is gathered, used or misused.
How everyone fits in the system depending on what their job is and what happens if you don't follow the script.
The big picture of War and the small personal picture of war.
Whenever I hear someone saying, "We need to have a national conversation about..." I want to roll my eyes. Maybe you are rolling your eyes right now. The thing is we really don't have a national conversations on most of these issues. We have politicians and weapons salesmen going to the media with already made decisions and then watching the reactions. Based on the reactions they modify their position to see how best they can get to the decision they want.
The last non-conversation was on the recent drone war and air strikes on ISIS and Syria. The Pentagon and the retired Generals working for Raytheon, General Dynamics and Silverpool (or what ever Blackwater is calling themselves today) all had a narrative to push and products to sell. The TV media put them on the air to explain why this is the right decision without a lot of opposition.
It's not a conversation or even a debate, it's a sales pitch. A few objections are thrown in to help deal with any buyers' remorse.
Non-Conversation One. Extensive Use of Drones
We see Carrie working in an outpost setting up a drone strike. She goes through a number of steps that we all want to believe happen. Verifying the intelligence, wondering about the CDE (Collateral Damage Estimation aka innocent dead people), making sure they have the right bad guy and multiple permission levels.
The show takes great pains to show how everyone takes the work very seriously, but also it can be seen as "just a job" (Birthday cake! Singing royalty-free songs! Having a beer after work while watching the ball game. You see America? CIA stations chiefs ordering bombing runs are just like you! )
When something goes wrong the people feel really bad about it. Of course they do! This might seem obvious, but even though Homeland has explored issues in nuanced ways in the past, it's still a fictional drama which counts on the help and support of the CIA and the US Military to stay in production.
I started getting sucked into the show, I was impressed with how they incorporated social media, video, and the humanizing the destruction. "Great," I thought, "Now maybe the public and the media can start talking about these issues." But I have to remember the need for drama and narrative can drive the show to some strange places. For entertainment purposes real life often needs to be goosed.
My friend Richard Eskow pointed out that this show has a neo-con background. Two of the producers were producers for "24". One of the producers, Howard Gordon, was one of four guys that was with Rush Limbaugh on his Dominican Republic Stag Party when Rush was caught with a bottle of Viagra not in his name at customs.
First, it's gross that he associates with Rush Limbaugh, but it appears that it's Joel Surnow—the co-creator and executive producer of "24" who is the big Limbaugh buddy. For all I know Gordon was the one who set Rush up for the bust. Maybe he has videotape of everyone's shenanigans, that could be pretty powerful. But my biggest concern is how some of the attitudes of "24" might be infecting Homeland.
What ideas are coming up on Homeland that we are accepting and absorbing?
I watched "24". It was a fantasy, but such a powerful one that it influenced the country and an entire way of looking at torture. That viewpoint was so toxic West Point sent U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy to meet with the creative team behind "24." to tell them to stop showing that their torture works.
Now I'm hoping and expecting that Homeland will dig into the entire concept of drone warfare in the future episodes. How we are using it, why we are using it and or abusing it. But for now it is exploring how we "spin" the destruction.
In this episode people point out the responsibility of the victims for being in the same place as a known bad guy. Others focus on the big picture of the war and how the other side creates "PR bullshit" to make the bombing raids seem worse. The comment from the CIA director later is the one that struck me as realistic. "You two are going to have to put your heads together and find me a way to spin this"
It's not about the decision, the action or the consequences, just what story do we tell to get people to buy it? It reminded me of the multiple reasons the Bush Administration kept giving for the Iraq war. If we can't prove Saddam is buddies with Bin Laden, it's nukes, if it's not nukes it's WMDs, no WMDs? Freedom! etc. The US ambassador in Afghanistan even comments about all the people on the kill list now. Will we watch Homeland cycle through all the reasons for the drone strikes?
Who Are You in Homeland?
When we watch this show, we can consciously or unconsciously map ourselves onto the characters. Personally I would probably be someone whose job is trying to figure out how to talk about the worst case scenario. Like a lawyer defending a mass murderer, there are people who see "spin" as the right of the accused to a good defense in the court of public opinion.
Or would I be like Saul and be upset at having to close the military contractor sales deal because, "It's not your job anymore." Maybe I'm exhausted from fighting, "the good fight" and just need a paycheck. Maybe I can work from "inside the system."
Maybe you see yourself as the pilot doing your duty and counting on others to create the good reasons and provide good intelligence?
Are you the mom on the other end of Skype call? Do you feel there is nothing you can do and the crying baby needed to be changed now?
Did any of you map yourself onto the characters at the wedding?
That is one of the big issues I had with the torture on "24." People saw themselves as Jack Bauer, having to make the tough, but always necessary and always fruitful, decision to torture. Did they ever see themselves as the person BEING tortured? Americans are used to being in power, we often see ourselves as needing to make the moral decision on how to use or not use the power. But the real victims are not the poor conflicted CIA agents who have a choice.
Imagine a drone strike in your neighborhood.
View from my dentist's office in San Francisco.
A local drone strike would change my world view and there wouldn't be a lot of ways that someone could spin it to me that wouldn't make me angry and accepting. Does that mean that I'm sympathizing with the terrorists? Or am I identifying with the innocents who were killed? How far would I go to get it to stop? How long would I hold onto that anger?
In this episode they show what impacts the various groups and how they respond. For DC it's a video on YouTube with 1/2 a million hits, in Pakistan it's a wedding with 40 'hits' in the shape of dead bodies. In DC angry phone calls made from on high make people act, in Pakistan we see protesters kill the high ranking person they see as responsible for the attacks.
Because of an American bias, maybe you see yourself as Carrie and you have to struggle with "the big picture" of the War. But will that cause you to change your actions and attitudes about what the US is doing? Because I know that if *I* was the one being bombed I'd try REALLY hard to stop the people doing the bombing.
The "national conversation" about the use of drones hasn't happened because Americans haven't been hit by a foreign country taking out someone they consider a criminal/terrorist in one of our cities. And then it's not going to be, "Let's stop the extensive use of our drones that led to this!" It's going to be "We need more drones armed with nukes!"
I wrote this post because after watching the show I really, really wanted to know what other people thought. Does it triggered any ideas, insights or actions? What wrong headed ideas does it perpetuate? Good ideas that it brings up? Let me know what you think.