Daniel Swift at Harper's Magazine:
There’s glamour to an unmanned plane, perfect and ominous: the drones are a symbol of American might and also American wickedness, and all who praise them, or who find them troubling, concur that they represent something new. Two years ago, in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote of “a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force.” “We’ve seen the future, and it’s unmanned,” panted the cover of Esquire. “Every so often in human history,” went the opening, “something profound happens that changes warfare forever.” Last March, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution—author of Wired for War, a slightly histrionic book about robot technology and the future of warfare—met with the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. “The point here,” he noted, “is that every so often in history, the emergence of a new technology changes our world.” Drone talk had acquired its own vocabulary.
The Predator drone’s past is as long as the history of flight. “Even before World War I,” writes the pilot and military historian Kenneth Werrell, “the idea of an unmanned, automatically controlled ‘flying bomb’ or ‘aerial torpedo’ circulated in a number of countries.” In September 1916 the U.S. Navy tested a remote-controlled seaplane. The Army built the Liberty Eagle, a pilotless plane wrapped in muslin and brown paper, and on October 4, 1918, it flew in circles for forty-five minutes and crashed in a field in Ohio.