Drones and Slavery

DroneAdventures.org is a Swiss “non-profit” organization that in April 2013 sent two representatives to Haiti to work with a couple “non-profits” called Open Street Map and International Organization for Migration.  For six days with three drones and several lap-top computers these “drone adventurers” mapped:

1) shanty towns in Port au Prince to count the number of tents as a first step in making a census and organizing “infrastructure,”

2) river beds to simulate water flow for future flood control, and

3) the University of Limonade “to help promote the school for the next generation of youth in Haiti.”

These drone promoters also made a cheerful video with a happy sound track, pretty pictures of the blue sky, and scores of children running after these pied pipers launching their falcon-like drones as if the children too could fly as easily out of the man-made disasters of life.

“Have you ever wondered how important it is to have detailed and up-to-date maps of a territory?” the drone promoters ask. Not only do we know they are important, we know enough to view them with suspicion.  Historically, cartography developed in Europe for military, commercial, and exploitive purposes. “There is a continuous need for up-to-date imagery for aid distribution, reconstruction, disaster mitigation … the list goes on.”  Indeed the list does go on, directly to enclosing and to bombing.   These things are not for our own good, though every effort is made to start out that way.

The map depends on the bird’s-eye view, or the perspective from above.  This viewpoint gave not only amusement but the illusion of omniscience which heretofore in European history had been reserved exclusively to the European divinities.  The bird’s-eye view also inspired the Romantic movement of Europe.  The viewpoint keeps us gaping upwards into the sky, and ignoring everything around us.  The viewpoint initiates the class analysis and profound vision of Volney’s Ruins (1792) and Shelley’s Queen Mab (1812)

We have seen something like this before, with the origin of the bird’s-eye view.  Consider the great French philosopher, Condorcet, or consider the brilliant American bourgeois, Benjamin Franklin.  They both welcomed the first hot-air balloons on 11 September 1783 (oh, date of terror and dread!) which made the stopthiefviewpoint possible.  They noted the combination of present amusement and potential power of the balloon.  A decade later the balloons were manned for military observation in the French wars against Austria.  They are the ancestors of the dirigible, the airplane, (the bomber and the fighter), the rocket, and now the drone. The ‘bird’s-eye view,’ and the aerial machines it makes possible, led directly to Guernica and Hiroshima.

Horace Walpole, the English novelist wrote in 1783 as the first balloon ominously ascended over the countryside, “the wicked wit of man always studies to apply the results of talents to enslaving, destroying, or cheating his fellow creatures.”  We could not express the essential contradiction better:  technology and slavery went hand in hand.

Within a year in Haiti the first balloons went up on the Gallifet plantations at Acul and the Plaine du Nord.   Here eight hundred slaves producing riches for Europe were managed by Odelucq, the man responsible for the balloon launch, indeed the first flight in America.  What did the slaves think? Did they stare up into the blue sky with wide eyes and gaping mouths?  Moreau, the contemporary scholar, provides the answer, “black spectators did not allow themselves to cry out over the insatiable passion of man to submit nature to his power.”  “The wicked wit of man” belonged to the European bourgeoisie not the black spectators.  “How can we make a lot of sugar when we work only sixteen hours [a day]?” asked Odelucq.  Only by consuming men and animals, he answered himself.

The men and women would not be consumed so easily.  They taught the children not to run after false gods or to Europeans preaching technological salvation.  The spiritual, military, and social leaders of the slaves appealed to African sky-gods who answered with thunder and lightening on the historic night of 23 August 1791 in the Bois de Caïman, thus initiating the first successful slave revolt in the history of the world.  It began on the same plantations which had been Odelucq’s proving grounds. The sky above Le Cap turned dark with the smoke of burning plantations.  Odelucq was among the first of the oppressors to pay with his life.  Surveillance was answered by sousveillance!

The drones which today indiscriminately kill men, women and children in Pakistan and Yemen appeared first in the history of the technology as children’s toys, not weapons.  Beware, the cunning eye of the master class is on you!

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

More articles by:

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@gmail.com

March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography