Bomb the Public Schools: a Modest Proposal

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

“I walk through the long schoolroom questioning.”

—WB Yeats, “Among schoolchildren”

“It’s time to consider armed drones at every school in USA. If drones can save lives in middle of Syria, operated by military heroes at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, then they can be used to protect schools inside USA,” twitted the Pedagogue in Chief at the White House, in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

It is an idea. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, top suppliers of multi-million-dollar Predator and Reaper drones for the Pentagon, will no doubt applaud such a potential large order. The president’s Deputy Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, former Boeing executive for missile defense programs, might even hurry to expedite the procurement.

To the military, drones are known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). To the public, they are known as “drones,” in nature stingless male bees, whose main purpose in life is to mate with a fertile queen. What a charming metaphor: in the military imagination, clearly male–regardless of gender–the armed aerial drone is a weapon of sex, love, and reproduction.

Nevertheless, drones could be quite useful around schools. They function as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and can thus cut down on cheating on exams. They can check for roadside bombs or devices on landing areas and finger school parking violations. They can listen to mobile-phone conversations and identify those excessively concerned with sex, pornography, and other adolescent folklore. They can record daily routine of locals to spot abnormal behavior or unsavory practices among the school’s staff. They can provide air support (even armed drone helicopters are now being perfected) during an attack by a disturbed “loner” or vicious terrorist–the distinction in the media, some cynics point out, often depending on the “race” of the murderer.

Naturally, such school safety operations as armed drones over every American school will entail collateral risks.  Obama’s first armed drone strike in Yemen, a covert executive action on 17 December 2009, killed not only its intended target but also two neighboring families. The drone left behind a trail of cluster bombs that continued to kill more collaterals. General James Jones of the Marine Corps and former National Security Advisor described Yemen apologetically at the time as an embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”

General Jones was quite correct. Before Obama’s December 2009 strike in Yemen, there had been only one –in November 2002. By 2012, drone strikes were mapping Yemen’s  “embryonic theatre” at the rate of one every six days, and by August 2015 more than 490 people had been struck dead. This is only the official figure.

In 2015, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, before his appointment by President Trump as National Security Advisor in early 2017, lasting three weeks, acidly commented on this mapping by drones of territories pregnant with people–predominantly not terrorists or would-be terrorists—including infants:

The drone campaign right now really is only about killing. When you hear the phrase ‘capture/kill,’ capture is actually a misnomer. In the drone strategy that we have, ‘capture’ is a lower case ‘c.’ We don’t capture people anymore. Our entire Middle East policy seems to be based on firing drones. That’s what this administration decided to do in its counterterrorism campaign. They’re enamored by the ability of special operations and the CIA to find a guy in the middle of the desert in some shitty little village and drop a bomb on his head and kill him.

So, before deciding to lavish millions of educational dollars on weaponized drones for protecting a “shitty little” school in Alabama, the president should consider a cheaper and, frankly, more expeditious alternative: bomb the public schools.

This tactic is systematically applied in the Middle East and North Africa in the wars to stamp out planetary terrorism. For example, more than 500 schools, in the poorest country in the Middle East, have been bombed out of existence in Yemen since February 2015 by what is quaintly called the “Saudi Coalition.” In reality, it is a proxy war orchestrated by the secretive Anglo-American Joint Special Operations Command.

You may object that bombing all of America’s public schools is a bit extreme. Consider, however, the immediate benefit. Freed of the burden of attending dangerous schools, massive numbers of high-school seniors would be freed up to join the military. They would learn discipline, patriotism, tattoo arts, and acquire the killing skills necessary to keep America safe. They would not find military culture all that different from high school culture. They could drink, puke, drink some more, puke, and have sex while consensually inanimate.

If this utilitarian argument for bombing the public schools fails to convince you, consider President Trump’s top priority for education; school choice. Right now, nine out of ten American children attend public schools. If the public schools were bombed, the overwhelming majority of children, now shackled by the federal government to the entitlement of free, secular and liberal antiquated education, would be forced to embrace “choice.” They could opt for charter schools or secure vouchers for private and religious schools.

You will certainly agree with President Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy de Vos, that the ranking of American education as 26th in the world is humiliating. Thus, it is heartening to reflect that a budgetary cut of $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives in fiscal year 2018 is an encouraging first step to reverse this sad ranking. Part of the savings, $400 million, will be made available for expansion of charter, private, and religious schools, but here’s the icing on the cake: $1 billion, now allocated to exert pressure on public schools to enact choice-friendly policies, can be saved and diverted to needier areas–if the public schools were bombed. The $1 billion could be added to the combined defense and nuclear weapons budget, now amounting to a prudent $731.09 billion (by comparison, Russia’s defense budget amounts to a pathetic $45 billion per year).

The breakdown of the total defense budget of $ 731.09 billion vis-à-vis the educational budget of $59 billion may help to convince you just how wise, far-seeing, and intellectually muscular our chosen leaders are—and how dedicated to providing a secure and prosperous future for our youth. To the Department of Defense (Pentagon) are allocated $686 billion, the largest budget since Obama’s 2011 and up $74 billion from 2017. In case you worry that the wars against all our enemies abroad will stop, rest assured: $69 billion are secured to funding wars in 2019; $6.97 billion will be awarded to drone-related procurement, research, and development, and “system-specific construction,” up from $2.9 billion in 2016. To the Department of Energy, tasked with maintenance of nuclear weapons: $30 billion. To the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous wing of the Department of Energy: $15.09 billion, an increase of nearly $1.2 billion from last year’s proposal.

Frankly, the priorities could not be more obvious: I cannot emphasize them enough. Equally frankly, with respect, I would dissuade President Trump from using armed drones in public schools. They are expensive: costs for flight hours vary wildly—from $2,000 to $3,000 per hour for primitive Reapers and Predators to $30,000 per hour for the spiffy Global Hawk, while the cost of flight per hour for the newest pride of the military, the Gray Eagle, due to debut this spring (Fort Carson already pre-ordered four), is as yet unknown (at least to this researcher). The Gray Eagle is “a hulking drone with a 56-foot wingspan that packs four Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and can stay aloft for a full 24-hours with its thrumming diesel power plant,” gushes (how an eagle can hulk is a mystery to my finicky literary imagination, but, at any rate, the Gray Eagle drone for school security sounds a bit like an overkill).

Too, and again with respect, I remind President Trump that multi-million-dollar armed drones are complex systems. Even basic models such as Predators and Reapers require four aircraft, a ground control station, and a satellite link. We know drones are unmanned, but they are not unpiloted. They require trained crews to direct the drone, to analyze the images, and to decide to release the air-to-ground missiles. These remote-control “heroes,” as the president calls them, are better spared for more epic and blood-worthy battles than public school warfare.

To prevent a recurrence of the slaughter of innocents that struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School armed drones are not a good idea: it’s literally throwing money away at education. Neither is using Homeland Security technology; nor putting retired police and army personnel in classrooms; nor turning school security into airport security (though this might be very popular with students as the actual teaching day would never take off, hours eaten away on cues for searches, checks, etc) or arming teachers (I tell you from classroom experience that this would be fatal on bad teaching days).

No, the quickest, cheapest, most effective solution to school insecurity is to bomb the public schools out of existence. As the worst Secretary of Education this country ever had the privilege to endure remarked, “It’s time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government’s arcane approach to education. Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts.”

On an optimistic note, I look forward to the day when a secretary of defense, equally opposed to war as Betsy DeVos is to teaching, will declare that the federal government’s regime of “arcane approach” to “defense” is over.

Luciana Bohne was co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and taught at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.