“Eye In The Sky”

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Genesis 18: 20-32)


            OK, it's a long quote, but the dynamics are very similar to those in  the movie.  A consortium of British and American intelligence has been tracking a terrorist cell for years, trying to find the principals together in one place so they can launch an attack.  Finally, the opportunity arises, and the military is eager to launch the drone strike.  The problem is, the camera technology is so incredibly precise that we clearly see a little girl, maybe 9 years old, selling bread in front of the house.  And the American “pilot” (who actually just sits at a remote console with a joystick) hesitates, because he sees the little girl, and is convinced that she would be an innocent victim, and asks for a re-assessment of “collateral damage.”

            What follows would be almost comical if it weren't so deadly serious.  The principals involved all want to do the responsible thing; the trouble is, the moral and ethical dilemma of deadly drone strikes weighs heavily upon all of them.  The British colonel (Helen Mirren) wants authorization, because it's her job to eliminate terrorist cells when she has the opportunity.  A planned ground assault with hope of capturing, instead of eliminating, is off the table because the approach is too well-guarded.  The British general (Alan Rickman) sits at a table with the Attorney General, who's supposed to rule on the legality of the strike, but he wants to kick it upstairs to the Foreign Secretary, who wants to kick it upstairs to the Prime Minister.  On the American side, the lieutenant colonel in charge of the pilot at the controls wants authorization from the Secretary of Defense.  In the meantime, a little spy drone cleverly disgused as a flying beetle manages to see inside the house that the terrorists are actually arming two operatives for a suicide bombing mission.  If left alone, they stand to do much more slaughtering of innocents than would surround this one house.  And yet we're still seeing this innocent little girl, selling her mother's bread, and we would spare her from the impending disaster, if only we could......

            By the way, Abraham's pleas, though poignant and eloquent, didn't stop the firebombing from the skies, either.  So despite his hard bargaining and personal anguish, there just wasn't enough righteousness to go around.  Perhaps there still isn't.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  This scenario also suggests the issue of soldiers receiving an order with which they strongly disagree.  Do they have the right to disobey because of personal conscience?  (see the Holocaust)

2)                  Would the ethical dilemma be reduced by the knowledge that the civilian family living next to the terrorist cell was in fact tacitly supportive?  Or can that not be inferred from mere proximity?  Does “the enemy” extend to neighboring civilians in an undeclared war?

3)                  Which is preferable for combating the enemy:  ground attacks from allies or drone strikes from the air? Which might cause less “collateral damage”?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association