Why is this drone toy controversial?

Maisto Fresh Metal Tailwinds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Military Aircraft - US Air Force Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) RQ-1 Predator with Display Stand
Maisto Fresh Metal Tailwinds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Military Aircraft - US Air Force Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) RQ-1 Predator with Display Stand

Maisto Fresh Metal Tail­winds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Mil­i­tary Air­craft — US Air Force Medium Alti­tude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aer­ial Vehi­cle (UAV) RQ-1 Preda­tor with Dis­play Stand

At Slate, Ryan Gal­lagher reports that this drone toy, pic­tured above, is con­tro­ver­sial and (gasp!) actu­ally sold out. The pivot, nat­u­rally, was a fairly expected anti-drone piece from Conor Frieder­s­dorf, who praised some of the “punk” reviews on Amazon’s prod­uct page as evi­dence that there’s some secret dis­si­dent alt-history of the drone being writ­ten online.

Ahem.

But hon­estly, why on earth is this con­tro­ver­sial? As Gal­lagher notes, this same com­pany also sells toys for mil­i­tary fighter air­craft, attack heli­copters, and mul­ti­role fighter jets.

Shock­ingly, kids love play­ing with toys that repli­cate mil­i­tary func­tions. But much more impor­tantly: the “con­tro­versy” over this toy is mis­placed and more than a bit ridicu­lous. Those other toys the com­pany sells rep­re­sent weapons plat­forms that have killed far more peo­ple than all the drones in all the world… but those don’t prompt out­cry when they’re sold for the delight of children.

The dis­par­ity in out­rage is because much of the anti-drone hype is due to either igno­rance or (in a few rare cases) out­right misinformation.

This model of toy is a recon­nais­sance air­craft. That’s what the “R” stands for in RQ-1. When Preda­tor drones were first invented, they couldn’t carry weapons — they were designed sim­ply to loi­ter for long peri­ods of time over an area and film what­ever they could find (and in fact that’s still what they do, prompt­ing some drone crit­ics to com­plain they make peo­ple into “vic­tims of sur­veil­lance” when one flies overhead).

So the oppro­brium about vio­lence levied at a toy for a what amounts to a fly­ing web­cam is not just weird and mis­fo­cused (con­sid­er­ing the other mil­i­tary toys this com­pany sells that have killed far more peo­ple) — it is based on an incor­rect con­clu­sion about it is to begin with. These com­menters (and Conor Frieder­s­dorf) might as well wail and moan about U-2 spy planes, since the two air­craft per­form sim­i­lar functions.

The Great Drone Panic has its roots in a legit­i­mate and press­ing con­cern about the pres­i­den­tial author­ity to sum­mar­ily kill peo­ple with­out judi­cial review. But it has metas­ta­sized into some­thing bizarre, based on lit­tle more than strong feel­ings com­pletely unrooted in any facts.

One response

  1. The deter­mi­na­tion to turn pilot­less air­craft into a bogey­man is a func­tion of the weak­ness of the argu­ment against the war against al Qaeda.

    I don’t recall any­one who opposed the Iraq War going on and on and on about the unique hor­rors of the M1-A1 tank. I don’t recall the protests against the Viet­nam War high­light­ing the scary shape of the M-16.

    As a mat­ter of fact, I remem­ber when peo­ple like Freis­dorf used to com­plain about the con­cept of a “War on Ter­ror,” because of the futil­ity and intel­lec­tual shod­di­ness of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing a war as being about tac­tics, prac­tices, and tools.

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