Alex Seitz-Wald: Would Lincoln Use Drones?

tags: Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, drones, civil liberties



Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter.

With the nation deep in the throes of Hollywood-induced Lincoln-philia, Washington Examiner editor Mark Tapscott asked Friday what the revered president might do about one of the thorniest political questions of 2013: “Would Lincoln have droned Robert E. Lee?” His answer — an imagined conversation between Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that has the 16th president remarking “OMG” and “sheesh” — is dumb, but the question and answer are more interesting that Tapscott gives them credit.

Lincoln is rightly held up as the paragon of the American presidency, so it makes sense that people would ask how he would handle a tough moral question like the use of unmanned killer drones, which has compelling arguments both for and against. WWLD? We consulted experts and the historical record to find out. The answer may surprise you.

First off, Lincoln was obsessed with military technology and innovation, so there’s little question that he would have been intrigued by drones, had they been invented in the 1860s. He often personally witnessed demonstrations of new inventions and pushed for their advancement and field testing through the War Department bureaucracy, in part by promoting officers who held a similar love of innovation. Under his tenure, the Union became one of the world’s first militaries to use repeating rifles (a vast improvement over the single-shot muzzle-loaders it replaced), rifled artillery, machine guns, rockets, armored “ironclad” warships, and torpedoes, and he made advanced strategic use of railroads and especially the telegraph....



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