In American history and mythology, the name Robert Ford is covered in infamy. Because, like a coward, he waited until the bandit Jesse James had diverted his attention elsewhere, and then shot him in the back. Even those who had urged and appreciated James’ death found Ford’s act unpalatable. Americans then did not have much use for cowardly back-shooters. Shooting unawares an unarmed man in the back, no matter who he might be, did not comport with the image of who we thought ourselves to be.
Times change, and so, I guess, have we. On August 4, some Bobby Ford sitting in an air-conditioned aerie on some military base somewhere in the United States pushed a button, and, thousands of miles away in Pakistan, another black-bearded bandit, Baitullah Mehsud, was blown in half, as he lay abed receiving a drip infusion for a kidney ailment. Nobody in the States seems to be in much of a ferment over this: how easily we have become accustomed to these aerial predators, though they seem most adept at transforming weddings into abattoirs. Killing a person as he receives medical treatment, that was also once considered, here in the Western world, “not cricket,” but I guess that’s over too. Besides Mehsud, the drone strike also snuffed out the lives of one of Mehsud’s wives, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, and eight other people. But those sorts of folks we just write off, these days, with the Orwellian term “collateral damage.” Give the original Bobby Ford some credit: at least James knew Ford was in his house, and Ford didn’t compound his crime by reducing the rest of the people in the place to bits of bones and bloody jelly.