The rub, of course, is that there are no accidental drone strikes. The Lethal President has built the Lethal Presidency from his own moral pedigree, from the notion that the Lethal Presidency exists not to kill but to end the killing. We have heard from this White House that it does not take killing lightly, and that the President himself takes the ultimate responsibility for the exercise of ultimate power. We have heard that each killing is carried out with precision technology, and is the result of intense and even agonized deliberation. The problem is that whenever the White House describes the process by which the killings are undertaken, it seems to be talking about a process that has killed dozens or maybe even hundreds of people, when in fact it has killed thousands, including children. By the White House’s own terms – its own advertising – the killing of children can’t be entirely accidental. There must be a calculation for it when the President’s advisors produce their disposition matrices; there must be room for it in the President’s own deliberations. War has always killed children, as part of its madness; what distinguishes the Lethal Presidency is that when it kills children it does so from the madness of reason.
Humankind has changed the definition of evil in the course of its existence. It once measured evil in terms of madness; now madness, duly medicalized, has become exculpatory. We know nothing of Adam Lanza, except that he was “troubled,” and perhaps on the autism spectrum; what intensified the initial apprehension of his evil was not the suspicion that he was in the grip of psychosis during the murders but rather the suspicion that he was not. It is evil that exists as a byproduct of reason that we find unforgivable now – evil advanced with cool calculation, for a cause, towards an end, with no feeling or regret – and it is reason rather than madness that hangs its shadow over the children killed by Barack Obama.