Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Drones have entered American consciousness and society. Little attention, however, has been paid to how America got here, how it became a drone nation. This thesis seeks to counter the “New Drone” misconception, the general ignorance of drone history present in the historiography, and popular perception of the subject. Chapter one, “The “New Drone” Misconception: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the World Wars,” examines America’s first experiments with military drones. Charles Kettering, “Hap” Arnold, and Reginald Denny were among the first to recognize UAV potential and garner American support. The main motivation for drone use--removing American soldiers from danger--was first recognized during this period. These overlooked early drones suggest that contemporary parallels, such as imprecision and civilian casualties, are not new. Chapter two, “The ‘Inevitability’ of Drones and the Cold War” questions the inevitability of drone adoption. Such perceived inevitability creates a futuristic image, with connotations of superiority leading to blanket acceptance. Examining drone development during the Cold War reveals a very different reality. Drones faced major obstacles, including technical limitations, expense, and competition from other emerging technologies. Just as drone technology is not new, neither are the facile policies which guide its use. Chapter three, “American Counterinsurgency: The Phoenix Program in Vietnam and Contemporary Drone Policy,” is a comparative analysis of American counterinsurgency efforts. The integration of drone strikes into counterinsurgency efforts, especially in unofficial war zones such as Pakistan, has led to popular interest and concern. Many of the same problems (inefficiency, civilian casualties, corruption, and public outrage) that plague drone use also haunted America’s efforts with the Phoenix program. Because of the potential drones hold today, careful consideration of their problematic history is essential. Protecting Americans from war by replacing soldiers with drones has been a century long effort. Yet drone use has consistently produced the same warping effect on American experiences in war. Expensive and technologically limited UAVs have been deployed inefficiently. The covert nature of many drone programs bred distrust, encouraged immoral use, and shielded those responsible from condemnation. Even worse, these efforts accomplished little and were typically counter-productive.



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Committee Chair

Culbert, David H.



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