Haiti Liberte: Drones and Slavery

by Peter Linebaugh (Haiti Liberte)
DroneAdventures.org is a Swiss
“non-profit” organization that in April 2013 sent two representatives to Haiti
to work with a couple “non-profits” called Open Street Map and International
Organization for Migration. For six days with three drones and several lap-top
computers these “drone adventurers” mapped 1) shanty towns in Port au Prince to
count the number of tents as a first step in making a census and organizing
“infrastructure,” 2) river beds to simulate water flow for future flood
control, and 3) the University of Limonade “to help promote the school for the
next generation of youth in Haiti.”
drone promoters also made a cheerful video with
a happy sound track, pretty pictures of the blue sky, and scores of children
running after these pied pipers launching their falcon-like drones as if the
children too could fly as easily out of the man-made disasters of life.

you ever wondered how important it is to have detailed and up-to-date maps of a
territory?” the drone promoters ask. Not only do we know they are important, we
know enough to view them with suspicion. Historically, cartography developed in
Europe for military, commercial, and exploitive purposes. “There is a
continuous need for up-to-date imagery for aid distribution, reconstruction,
disaster mitigation … the list goes on.” 
Indeed the list does go on, directly to bombing. These things are not
for our own good, though every effort is made to start out that way.
map depends on the bird’s-eye view, or the perspective from above. This
viewpoint gave not only amusement but the illusion of omniscience which heretofore
in European history had been reserved exclusively to the European divinities.
The bird’s-eye view also inspired the Romantic movement of Europe. The
viewpoint keeps us gaping upwards into the sky, and ignoring everything around
us. The viewpoint initiates the class analysis and profound vision of Volney’s Ruins (1792) and Shelley’s Queen Mab (1812).
have seen something like this before, with the origin of the bird’s-eye view.
Consider the great French philosopher, Condorcet, or consider the brilliant
American bourgeois, Benjamin Franklin. They both welcomed the first hot-air
balloons on 11 September 1783 (oh, date of terror and dread!) which made the
viewpoint possible. They noted the combination of present amusement and
potential power of the balloon. A decade later the balloons were manned for
military observation in the French wars against Austria. They are the ancestors
of the dirigible, the airplane, (the bomber and the fighter), the rocket, and
now the drone. The “bird’s-eye view,” and the aerial machines it makes
possible, led directly to Guernica and Hiroshima.
Walpole, the English novelist wrote in 1783 as the first balloon ominously
ascended over the countryside, “the wicked wit of man always studies to apply
the results of talents to enslaving, destroying, or cheating his fellow
creatures.”  We could not express the
essential contradiction better: 
technology and slavery went hand in hand.
a year in Haiti, the first balloons went up on the Gallifet plantations at Acul
and the Plaine du Nord. Here 800 slaves producing riches for Europe were
managed by Odelucq, the man responsible for the balloon launch, indeed the
first flight in America. What did the slaves think? Did they stare up into the
blue sky with wide eyes and gaping mouths? 
Moreau, the contemporary scholar, provides the answer, “black spectators
did not allow themselves to cry out over the insatiable passion of man to
submit nature to his power.” 
wicked wit of man” belonged to the European bourgeoisie not the black
spectators.  “How can we make a lot of
sugar when we work only 16 hours [a day]?” asked Odelucq.  Only by consuming men and animals, he
answered himself.
men and women would not be consumed so easily. They taught the children not to
run after false gods or to Europeans preaching technological salvation. The
spiritual, military, and social leaders of the slaves appealed to African
sky-gods who answered with thunder and lightening on the historic night of 23
August 1791 in the Bois Caïman, thus initiating the first successful slave
revolt in the history of the world. It began on the same plantations which had
been Odelucq’s proving grounds. The sky above Le Cap turned dark with the smoke
of burning plantations. Odelucq was among the first of the oppressors to pay
with his life. Surveillance was answered by sousveillance!
drones which today indiscriminately kill men, women and children in Pakistan
and Yemen appeared first in the history of the technology as children’s toys,
not weapons. Beware, the cunning eye of the master class is on you!

Peter Linebaugh is a historian at the University of Toledo
and the author of the forthcoming “Stop Thief: The Commons, Resistance and