Droning On

I hate to keep kicking a dead horse, since the subject of drone attacks targeting innocent civilians is obviously not one that concerns most people. But a recent story carried by a British (not an American) newspaper caught my eye. It’s about a retired Air Force enlisted man whose job while in the military was operating unmanned aircraft in their attacks on targets in the Middle East. He was sitting comfortably — or not so comfortably, as it turns out — in Nevada watching the whole thing on a TV screen. Just like a game, which is what the recruiters promised him: just like guys in the James Bond movies. Except that it is no longer a game for this man who is suffering from post-traumatic stress and can’t seem to get the images out of his mind. The story carried in the London Daily Mail reads, in part:

A former drone operator who helped kill 1,626 targets says he’s haunted by the carnage he witnessed from behind his computer screen.
Brandon Bryant, 27, served as a drone operator from 2006 to 2011 at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and Iraq. It was a desk job of sorts, but unlike any other, it involved ordering unmanned aircraft to kill faraway targets while he watched.
In an interview with NBC News’ foreign correspondent Richard Engel, Bryant recalled one operation where his team fired two missiles from a drone at three men in Afghanistan.
The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,’ he said, recalling what he saw of the scene through the thermal images on his screen. ‘And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.’
He recalled watching the mens’ bodies grow cold, as slowly the red color detecting the heat of their bodies grew smaller.
‘I can see every little pixel if I just close my eyes,’ he said.

There are so many things wrong here it is difficult to know where to start. I have spoken about the moral crisis these acts of violence signal, though so many Americans seem unaware of it, or simply don’t give a shit. Not only is it a violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which this country was a signatory once upon a time. But from any moral perspective you can imagine it is simply wrong to engage in military activities that invariably take innocent lives — excuse me, cause “collateral damage.” If they were doing this to us, we would see immediately how wrong this is. But since it is us doing it to them  — and they are thousands of miles away and wear different clothing and look different from most of us — we see no harm. This is one of the things that bothers Bryant: the fact that people over here don’t seem to care, even though we have fits when three people are killed by a couple of stupid kids during the running of the Boston Marathon. We really have become callous, and perhaps a bit blind.  As long as we are safe in our little boxes made of ticky-tacky, watching TV programmed for us by Madison Avenue to sell us products we don’t need, we are perfectly content to have innocent men, women and children killed somewhere else. Just don’t tell us about it. No harm (to me or mine) no foul. And our government is making sure we know as little about these activities as possible. There aren’t many folks like Bryant who have the courage to speak out — assuming that other drone operators are also bothered about what it is they are doing.

Just imagine sitting in a chair in Nevada or New Mexico, or wherever, and watching human targets, many of them only alleged enemies of your country, as they are struck by the missiles your drone releases at them. Bryant can’t get the images out of his head. Neither can I — and I haven’t even seen them except in my wildest imagination. It’s getting harder and harder to make excuses for this president and this Congress whom many people abroad identify with this country. I don’t, but what I think really doesn’t count.

Protecting Our Country

I have blogged about the reluctance of the Republican party to allow any cuts in “defense” spending — in spite of the fact that 60% of the budget they have pledged to cut to shreds is spent on the military in one form or another. In this regard a recent paragraph from a blogger friend jumped out and I thought it worth passing along:

Last year, the U.S. Army made an unusual request to Congress: Stop sending us tanks. That plea was issued after legislators ignored the Army’s objections and approved a defense appropriations bill that included $255 million for 42 new M1 Abrams tanks. With 2,300 M1s already deployed around the world, and 3,000 more sitting idle at a base in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the military said it simply didn’t need any more tanks. But Ohio politicians pushed for the extra M1s, so as to keep open an 800-worker tank plant in the state. “A lot of lawmakers stuff funding into defense bills that could benefit their district,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, whose district is home to the tank plant, insisted that he supported the program for reasons of national security. “I think it’s in the best interests of the U.S. to defend our country,” he said.

Clearly waste in the Department of Defense is beyond our comprehension. Another article I read recently (also here) spoke about the waste of $5 billion by the Army attempting by trial and error to find camouflage that would protect the troops around the world — and make them look as “cool” as the Marines. Their camouflage, it turned out, made them more visible in every possible environment! They were unable to find the proper color combinations while the Marines simply went to Home Depot and looked at paint swatches and found the colors they wanted and had a material made in those colors which was then made into camouflage that works remarkably well — saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

I dare say there are many more stories like this that will never leak out as politicians are unwilling to turn a critical eye on “defense” spending since (as the above paragraph suggests) it would translate into a “weaker” country. Obviously defense spending is really less about defending our country than it is about defending special political interests. In any event this “weak” country would presumably result from a scheduled “sequestering” [reduction] of the military (which is opposed by Republicans in Congress (despite the fact that it would save the country $1.5 trillion over ten years). Our “weak” country would look something like this: it would only have 426,000 soldiers in the Army, only 1,512 fighter planes, only 230 ships in the Navy — not to mention the tanks alluded to above that are sitting and getting rusty and the tactical weapons we dare not mention. The question needs to be asked: what on earth is going on here? Just who are we defending ourselves from? It should be from the fat-cat politicians who talk about “national security” while they bed down with the corporations that make millions from selling defense equipment and weaponry.