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.