I don’t often think about drones. I do think it’s likely most Americans don’t. The word pops up in news feeds from time to time, or we can relate to a speech droning on. A word that denotes monotony, tedium.
I had heard about soldiers in trailers in Nevada or Utah or some vague somewhere manning drones from computer terminals, blowing up buildings, killing suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.
Mostly I heard about it in the abstract, more like a video game than anything in real life. We’re somewhat immune to the whole idea here in the US, other than a brief flurry of stories about the legality of We the People using drones against We the People. But that moved off the front page, as a footnote to old news.
But for people outside these borders, drones are far from abstract.
And I do think we ought to give the idea of killing from a video monitor some thought.
I was listening to parts of an interview with a young man named Brandon who operated a drone from a trailer out in the US desert southwest. He was a low rank non-com, doing the work of droning, flying his missions from a comfortable chair in an air-condition office, blowing up buildings 8 or 9 thousand miles away, blowing up people, when he had a personal epiphany.
He said he had fired off a missile at some suspected terrorists, made the hit and was monitoring the site via infrared cameras on the drone. He noted the bodies of the dead, because they showed up as brighter spots on his computer image. And slowly, as the bodies cooled, the lights winked out.
He watched them die, electronically.
And it brought him to the realization that he was actually killing live people.
And I would add, he had no real idea who these people were. They were just human beings who showed up at particular geographic coordinates on his computer, and he killed them. Coordinates provided by the same people who assured We the People that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the same people who couldn’t find Osama bin Laden for 10 years or so.
He was locking on and killing at their behest.
Finally he had an assignment to blow up a house where intelligence suggested three terrorists were hiding. He was assured that it was the three terrorists, no more. He locked in, released the missile, and in the six seconds it took for it to reach the target, he saw a small figure run around the corner just as the missile impacted. He said the small figure was a biped, too small to be an adult. He asked for a review of the tape. His superior reviewed the tape and said it was a dog.
He said he knows what he saw; it had two legs, and was too small to be an adult.
Interesting to me was he would not use the word “child,” although that’s all it could have been. Throughout the interview, he said, “biped,” or “too small to be an adult.”
But he quit soon after. Mustered out of the service. He doesn’t say he’s homeless, rather that he’s “couch-surfing” his friends. But he doesn’t have a home. He has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress.
Though the drone strikes are one-sided bloodless warfare, they are not without cost.
And the idea that from a clear blue sky or on a cloudless night comes death from a distant droning sound, from a more distant disinterested 19 or 20-year-old computer geek, that idea seems more chilling than even the barbarity of war.
But Roger, I hear you say, isn’t that better than “boots on the ground,” isn’t it a better way to prosecute the “war on terror?”
I won’t even get into all that is wrong with this on-going, never-ending declared “war on terror.” That is another whole discussion.
Just remember well what path we are taking. Just remember what happened when Pandora’s box was opened.
If THEY can do it there, THEY can also do it here.
Listen for the drone. Sleep well.