I have to admit that I'm very conflicted about the use of drones. As the person who has been responsible for making sure that we note every single one of our military casualties, I see the definite advantage of unmanned drones for surgical strikes being a modern way to engage in warfare and keep the casualty count low. I can't see the Military-Industrial Complex loosening their hold on this country, so as long as we're going to keep fighting, at least we can keep wives from being widows, children from losing parents, and parents from burying their children.
When I see reports of drones hitting wedding parties, mosques and other civilian collateral damage, I have to question whether being so detached from these attacks allows us to lose our humanity over the loss of lives.
So with the caveat of my conflicted feelings on the use of drones, the framing of this particular article in The Daily Beast really struck me as very odd.
[State Dept. legal adviser Harold] Koh, perhaps the most forceful advocate of human rights law in the Obama administration, was preparing a speech in defense of targeted killing, and wanted to do his homework; he wasn’t going to put his reputation in jeopardy without knowing the drone strike program and its protocols inside and out. He spent hours at Langley grilling agency lawyers and operators. The operators were naturally suspicious of Koh—a wariness only fueled by Koh’s blunt demeanor. “I hear you guys have a PlayStation mentality,” he said.
The operators of the unmanned drones were civilians, but most were ex-Air Force pilots who took umbrage at the idea that they were “cubicle warriors” morally detached from killing. The lead operator lit into Koh. “I used to fly my own air missions,” he began defensively. “I dropped bombs, hit my target load, but had no idea who I hit. Here I can look at their faces. I watch them for hours, see these guys playing with their kids and wives. When I get them alone, I have no compunction about blowing them to bits. But I wouldn’t touch them with civilians around. After the strike, I see the bodies being carried out of the house. I see the women weeping and in positions of mourning. That’s not PlayStation; that’s real. My job is to watch after the strike too. I count the bodies and watch the funerals. I don’t let others clean up the mess.”
The conversation must have proved persuasive; Koh gave his speech, defending the legal underpinning of the job the drone operator and his colleagues do.
So what am I supposed to take from this? That drone operators have feelings, too? That their ability to watch the grieving widows carry the bodies out of the house somehow ameliorates the disingenuousness of how "surgical" these strikes are supposed to be? And while the Obama administration may want to contain how much we consider the civilian casualties, there's fairly good arguments that this kind of self-delusion is significantly hurting our long-term interests.