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Sunday, June 28, 2015

On Drones and Empathy

BBC Radio Ulster - Everyday Ethics, Alcoholism, Drone Morals, WB Yeats:

Interview with Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice. America's Secret Drone Wars, on Drones and Empathy

"When I started writing the book... I bought in to the idea of the Playstation Mentality that'd been around for quite a while, the idea of these drone operators thousands of miles away being cold and distant from the battlefield.

What I actually found really surprised me. The men and women I spoke with for the book - and I did get to speak to a lot of former and present drone operators, were actually quite emotionally connected to the battlefield.

And that's because they watch their victims for some time before they kill them. They'll monitor them for hours, days, sometimes even weeks, and build up very intimate patterns of understanding of the people that they're observing, and then sometimes will kill them...

One of the generals I spoke to likened drones to an aerial sniper rifle and I think that's a good way of putting it. So we have this contradiction where the pilots are as far away from the battlefield as they can possibly be and yet in terms of emotional empathy with their victims, they're probably the the closest on the battlefield. They also stay behind afterwards. Usually in war when people are killed, the action moves on, the jet fighter moves on, the patrol moves on or whatever. The drone operators stay and they watch for a long time. Sometimes they'll watch people die, they'll watch the life bleed out them in infra-red, and a few operators spoke to me about this as quite a traumatic experience...

That's one of the very challenging things. One describes his role as being the ultimate voyeur. He described to me watching an Iraqi wedding once, where there was a target there they would later go on to kill. And he was watching from above. He'd never left the United States at that point in his life, and yet here he was watching a wedding in Iraq and getting caught up. He was watching from a mile above... The use of armed drones is full of these contradictions...

Some of the operators I've spoken to are morally damaged but I think no more or no less I would say than many of the soldiers, sailors and airmen that I've spoken to caught up in conflict.

I think for the drone operators it brings its own bundle of problems and so for example, the fact that they do a shift at work and then they go home to their families. This is unique in war. We've never had part time warriors like this before.

The US Air Force thought this was a good thing initially. What they found and are continuing to find is that when operators go home at night they can't unburden, they can't share in the same way that they could if they were based on the battlefield or nearby.

And so operators keeping things very tightly bound up in themselves and that is well damaging but many of the other operators I spoke to are very proud of their work, very comfortable with what they've done. And that I suppose is what you'd expect with the warrior class."
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