Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Distant Death - effects of UAVs or Drones

I wonder what it must be like sitting in a chair in front of a large computer screen handling the controls of a Predator drone unmanned aircraft flying 12000 km away? I wonder especially how I would feel at the moment I saw a “target” individual appear on the screen and was authorised to press the “fire’ button sending a missile to destroy that target person? I wonder how I would feel after I witnessed the resulting explosion, knowing that the target individual was now dead or at least very seriously injured? I wonder how I would feel when I went home that night and spoke to my wife and children knowing that, through my actions, I had denied someone the ability to do the very things that I was doing?

Would I be glad that I had rid the Earth of a bad person? Would I be jubilant I had struck a blow for peace? Would I be aware of the irony in what I had done? Would I be interested in hearing the reasons why the person I have just killed – from my desk 12000 km distant – was deemed by my superiors to be a worthy target? Would I care that he had a family and that he loved his wife and children – and that they loved him? Would I care that some injustice, actual or perceived, suffered by this person was blamed on the “Great Satan” America. Would I be interested in hearing that this injustice (actual or perceived) had so affected him that he tried to redress the affects of the injustice in the only effective way he knew – violence against “The West”?

What would I have done differently if I had actually been on the ground seeking this individual? What would have done if I actually confronted him? What would I have done in the heat of the moment amid the flies and dust and heat and the smell of perspiration and fear – his and my own? What would I have done when I saw the expression in his eyes – the surprise; or the determination to kill or be killed; or the fear or pleading for life? What would I have done if I noticed he was unarmed?

In these circumstances would I be chivalrous and ask him to surrender? In these circumstances would I shoot first and damn the consequences?

Maybe, if I was still at my desk, I would compare notes with those at other controls at other desks flying other drones. Maybe I would be competitive and strive to “shoot and outscore” the others. Maybe, just maybe, I might experience a pang of guilt that someone I never knew, but was instructed to kill, died as a result of my actions; someone I knew only from a foreshortened aerial image taken from an altitude of 10 000 metres some 12 000 km from my computer screen.

Surely everyone has a right to live? Who am I to judge otherwise? Who are those unworthy of life? Am I? I wonder.

I wonder too, if at any stage of my day, the sentiments expressed by the famous lines written by John Donne, (1572 – 1631) would cross my mind:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I just wonder at the psychological effects this distant death may have if I had to do this day after day? I wonder.

Addendum, 8 Dec 2015: Both the US military and the UK military are now finding that the stress of piloting a UAV (drone) is such that many pilots are "burning out" and suffering psychological problems. 

No comments: