Friday, May 10, 2013

The Worst Thing about Drones

I drove Brendan to school this morning--actually, I do that every morning. His school day is long enough as it is. If he had to take the DC metro and bus system to and from school, it would add more than two hours to his day. Throw in his track or basketball practice and he would spend almost 12 hours a day marching in lines under somebody else's command. Call me a slacker, but I think that's a bad deal even for adults, no matter that they get paid for some of that marching.

On the way home, I heard a story about a former Air Force drone operator on NPR's Morning Edition. He's a kid, really, but by the time he was, oh, say 20 years old, he had likely killed more than one innocent and killed at least one child with missiles he fired while sitting in a trailer on an Air Force base somewhere in Nevada.

Brandon Bryant's in college now, but it sounds like he's hurting and probably battling PTSD, a battle a lot of soldiers end up losing. And how can he actually win that fight? To a certainty he knows he killed a child while running no risk to himself at all.

I know this: Left to my own devices that kind of guilt would bring me to my knees.

And he sure as hell is left to his own devices. The American public doesn't even know Brandon Bryant went to war. That's the worst part of the drone program--suddenly almost all war is on the verge of becoming clandestine. And we in the US are going to lose track of our wounded vets when the day comes that none of their scars are visible.

Over the past two generations, we have done so many things to make war more bearable for civilians. We eliminated the military draft. We acquired global military superiority and a whole range of weapons that would allow us to kill wholesale at a great reduction in American dead and wounded. Now, we have drones and a kind of silent combat we can wage from our desks.

It's a game in which we run up the score and always shut out the other side. But our combat vets are invisible and, as has always been the case in war, the children they kill are invisible, too. The collateral damage is mounting. And every drone that explodes in Yemen or Mali or Sudan also blows up something here. Early education funding, maybe, or unemployment spending, to say nothing of the damage to a warrior's conscience.

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