Saturday, July 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #65 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Medals for "bravery" for drone pilots

The Pentagon is considering creating a new medal. It's to be called the Distinguished Warfare Medal. While it hasn't been approved yet, the Army Institute of Heraldry, which is responsible for designing medals, has already submitted six alternate designs.

Big deal, a new medal. So what's the outrage? It's this:

The medals are specifically intended to be awarded to those who pilot predator drones to attack targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. That is, to be given to "pilots" who sit in bases literally thousands of miles from the conflicts, thousands of miles from any possibility of injury beyond a hand cramp or a calloused thumb, thousands of miles away from the death and destruction they cause which to them appears only as a grainy video on a computer screen - and now they are to be rewarded, it appears, for what, their bravery? Apparently so:

Writing in the May-June issue of the Air & Space Power Journal, Air Force Maj. Dave Blair wondered how much difference there is in terms of risk "between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles." According to him, an "aircraft that scrapes the top of a combat zone, well outside the range of any realistic threat" is deemed in "combat" because, well, it entered a combat zone. But a Predator drone firing a missile is considered mere "combat support." And it's just not fair, it seems, that the drone pilots, the joystick jockeys, sitting at their computer screens killing people by remote control while wondering whether to have pizza for dinner, it's just not right that they aren't regarded as in actual combat, as in the thick of things, as right on the front lines with the grunts in foxholes.

Years ago, in fact a few decades ago, the military started talking about "the electronic battlefield." The headquarters of the Army's "electronics warfare command" was at the military base just down the road from where I lived. Some people started worrying about wars of robots, others about how increasingly isolating people from the effects of their actions desensitizes them to those effects making them easier to impose. Making, that is, wars easier to start. It's taken some time, but we surely are seeing that now, as those who kill computer images at a distance are to be regarded as engaging in work that is not even merely necessary, but somehow courageous.

But as Glenn Greenwald said
If the mere act of taking steps that will result in the death of others makes one "brave," consider all the killers who now merit that term: dictators who order protesters executed, tyrants who send others off to war, prison guards who activate electric chairs.
Consider, too, that when one of these drones succeeds in killing someone, it 's referred to - this is the actual military term - it 's referred to as a "bug splat."

Human being referred to as "bugs" to be squashed and the people who do the squashing in complete safety from thousands of miles away to be rewarded for their "bravery."

A week doesn't seem enough for that level of outrage but it's all I have. The Outrage of the Week.


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