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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Slaughter From An Easy Chair

I read that the Air Force is having some trouble with its remote control drone operators' mental health. Think about it. A man or woman gets up, kisses the spouse and kids, goes to work. There it may well go: shoot hellfire missiles at targets detected on the ground, have lunch, fire another missile, turn the Predator UAV over to the next shift, and go home. This is too much mental whipsaw for the human mind to absorb in such a narrow slice of time. Compress, release, compress, release and repeat. Cops and firemen undergo this sort of stress. A volunteer fireman can be eating breakfast with his wife and kids one minute, and fifteen minutes later be helping put out the gasoline fueled maelstrom that had been an airplane loaded with people half an hour ago. Bodies must be retrieved. In a small town, you may well know the shredded and burned victims. Throwing up doesn't help.

When you get home the smell of gasoline and burned flesh seem to saturate the air in your home. You shower, and try to explain the horror to your mate, but you just want to forget. Lots 'o luck there.

A warrior in the immediate theater of conflict has a mindset that allows the mind to understand the threat and response matrix. Pilots are constantly under threat as are ground troops. Combat makes sense on a visceral level, a suburban life punctuated with brief homicidal mayhem does not.

I'm not making a moral judgement here. The UAV is a logical outgrowth of the technological age, and is what it is. Lethality without risk. If the Air Force wants to contemplate the ultimate cost of the UAV, they should add in the cost of rehabilitation of their operators.

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