A French Air Force drone is released in Afghanistan in 2009: unmanned drones and cyberwarfare are set to be growth industries. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
Drone warfare is something Mad Padre has been tracking for a while, particularly the ethical temptations and implications of this kind of war. The proliferating use of drones allows western powers to exploit their technological impacts and minimize their exposure to human risk and casualties, which reduces the political risk of war.
Yesterday in the Guardian, John Naughton has a blurry encounter with Heidegger on technology, and draws the rather general conclusion that “technology is, in essence, a way of organising the world so that one doesn’t have to experience it”. Drones certainly make it easy for voters not to experience war. More specifically, he quotes Ross Anderson, who, I think, pinpoints the ethical concern here, namely that “politicians are obligated to explain, at regular intervals, why a military action requires the blood of a nation’s young people. Wars waged by machines might not encounter much scepticism in the public sphere.”
IN a related story, NPR’s Rachel Martin notes that while the US Air Force is training more drone pilots than bomber and fighter pilots combined (a rather staggering fact in itself), 29% are considered burned out and 17% are considered clinically distressed.
“The particular nature of drone warfare is also a contributor to the higher stress levels. While the number is very small, officials who conducted the study said they did encounter a handful of pilots who suffered symptoms of PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder — directly linked to their experience running combat operations. Unlike traditional pilots flying manned aircraft in a war zone, the pilots operating remote drones often stare at the same piece of ground in Afghanistan or Iraq for days, sometimes months. They watch someone’s pattern of life, see people with their families, and then they can be ordered to shoot.”
Turns out that drone pilots, sometimes derided in the military as joystick cowboys who can commute home from war at the end of every shift, are not immune to the “existensial crisis” of war.
This second story seems a small icon for contemporary warfare, in that a small number of professional soldiers carry the burden of war and its costs, while the public is mostly oblivious and governments can employ deadly force with near impunity.