Here are five takeaways from Democracy Now’s interview with ex-Air Force Pilot Brian Bryanton. He worked as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011. After he left the active duty in the Air Force, he was presented with a certificate that credited his squadron for 1,626 kills. He is now on a mission to “humanize” drone operators.
1. Drone operators are people too.
“My goal in all of this is to talk about, like, these aren’t killer robots. They’re not like unfeeling people behind this whole thing. There are—there are some people that are extremely scary when talking to them, and there was one individual who got the word ‘infidel’ tattooed in Arabic on his side, and he had Hellfire tattoos marking every shot. But that’s an extreme. …And that’s an extreme personality. But there’s a lot of like—those people are so few in the community, so few in the military, that—but they’re looked at as like that’s who everyone is. And that’s not the case. Like, there’s people behind there…”
2. Drone operators are real killers who deserve our respect.
“…Because there’s so much misinformation out there, that—so much speculation, and—and that’s wrong. The United States government hasn’t really done a good job of humanizing the people that do it. And everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we’re Nintendo warriors. And that’s—that’s really not the case. And these—the people that do the job are just as legit and just as combat-oriented as anyone else.”
3. The American public wanted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were constitutional wars. (Just keep repeating something enough and it becomes true, right?) The American public wanted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were constitutional wars. The American public wanted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were constitutional wars. The American public wanted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were constitutional wars.
“And, like, you have to understand that what we did over in Afghanistan and Iraq there, it’s constitutionally viable. We were given permission by the American public to go to war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
4. The real debate here isn’t about the wars themselves (because the American people wanted them and they were constitutional) or about using drones to kill people in wars or about using drones to kill people in countries we’re not at war with or about the number of innocent people who are killed by drones or about the methods and intelligence used to determine who gets targeted or about the psychological effect of remote control killing. No. We should only care about the people killed by drones if those people are Americans.
“And the real—the real debate should be about places other than where we went to war and, you know, violating the constitutional rights of an American citizen who was in another country, who was killed without due process, and that type of thing.”
4. The hardest part of being a drone killer is that it violates your morals. But it is not the killing of other human beings that violates your morals. That’s pretty much a non-issue in this interview. The hardest part of being a drone killer is the “moral injury” suffered when you feel like you violated the Constitution.
“And my deal is more moral injury, like think of it—think how you would feel when—if you were part of something that you felt violated the Constitution. And, I mean, I swore an oath, you know? I swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And how do you feel if, like—you can’t use ‘I obeyed orders’ as an excuse. It’s ‘I obeyed the Constitution, regardless of lawful or unlawful orders.’ And lawful orders follow the Constitution. And that, that’s the hardest part.”
(Yet, he already said that the wars were constitutional. What is he trying to say, exactly, in this interview?)
5. Don’t worry. If you think a child might have been killed by a drone strike, it’s probably just a dog.
I don’t know what the point of this interview was or what the point of his “speaking out” is. All I can say is that this kind of thing reminds me of something I read by Hannah Erendt , in which she pointed out that the Nazis were not totally unfeeling or completely hardened to what was going on during the Holocaust. But something in them had been twisted, and they took all of the compassion that would normally be felt for the victims of the Holocaust and channeled it towards the soldiers. “Oh, look what kinds of things these soldiers have to do. Look what horrible and grotesque things they have to see and experience and endure! Oh how awful it must be to have to live with that!” The soldiers were seen as the suffering servants of humanity; yet there was no compassion and empathy for the people whose lives, families, and communities were being systematically destroyed by the soldiers.
Notice the odd title for the article:
A Drone Warrior’s Torment: Ex-Air Force Pilot Brandon Bryant on His Trauma from Remote Killing
Is this the kind of sentiment and selective empathy we encourage at these Masses for Military Appreciation?