Wonder Weapons and the Half-Dead

In the classic American film, Patton, there is a scene near the end during which a reporter asks General Patton a question about futuristic warfare:

Correspondent: General, we’re told of wonder weapons the Germans were working on: Long-range rockets, push-button bombing weapons that don’t need soldiers. What’s your take on that?

Patton: Wonder weapons? My God, I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics. Nothing is glorified, nothing is reaffirmed. No heroes, no cowards, no troops. No generals. Only those that are left alive and those that are left… dead.

Regardless of whether this conversation was accurate to real life, neither the general nor the film’s script writers would have known that, in addition to the “living” and the “dead” left as a result of such warcraft, there will be the half-dead, the zombified PTSD-suffering drone operators, who have to watch their targets for a long time and get to know them much more than a regular soldier would get to know the man he shoots on the other side of the line.

One story about this problem quoted a drone operator saying, “I’m killing some pretty good fathers.” In other words, in the lead-in to his drone hits, this poor man had to watch his targets enjoying their family life for a lengthy amount of time before pushing the button that brought fire and death raining down from a Predator.

Now comes this AP story on the measures the USAF is taking to deal with the stresses suffered by drone operators:

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AP) — The gritty combat in Afghanistan is thousands of miles away.

But the analysts in the cavernous room at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia relive the explosions, the carnage and the vivid after-battle assessments of the bombings over and over again. The repeated exposure to death and destruction rolling across their computer screens is taking its own special toll on their lives.

The military has begun to grapple with the mental and emotional strains endured by personnel who may never come face to face with a Taliban insurgent, never dodge a roadside bomb or take fire, but who nevertheless may be responsible for taking human lives or putting their colleagues in mortal danger.

Now, for the first time, an Air Force chaplain and a psychologist are walking the floor of the operations center at Langley, offering counseling and stress relief to the airmen who scrutinize the war from afar.

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