Top Pro & Con Arguments


Drone strikes inflict psychological damage on drone pilots.

“As war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is a very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide,” according to D. Keith Shurtleff, an Army chaplain at Fort Jackson. Without this deterrent, it becomes easier for soldiers to kill via a process called “doubling,” in which “otherwise nice and normal people create psychic doubles that carry out sometimes terrible acts their normal identity never would.” [157]

Journalist Elisabeth Bumiller describes drone pilots as “fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia” thousands of miles away from the battlefield, then driving home to help with homework. [76]

“What has not been widely understood is that the close-up views of the people they observe, and sometimes kill, place military drone operators in a distance paradox. They are physically far away but visually, emotionally and psychologically intimate. Increasingly high definition live video imagery – say, of a prisoner being beheaded – magnifies this intimacy. The impact of the powerlessness to intervene or help in those situations is profound,” explains Peter Lee, professor of applied ethics at the University of Portsmouth. [170]

Piloting a drone is “more intense,” says Neal Scheuneman, a former Air Force drone sensor operator. “A fighter jet might see a target for 20 minutes. We had to watch a target for days, weeks and even months. We saw him play with his kids. We saw him interact with his family. We watched his whole life unfold. You are remote but also very much connected. Then one day, when all parameters are met, you kill him. Then you watch the death. You see the remorse and the burial. People often think that this job is going to be like a video game, and I have to warn them, there is no reset button.” And yet, because they are not combat troops, drone pilots rarely had the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings other troops must complete. [168]

A study from the Department of Neuropsychiatry at the U.S. Air Force’s School of Aerospace Medicine found that drone pilots, in addition to witnessing traumatic combat experiences, face several unique problems: lack of a clear demarcation between combat and personal/family life; extremely long hours with monotonous work and low staffing; “existential conflict” brought on by the guilt and remorse over being an “aerial sniper”; and social isolation during work, which could diminish unit cohesion and increase susceptibility to PTSD. Several studies have found that drone operators experience psychiatric distress at rates higher than pilots of manned aircraft. [46] [169]

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