Today a senior British judge declared that the use of drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is "cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance". He had nothing to say about how victims of the Taliban feel about them.
I have some peripheral experience with UAVs, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about it. I wrote the following letter during my second deployment, and I think it sums up pretty well how I feel about UAVs and whether using them is cruel.
Death From Above
This scene has repeated itself many times over the last few days. It's one of few experiences that I've found is not diminished by repetition.
Am I remorseful? Do I feel for the men who, in a matter of seconds, will cease to exist? The place in my heart that would be occupied by remorse is scarred by images of a hostage slaughter house. The part of my mind that might harbor compassion is imagining a makeshift video studio, where Al Jazeera cameramen drank tea to the sounds of innocents' life blood gurgling in their windpipes.
The people we watch die are blissfully unaware. What are they discussing on that street corner? What is he thinking as he drives that car? Do they, for the split second before impact, wonder at the sound of wind, rushing over the stubby wings of the warhead? Even if they do - even if they hear the missile, homing inexorably from a vehicle so far away they never saw it, their brief shock is nothing to me. The searing flash, the concussion that separates their body from their soul bothers me not a bit. It is merciful.
It is not the weeks or months-long separation from friends and family, being held like livestock for a bargain that will never be struck. It is not the desperate sickness that invades the heart, knowing you will never see your family again. It is not the terror of knowing your captors consider you most valuable when your head is severed, dangling from their bloody fist in a television commercial for evil. It is not the grinding by of countless hours of loneliness and fear.
It is quick. It is better than they deserve. Far from regret, I am grimly satisfied at my role in this process.
Maybe it shocks you that I can appreciate beauty, love my family, and calmly contemplate killing men. It shouldn't. The understanding of good and evil and the willingness to act in the differentiation between them is fundamental to those more appealing characteristics.
I'm still me.