Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator, says he’s haunted by his role in killing more than 1,600 people. He says he is no longer clear that all of them were enemy combatants. In the article linked below Bryant discusses watching one of his first victims bleed to death.
Brandon Bryant says he was sitting in a chair at a Nevada Air Force base operating the camera when his team fired two missiles from their drone at three men walking down a road halfway around the world in Afghanistan. The missiles hit all three targets, and Bryant says he could see the aftermath on his computer screen – including thermal images of a growing puddle of hot blood.
“The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,” he recalled. “And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.” As the man died his body grew cold, said Bryant, and his thermal image changed until he became the same color as the ground.
“I can see every little pixel,” said Bryant, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, “if I just close my eyes.”
Bryant speaks articulately of the dissociation his job triggered:
He says that as an operator he was troubled by the physical disconnect between his daily routine and the violence and power of the faraway drones. “You don’t feel the aircraft turn,” he said. “You don’t feel the hum of the engine. You hear the hum of the computers, but that’s definitely not the same thing.”
At the same time, the images coming back from the drones were very real and very graphic.
“People say that drone strikes are like mortar attacks,” Bryant said. “Well, artillery doesn’t see this. Artillery doesn’t see the results of their actions. It’s really more intimate for us, because we see everything.”
As our nation moves from one dirty war to the next, one wonders why there are no tears, no real remorse for our actions. Perhaps we have more in common with our emotionally wounded veterans than we realize. Long before Vietnam or Iraq, this nation committed a holocaust it has never really faced. Our genocide against the native people of the Americas has never been properly grieved. When we walk upon this land we feel the presence of our victims, but numb ourselves to their spectres, and so numb ourselves to everything else as well. Perhaps our cruelty to the remnant of that population, those native people we call “immigrants” is due less to economics, and more to a kind of psychotic denial.
Centuries of slavery have yet to be properly grieved, and so that shame lies beneath our cultural institutions further numbing us. Young black males in the U.S. are more likely to end up in prison than with a college diploma. Respected Banks have been caught in scandalous racist loan practices, yet our nation continues to shrug at economic injustice against people of color. Could this indifference to injustice result in part from the trauma of unprocessed guilt?
Millions have died to extend an American Empire we do not even admit exists. Why should Brandon Bryant be haunted by images of children wandering onto his screen after he ordered a drone strike, but not we the people who sent him to commit such crimes? Is it possible that, by really listening to our veterans when they confess to war crimes, we might come to admit that we are every bit as guilty as our soldiers and, perhaps, even more so? Surely soldiers are no more guilty than the nation that misleads them, sends them to kill for questionable causes and then renders them invisible when they come back home. Surely, any hope of healing our troubled nation must begin with what the ancient prophets called “repentance” -which means renouncing our numb arrogance and making a painful but necessary return to human decency.
(Thanks to Tamra Dixon for the link)