The drone operators who remotely order the missiles that blow up people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else the US is killing people refer to the victims of their airstrikes as ‘bug splats’, presumably because of the resemblance of the images they receive after the strike to what one sees on the wind shields of cars. This is part of the general dehumanizing that is adopted when you are killing people in cold blood from a distance.
Now an artists’ collective in Pakistan is trying to break through that desensitizing by giving a face to the victims, hoping that this may give them some pause.
We hear a great deal about the ruthless ingenuity of military hardware, but this is something else altogether. It is a new device currently on deployment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It has the power to startle an enemy for a moment and perhaps even render him incapable of using his weapon afterwards. In the medium-to-long term, the enemy may suffer from impaired judgment and, in some cases, be neutralised. The device is a picture of his victim.
The intention now is that any drone operator who looks down through their camera and sees this village will have reason to think twice. In their own words, the artists hope the image “will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives”.
I would like to believe that this will work. But I am only too drearily aware that militaries systematically seek to train people to not feel compassion for whoever is perceived as the enemy and that training may be just too hard to overcome.