They are not ‘bug splats’

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.

NotABugSplat poster

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.


  1. elpayaso says

    and why the military has become so restrictive about allowing journalists access to war zones. they don’t want another picture of a napalmed toddler runnng down the road screaming in pain….and with good reason, as the fact that i get upset thinking about it 30+ years later shows the power this image had.

  2. kraut says

    At least they should follow the fascist ideology of Nazis and Israel settlers and call their targets just vermin. This way we know before they start killing clearly what ideology they espouse.

  3. kraut says

    At least they should follow the fascist ideology …sorry, should have read fascist choice of words. One of the hallmarks of fascism is the dehumanization of the opponent and denigrating his/her “race” as unworthy of existence.

  4. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I am much less concerned about the lack of compassion in the drone operators than I am in the remove of those civilians in Washington who directly or indirectly order those operators to kill and the populace of the United States who, by virtue of their citizenship, are are ultimately responsible for any deaths.

    Bug splat is mild compared to what I heard during my 11 years in service.

    Rather than get upset the psychological tricks those ordered by their government to kill use to be able to sleep at night, I wish those not in the arena would get directly involved in ensuring that those in service do not receive the orders in the first place.

    If anyone doesn’t like what our service members do in our name, then they need to get off their ass and do all they can to first, remove the politicians responsible from office, and then work just as hard to prevent their like from ever gaining office in the future.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  5. readysf says

    The most powerful antidote to this type of dehumanization is personalization. The best example of personalization is the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem.

    Individuals have been personalized, with pictures, stories, and personal belongings. There is a room devoted to books with transcribed names. Each human has the absolute right to personhood, dead or alive, and the evil of groupthink is the cowards way out of personal responsibility.

    Each bugsplat is someone’s child, someone’s friend. In times of war, generalizations are necessary, its us or them. In times of peace, or in times of contrived war, such generalizations (against Muslims, Jews, or any other group-identifier) are criminal.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    … militaries systematically seek to train people to not feel compassion …

    Military schmilitary – we know a large proportion of these remote-control death robots’ controllers are civilian contractors for the nominally civilian CIA – and as psychopathologically ruthless as the well-tailored executives managing their kill-for-hire projects.


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