The Wounds of the Drone Warrior

Even soldiers who fight wars from a safe distance have found themselves traumatized. Could their injuries be moral ones?


Comments: 132

  1. Soldiers have to convince themselves that what they are doing is somehow right. Yet often what soldiers are doing is wrong (unless you suscribe the doctrine that everything the United States does is right because the loving God gave the U.S. His blessing to kill). Using drones makes the victims, including the women and children, seem anonymous. But drone pilots have to know that they are killing women and chilldren whose only crime is to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I couldn't be a soldier, or a cop. I couldn't commit extraudicial executions of innocent young people...and then go to sleep at night. My father was credited with downing a Japanese kamikaze pilot in WWII. This was a justified act according to the rules of war. My father was given the dead man's samurai sword as a trophy. I once asked my father if he regretted anything about his war service (he was 17 and couldn't get into the Army. But the Navy recruiter let him join). My father said, "No, I felt it was my duty." But he wrote a poem about young man he had killed, a young man which, my father said, he could not hate. And after the war he found the dead man's parents in Japan and returned their son's samurai sword to them. Of course, my father wasn't a great man, not great like Donald Trump, or the most famous WWII draft dodger of all, John Wayne.

  2. You say you couldn't commit those killings -- and maybe, hopefully, you're right. But the tragedy at the heart of this article is that people *do* act in contrast to their deep moral convictions, which ultimately leads to moral injury. If they did not have these moral convictions, no injury would result from their actions.

    Following WWII, one of the great questions was how seemingly ordinary Germans could commit such atrocities. Righteous Americans felt confident that they would not have done the same in similar circumstances. Then, in 1951, the Asch electric shock studies showed that the vast majority of normal folks will hurt other people in certain conditions.

    By creating a strict hierarchy and bureaucratizing the act of killing remotely, the military has nearly perfected those circumstances. The "kill chain" referenced in this article is more formally known as F2T2EA (Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, Assess). Many of us can't imagine ourselves engaging in lethal violence. But in a dark room with your peers wearing the same uniform and officers you respect overseeing your work and your country behind you lionizing your service, you may find yourself less resistant to being part of the "kill chain" than you would think.

  3. Human beings - at the time of birth - do not want to kill other human beings. They are not haters, filled with anger and fear or "better than" human beings of another color, race or life-station. They have to be brain-washed into thinking these things are "normal".

    The military brain washes them. Law enforcement organizations brain wash them. Organized religion brain washes them. "Cult leaders" like The Con Don brain wash them. BIG money masters brain wash them.

    All the "counseling" and "merit awards" in the world will not change the fact that killing, hating and fearing other human beings are not normal. They are abnormal.

    WE THE PEOPLE can change the world from the inside out by not buying into the brain-washing and by using common sense and our social consciences.

    EVERY human being in the world came here exactly the same way from exactly the same unknown place. Some of may be more socially privileged than others but no human being is "better than" any other human being. That is a fact.

  4. We all came from the same unknown place and we are all returning to an unknown place. Learning what it means to love and how to love more fully is our work while we are here. We need to keep this in mind, in every moment without exception. No one owns the earth or any part of it. The earth owns us and will be taking all of us soon because of unchecked human greed unless we all have a collective epiphany to love each other and share instead of hate each other and kill.

  5. I wonder if some part of "it could be me but for grace of (insert the deity of choice)" has an impact as well.

  6. US drone policy is a disgrace. There are strong arguments that the strikes violate the Geneva convention and related international laws and should be treated as war crimes. Note: the difference between US reported numbers on civilian deaths and international watch-dog reports are likely attributed to the US definition of "enemy combatant," which is far broader and includes practically any male of reasonable military age.

    While I appreciate this article's focus on the emotional repercussions in our soldiers at home (which is an overlooked but still important component of anti-drone discourse), I hope the national conversation shifts to the much deeper and deadlier damage we're inflicting on individuals, family members, and communities abroad.

  7. The US drone programs work. They save far, far more non-combatant lives than are lost. Think about it. In order to take out a factory or a military leader in WWII, an enormous bombing raid had to be undertaken that would lay waste to an entire city. In Vietnam, how many American soldiers and innocent Vietnamese civilians were killed trying to track down and kill the Vietcong? With the drone and sensor technologies as described by the article, the "collateral damage" (e.g. innocent parties) resulting from strikes on those that would do us harm is minimized.

    While I feel bad for the operators having to deal with the moral trauma of this, sometimes, very personal form of warfare, it is preferable to the indiscriminate bombing, or worse, active personnel on the ground executing military missions.

    As for the discrepancy in the numbers of civilian deaths, there certainly could be under-reporting on the US side as suggested. More likely, the outside observers likely inflate the figures for political or propaganda purposes.

    The drone program (and military sensor and surveillance technology in general) is scary and lethal. That said, it is preferable to the alternatives.

  8. Such an important article, for numerous reasons, among them, illustrating the value of a press with the freedom to investigate the actions of its own government.
    Thank you.

  9. "the value of a press with the freedom to investigate the actions of its own government"

    When this is done respectfully and with honor, it is invaluable.

  10. Given the military's love of technology, I am sure that AI will be used for piloting these drone operations in the future and then the impact to American soldiers will be almost non-existent. I am not sure whether that is a good thing or not.

  11. I can't wait to read an article about the symptoms of moral trauma among the drone operators, as I believe we are all more or less subject to - much smaller - moral traumas each time we fail to act in a situation of wrongdoing.
    It seems to me that the trauma is in feeling we have somehow failed the world that surrounds us, that we have damaged it when trying to make it better, and it's interesting in how symmetrical it may appear with regards traumas where the world, or our country, or a person, has failed us when it was supposed to protect us.

  12. Certainly a lot to unpack here and one could spend days analyzing this article sentence by sentence. But from a high-level perspective what I see missing from this article and articles like it is a foundational understanding of justifiable war theory from a religious, moral and theological perspective. Too often we emphasize the "horrors of war" without taking into account why wars must be fought in the first place. The main protagonist of this story appears to have been - at least at one point - an Orthodox Christian. The Catholic and to a lesser extent the Orthodox Churches have well-thought-out positions on the morality of war, what kind of conduct is expected during war, when war is justified, when killing may be justified, and so forth. It seems that these soldiers are not given the appropriate theological and moral instruction in these areas (perhaps this is the duty of the military chaplain; I don't know). Understanding the totality of what the Bible and the larger Christian tradition teach regarding the taking of human life (it's not just "thou shalt not murder", cf. Genesis 9:6, Romans 13, etc.) may help to alleviate some of these "moral injuries" as it were. A good but by no means exhaustive treatment of these topics is given in Profs. Webster and Cole's book, "The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Traditions East and West."

  13. This type of religious analysis might be helpful for short-term, focused campaigns. But when a campaign drags on and on for years, lasting through multiple-term presidencies, without apparently achieving progress, then even those justifications may not be enough to assuage a sense of guilt, shame or despair.

  14. “Modern warfare is waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people.” The Dalai Lama

  15. Tribalism and aggression are natural human conditions, but the violence and killing of outright war is not. The actual conduct of tribal warfare in many anthropological studies often shows a lot of detached ritual and bluff but not much actual bloodshed and death. So I see no reason why changing that game to include mass destruction and death, even physically remote, wouldn't induce moral and psychological trauma. When we add total-volunteer armed forces to the equation, we end up with huge numbers of service people who begin with the illusion of patriotism and righteousness, but are brought down hard by the reality of killing. What's not to be expected?

  16. I share sentiments expressed below about value of this article and a need to understand this "moral injury" better.

    I am not a veteran nor do I know anybody close enough to have participated in any of this military activity.

    Yet, one statistic stood out about how prevalent this problem really is.

    In this corps of some 6,000 drone operators, it was revealed that less than 30% expressed any anxiety or fewer still thought it more than 10 times. Not sure, why 10 times was mentioned.

    So, my point is that even in a civilian work place, the margin of folks not feeling good about their work or it's impact probably is not different.

    I worked in the oil industry all my life - for 45 years. While accidents involving injuries or fatalities are increasingly rare - they happened more in the past. I know on my watch, I have seen men get seriously hurt though no fatality. Yet, I have been at locations where there have been fatalities.

    And there is some remorse and accounting - but for the most part, everyone thought life goes on.

    Something similar here.

    While Mr Aaron has been featured here - are we drawing too broad brush a conclusion on moral injury??

  17. Thank you for an excellent article. Thanks also to the individuals who opened up to bring our attention to the issue.
    There is also the danger that drone operators are engaging in war crimes by killing noncombatants or committing other human rights violations. Former British PM David Cameron believed he had witnessed a war crime in 2006 when watching a US drone operator in Afghanistan use a second strike to kill combatants who had been wounded as a result of the first strike.

  18. No matter how much it is set up like a video game, there is a reality, a finality a deep sense of grief (no matter how much training you may have had to kill ) that on the other end of your buttons, there is life that is being extinguished. (or multiples thereof)

    Do that over and over again, and of course the strain on your psyche, being and soul is going to be enormous to the point you are traumatized. (perhaps with no return)

    War is hell which is made worse by ''leaders'' that have never faced these consequences, nor given it nary a thought, other than to line the pocket books of defense contractors. (that line back the political coffers to get reelected)

    That is where the real trauma is occurring > to our Democracy that continues on with this facade and failed continuation of war itself.

  19. Killing other human beings should never be easy or pleasant, if given the time to reflect on the act gives us pause .... good!

  20. Of course, unless they had been desensitized to human suffering.

  21. A "moral" war injury.

    Would this include survivor guilt in a PTSD-vet who saw his entire platoon killed while he lay injured, unable to help?
    Very interesting that you didn't include Vietnam vets in your discussion.

    Is it only a "moral" war injury when the enemies/terrorists are killed?

    I would love to see evidence of the NYT criticism of Obama's drone policy. It is pretty hard to imagine.

  22. A) this has nothing to do with the Viet Nam 'Conflict' or the Korean Police Action, or World War II. It has to do with the current conflict.

    B) then search for it. They criticized him too.

  23. Actually, yes. Moral Injury includes the survivor's guilt you describe. And other instances where you had little or no control over an outcome, such a buddy that took your place on a combat mission and subsequently died.
    I characterize PTS as "when something happens to you" and Moral Injury as when you perpetrate or fail to prevent acts of violence.

    Our country fights wars that are morally ambitious, but to those executing the war it rapidly can become morally ambiguous.

  24. The quoted statement, " - you’re killing (people) with absolute impunity,” is erroneous. If that were possible, there would be no issue to write this article about. There is no "absolute" about impunity; transgression and innocense are indelibly mutual in the psyche of Man, are axiomatic. Humanity is Only One Spirit, that's the absolute, and each of our selfsame Spirit knows that absolutely.

  25. While the US publicly denounces the spread of 'terrorism', the CIA themselves carry out what amounts to 'terrorism from the sky' on people all around the globe. Based on their own 'intel' which has been proven time and time again to be faulty, they target homes/locations of individuals they deem to be 'terrorists', killing family members and neighbors into the bargain. These attacks are illegal internationally and domestically. They have no right to carry out attacks on nations we are Not at war with, without approval from Congress and independent from the US military. Survivors who were before neutral become themselves set on 'revenge', that being the only justice they can achieve. The CIA, creating more terrorists every day, to keep themselves employed.

  26. I’m a veteran of the US Army. I am also a person that received non-judicial punishment for disobeying a lawful order that I considered immoral. I was knocked all the way down in rank, threatened with jail, and denigrated by the command, NCOs, and some of my fellow soldiers. I’d do it again.

    The sympathy I have for someone that did something they had a moral qualm about is absolutely zero. None. It’s good to struggle with killing people. It’s not a healthy thing to be okay with killing people. But I have a REAL BIG issue with people who... I can't really find the words... who just follow orders. Too many people in our country, and our military, are blindly obedient to authority. They KNOW an idea is wrong, or bad, but they march right along anyways because that's what they are taught "good soldiers do."

    There’s an old saying, “If you have to think about it, it’s probably wrong.” That gut feeling a person gets when they’re about to do something wrong, that moment of hesitation, that’s the time to grow a spine and do the right thing, even if doing the RIGHT thing will get the person in trouble with authority. I know so, because I did it. And the reason I knew what I had to do is because I had the pleasure of serving under extremely good leadership in my first 2 years in. They led by example. So when it was time for me to do the right thing, I knew what to do.

    Launch the missile or not, but the choice is ALWAYS with the operator. There is always the option to not fire.

  27. As a fellow veteran, I salute and thank you for your service. I would also submit that you're keenly aware of the fact that there has to be a strong obedience to authority in a military. A military cannot function if the private soldier can simply refuse to follow lawful orders. If the order is lawful, a soldier must follow it. If the order is unlawful, then - and only then - can the soldier refuse to follow it.

    So unfortunately, I cannot also salute, as the previous two replies have done, your refusal to follow an order until I know what the order was. Obviously, "blind obedience" is usually wrong. But it also has to be acknowledged that "blind obedience" is an imprecise, pejorative, and emotionally loaded term that conjures up visions of My Lai and Lt. Calley. While I can only speak for myself, during my time in the military, I never once received an unlawful order, and as an NCO I would never, ever think of giving one. But NCOs expect - and rely on - soldiers of lesser rank to follow lawful orders. As you're no doubt aware, not doing so can jeopardize the mission and get people killed.

  28. The moral qualms can occur, or increase, soon or long after the decision to commit the act. Similarly, moral injury caused by a sense of command, government, or societal betrayal can easily come well after participation in an event, or an entire war. This was certainly my experience in Vietnam, when an inchoate sense that “something was wrong” evolved into a better understanding of its moral and political evils over the years that followed. I envy you your immediate moral awareness, but not all of us are so lucky.

  29. In del Toro's 2006 film El Laberinto del Fauno ("Pan's Labyrinth" in the US), Dr. Ferreiro, a medical doctor who is nominally employed by Falange officer Capt. Vidal but who also smuggles medicines to the republican rebels, is ordered to treat a rebel prisoner Vidal has tortured savagely.

    Ferreiro euthanizes the man rather than keep him alive for further torture, and when Vargas asks why the doctor did not obey his orders, Vargas says, "It was the only thing I could do."

    Vidal says, "No, you could have obeyed me."

    Ferreiro replies, "I could have, but I did not."

    Vidal tells the doctor it would have been better for him if he had obeyed, and, genuinely confused, asks, "Why didn't you obey me?"

    Ferreiro, knowing Vidal will soon kill him for his disobedience, says this:

    "To obey without thinking­ - just like that­ - Well­ - that's something only people like you can do -­ Captain­ - "

    He turns and walks away, Vidal shoots him in back, and Ferreiro falls face first into the mud, dead.

  30. It bears noting that while every country may one day develop military drones, one simple fact remains: To win a military conflict, the other side needs to lose the will to fight. You can't do that by using our drones to blow up all of their drones.

    Rather, you need to destroy not only their drones, but then destroy the people behind them as well. And they'll be trying to do the same thing to us.

    Ultimately, drones are no different than most other battlefield advancements, in that they're just a more sophisticated, deadlier implement designed to do the same thing: kill human beings to the point where the lose the will to wage war.

  31. The entire article is a moral outrage, writing of the trauma of remote killers and ignoring the trauma of the families, neighbors, communities on the receiving end. Even when those killed or injured are only "combatants," the collateral trauma damage is widespread. This is America raining terror from the skies, far from anything that might be called a battle line, making far more resolute enemies than it kills, for generations to come.

  32. Maybe reread the article. The whole point is that the trauma to the soldiers was caused by the violence visited on those killed, their communities, etc. The article ends with a description of a former soldier asking for a moment of silence for those he killed.

  33. I would find the moral outrage of this commenter and some others far more convincing if I knew they refused to pay the portion of their taxes that support our wars. Once again, says this Vietnam vet, the finger of blame is pointed at the “killers,” evading the responsibility of the society that supports wars politically and/or financially.

  34. Psychological trauma seems to happen whenever someone does something contrary to their self-identity, in a major way. It seems to happen when the person is able to experience empathy, and the outer conflict causes them to violate another person. The best psychological defense in these situations is to first 'know thyself', and then follow your moral compass.

    I would imagine this is made very difficult in a cultural milieu that sets you up as the 'good-guy', and then forces you to ignore your ideals. Otherwise, you could just walk away from it.

  35. I can't speak to the medical or policy implications. Anyone interested in the subject though should watch "Good Kill" with Ethan Hawke. The film is something of an independent project following the trials of a Nevada drone pilot. I think the film grossed under $500 thousand total. This was not a film designed to make money. If you're interested though, I think this is the only film to cover the subject of drone pilots and moral trauma. Be careful though. The film is excellent but not always easy to watch.

  36. Two quick observations. The first is that despite his college history major, Mr. Aaron must have skipped some lectures or he would have realized that our invasion of Afghanistan was just another post-colonial morass-in-waiting and not the "defining challenge" of his generation. The second observation is that Mr. Aaron and his damaged compatriots need not worry. As soon as the newest generation of AI becomes available, the job of drone pilot will be given over to "smart" robots and no one will have to worry about either PTSD or the moral impacts of long distance assassinations - except of course for the victims who will be blown apart by algorithms rather than real people in real time.

  37. Eww, that's an image for the Times' illustrators.

  38. That sent a shiver down my spine.

    Then I got another, when I thought about the possibility of Russians or Chinese hacking the supposedly "smart" drone.

  39. The movie "Good Kill" broaches this subject. Maybe it was mentioned and I just missed the reference. It stars Ethan Hawke.

  40. Also "Eye in the Sky" (2015) Helen Mirren.

  41. Apparently some of the operators are not mentally tough enough to do this job. I wonder what they might have done if they had to storm a beach in the Pacific, or on D day.

  42. A huge number of those "mental weaklings" who stormed the beaches came home with exactly the same PTSD.

  43. I read the article well. These drone operators see the effects of their actions. Artillery units from the Marines and Army and bomber pilots never see the outcome. Gunners aboard a ship don't see the target from 15 miles away. The closest I can come to what these operators are experiencing is what an infantryman sees after he throws a grenade into a cave uses a flame thrower.
    It's a sight you remember.

  44. A psychologically naive comment ... theres no such thing as absolute mental toughness, unless you have a severe personality disorder ... the more human you are, the more emotional repercussions later ... I’m glad those soldiers have empathy and a conscience ...

  45. A searching and sensitive article.
    Clearly the circumstances of killing people are different operating out of a trailer in Nevada than on the front lines.
    But it would be a mistake to think that valorous combat affords protection from PTSD or moral injury. Having listened to combat veterans describe PTSD from combats from WWII through Iraq, it would seem that developing PTSD symptoms from inflicting death in combat depends as much on the person as the circumstances. Not that the latter do not matter. Compared, say, to WWII, the typical Vietnam veteran had enormously less patriotic purpose-- people were fighting to stay alive (more often than not) in what many felt was a senseless war. Not exactly like trying to fight the monstrous Nazi cause. (We won't even begin to go into the Pacific campaign, where neither side usually kept prisoners very long.)
    One learns. One career Marine veteran of many combats turned mental health professional educated me as to warrior mentality. This makes up the best of the best in our troops. But for the average soldier, getting shot at while you are shooting someone yourself does not seem to confer much protection against PTSD. Sherman, a professional if ever there was one, said it best: "It's glory is all moonshine.... War is hell."

  46. You can't harm another (no matter how 'justified') without harming your own soul.

  47. "You can't harm another (no matter how 'justified') without harming your own soul."

    Sounds good, but not true. I will vote over and over again to have the death penalty for those who take another person's life. I believe that deep down in my soul, and I am at peace with it. A just society holds the highest standard for all to live by.
    Christ is going to rule with an iron rod as well. You know he is not going to harm anyone's soul. He is the soul.

  48. The United States political and economic interests abroad will never morally justify the use of deadly force against other human beings. Every dead "enemy" and inocent victim breeds hoardes of new enemies willing to avenge their loved ones' deaths. The United States military policy againts Islamic extremists after 9-11 serves to confirm their leaders anti-american discourse to their people. I fear the day when the United States enemies adquire the technology to have drones hovering above are pointing their guns at us.

  49. And can you imagine the outrage when the drones start firing on American cities? "Whatsoever men sow, so shall they also reap".

  50. When you have a rational philosophy to guide you, you're not subject to nervous breakdowns. Your philosophy is acquired based on the ideas you are taught during your life. Mr Aaron clearly was taught the wrong ideas - from his ex-hippie parents, from the public schools in Lexington MA, from the college in VA, from movies and TV and the Internet - and these ideas formed his beliefs about his life and how to live it. Currently, the ideas in American culture are of an irrational philosophy, and this violation of reality can easily cause Mr Aaron mental and physical pain.

    The proper philosophy to guide a nation at war is: Destroy the threat until it surrenders or is obliterated. This is what worked in WW2. This is not how America has conducted the "War on Terror".

  51. However, we did not obliterate the threat in WW2. We chose, instead, to forgive and rebuild. There is no philosophy that can justify or alleviate the guilt that arises from watching a child arrange maimed body parts into an eery construct of what once was.

    As warfare becomes ever more remote, we must confront this new digital paradigm shift in a completely different way than one would treat traditional combat experiences.

  52. Well, in all sincerity I will acknowledge a serious problem for the drone operators. No doubt they are experiencing anguish and I hope they can find the help they need.

    Notwithstanding, I was one of many anti-war protestors who chose not to abandon our citizenship nor defraud "the system" as draft dodgers (no bone-spurs) during the Vietnam War.

    I am a decorated combat veteran who served his tour and reserve time as an airborne infantry officer with elite units. I was not there to support the war. I was there because, in the transition from civilian to commissioned officer, I learned somethings vital to my life.

    I learned my upbringing and training meant that my presence might save the life of just one of my men. The infantry doesn't fight for the flag, an infantryman maniacally fights to protect his brother in the next foxhole. It's now part of my DNA.

    The drone pilots aren't "fighting" to protect anyone with whom they have shared the hardship and risk of an enemy coming across the wire. They are push-button killers and the perfect exemplars of what the MIC Eisenhower warned us against has made us. Bush and Cheney set the stage for sustained, remote murder.

    The drone operators are being paid as assassins who have to pick up milk and bread on the way home.

    I hope they get the help they need.

  53. "The infantry doesn't fight for the flag, an infantryman maniacally fights to protect his brother in the next foxhole. It's now part of my DNA."

    The NY Times has been quite generous in posting my comments so I would kindly ask one last indulgence. First, I salute your service in the combat arms. You raise a critical point here. In 1944 Ike told the troops at D-Day that the "eyes of the world are upon you" -- they would be engaged in the liberation of the French nation. Churchill told Britain in 1940 that "we shall never surrender!" and Britain would "wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the lamentable catalogue of human crime." But it seems over the past 20 years, the notion of "we fight for our brother in the next foxhole" has taken precedence over the grand ideals of liberty, defeating tyranny, confronting evil --these are no longer widely spoken of. Is this a result of 9/11 and its aftermath? Is it enough to send men (and women) to battle, and possibly to their death, merely to fight for the guy in the next foxhole? If soldiers do not fight for God and country, for the flag, and for the liberty, goodness, and freedom that our flag represents, why go to war in the first place? It does not seem to me that the guy in the next foxhole is a morally sufficient cause for an entire nation to wage war, and maybe not truly understanding why a war has to be fought is leading to all this moral hand-wringing regarding war.

  54. I resent that remark that drone pilots don't have a dog in the fight. I believe that you are misinformed as to how many drone pilots there really are, at all levels of engagement. I happened to be a brigade asset, deployed to a theater with my comrades at arms. I would eat meals with people who may or may not come back after their mission. It was my entire mission, to provide intelligence that could save lives. During my deployments, I found over 150 confirmed IEDs from altitude, which saved the lives of countless soldiers.

    In fact, one of my best friends died on a mission that I would have been providing overwatch for, had we not had priority tasking elsewhere. Jessica Ann Ellis. Look her up. Look at the face of that young woman and tell me again that I didn't have anyone to fight to protect, that I was nothing but a cold, calculating murdering, assassin.

    I would ask that you make yourself informed before you make comments regarding such issues, and lumping everyone into a general category.

  55. Killing is killing.

    You equate drone operators as “assasins”, in other words, murderers.

    Whether with a gun or a grenade or artillery or a knife or a drone, killing is killing.

    Get off your high horse.

  56. If you send a drone into a terrorist cell that turns out to be a wedding party, it's going to cause a lot of trauma on the receiving end. Only fitting--and only human-- that, remote as you are, some of that comes back to haunt you.
    Vulcanalex: Your comment that the operators may not be "mentally tough enough" is just a problematic way of complaining that they have souls.

  57. This article resonates deeply with me. I was first exposed to the concept of moral injury when I read Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam, right after it was published. I was diagnosed with PTSD decades after that war, and have received VA counseling which has helped considerably. My Vet Center also provides Moral Injury discussion groups which have been equally helpful, and in some ways even more relevant to my experiences. Also of enormous importance in processing the war was my work with Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the early 1970s.

    I have also been part of a Veterans Writing Workshop, sponsored by New Hampshire Humanities. The purpose was to help vets put their stories into words, and narrate their experiences for the society which has sent them to war.

    This process was very similar to what the article describes as, "an experimental treatment for moral injury rooted in the sharing of testimonials, initially at weekly meetings where veterans come together to talk among themselves, and later at a public ceremony that the participants invite members of the community to attend. One goal of the treatment is to help veterans unburden themselves of shame, Yeomans told me. Another is to turn them into moral agents who can deliver the truth about war to their fellow citizens — and, in turn, broaden the circle of responsibility for their conduct."

    I am very grateful to Eyal Press and the NYT for bringing this issue to greater public exposure.

  58. What a well written article on a very complicated and complex subject. I hope it will contribute to help people heal, to increased awareness, to greater peace.

  59. I have zero sympathy for anyone who participates in the drone program. Zero.

  60. The emergence of pestilence demands action by civilized institutions, to exterminate or contain it. The hard part is being convinced that a human being is such a thing. The SS had a hard time maintaining the morale of their low ranking executioners in Poland. They were becoming incapacitated by remorse and something had to be done. Ranking officers vied for the chance to demonstrate how to do it with a snarl, as if the detainees were rats with no teeth. Mood at the club showed the expected improvement after this. The wine of these peasants was more than drinkable! They were sick of course.
    But the shock of murder echoes all down the history of combat. The Greek hero of the Iliad slaughtered 30 sheep while drinking, enraged at their deceptive guile. Why did they judge him with uncomprehending eyes? The Israelite soldiers who ethnically cleansed Jericho were so traumatized they were kept apart, until they had washed the blood from their garments.
    These men and women, driving air-conditioned drones, see the frame containing life and death on a distant continent—and they own it. The sensible ones begin to drive more carefully. Death hunts them on the roads.

  61. Every Conservative that reads this will say, “Man up.” To them there are no innocents in Asia.

  62. What about the injuries of those who got drone bombed

  63. If it's not worth risking actual American lives to blow them up, then we shouldn't be killing them in the first place.
    This method of war is among the most cowardly ever invented in the history of mankind, and we've used it poorly and weakly. We've blown up weddings and funerals, schools and churches and even hospitals- ALL from the safety of "a windowless room" on the far side of the planet.
    At least we should have to see the death. At least we should have to take some tiny risk to meet it out. I'm not surprised that this is morally corrosive, for it is abhorrent to anyone not indoctrinated by the war-machine's PRopaganda.

  64. So what you’re saying is that it’s cowardly to utilize technology that allows for military action (justifiable) without requiring law abiding citizens to place their lives in harm’s way against an enemy that refuses to identify his intentions by wearing a uniform? I find that a very unfair assessment. we're talking about counter terrorism here. I believe Service men and women facing the daunting challenge of dealing with PTSD while terrible is a far better side effect of active combat to say finding them space in Arlington cemetery. When the enemy is willing to stop hiding behind women, children, weddings, schools and churches then maybe a face to face conflict can take place. The windowless room is simply a response to faceless enemy. In my opinion that’s the real moral injury… That’s cowardice.

  65. In WWII we killed over 2 million citizens (apart from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we killed 100 thousand civilians in Tokyo over a weekend), and who knows how many in other wars. Ans in none of those wars did the enemy pose a threat to our mainland (Hawaii was a military one-off attack on a territory). And here we are, with an enemy that hides in schools, mosques and in the wilds, desiring to attack us anywhere, and we are in a moral quandary over our high precision missiles making mistakes? It is acknowledged that we could have killed Bin Laden in '98 but Clinton was worried that there might have been civilians around him. That kind of anguish works in academic environments, churches and the New York Times, but it is a feeble, irrational, unworkable approach in the real world. Why don't we start interviewing the children and grandchildren of Germans killed during the carpet bombing of Berlin and Frankfurt?

  66. What is wrong with you? How can you read about the pain and anguish - of Americans, mind you, since that seems to be vitally important to you -- and absolutely dismiss it? No where in this article did anyone say we should not defend ourselves. Why isn't it acceptable -- and, in fact morally and tactically necessary -- to think carefully about what that means, how we go about it and what the costs are to the human beings in our own country and elsewhere?

  67. Brilliant, Eyal. Very good to see your years of research bearing fruit, and bearing witness. — Joe Bobrow

  68. Drones are cowardly weapons. These pilots have become de facto assassins for the US government. While I sympathize for these drone pilots suffering from moral injuries, I am curious as to the effects upon civilian populations around the world who live under our droned skies and the threat of instant annihilation? I would be curious to see if the NYtimes would see fit to create such a well written and researched piece focused on the civilian victims of US drone use abroad? Furthermore there is little mention in the article that in fact a large portion of the killings made utilizing drones are happening in places outside of war zones and are very likely illegal under international law.

  69. It's not natural to kill a fellow human being. Even though we may easily justify our cause to kill, the act still leaves a wound upon the soul.

  70. This is so true, and makes me wonder about the gentlemen and ladies who like to go about their day with a loaded gun on their hip or in their purse, indulging in fantasies of corporal violence. Even in defense, the killing of another is entry into a dark world of nightmares and recriminations.

  71. I think this is a great article, but Eyal Press's characterization of Jonathan Shay's ideas isn't correct, and I say that not to nitpick, but because Shay's book is great, important, powerful, and under-recognized, and I don't like to see his ideas incorrectly presented.

    Here, the characterization of moral injury is almost backward. Shay does not say that moral injury is caused by a soldier's commander; he says it is caused by the things the soldier does.

    For Shay, a commander's betrayal of "what's right" ("themis" in the Iliad) is a key precursor of PTSD and of moral injury, or "moral ruin," but it is also just one of a number of traumatic experiences that contribute to this outcome: "betrayal of moral order by a commander; death of a friend-in-arms; being wounded; being overrun, surrounded, or trapped; seeing dead comrades who have been mutilated by the enemy; and unexpected deliverance from certain death."

    It is *trauma* that destroys virtue and creates moral injury, because it is trauma, Shay argues, that leads soldiers to "berserk"--to do horrible things, commit war crimes. Moral injury is part of the wreckage caused by trauma itself.

    As he puts it, "The moral dimension of trauma destroys virtue, undoes good character."

  72. A well written article.

    The after-effects are similar to a hit and run where drone operators are the drivers of autos, and victims are pedestrians on the street.

    Is it any wonder that inner moral conflict is seen as a consequence to all but the most pathological individuals?

    Anybody who has had a hand (within a work environment) in standing silent or playing a part in in the destruction of someone's career or reputation in an unfair manner should also be suffering with inner moral conflict.

    How demoralizing to realize that others are willing to play by such rules, possibly to your detriment someday.

  73. Well written article, on a very troubling topic. I believe Service men and women facing the daunting challenge of dealing with PTSD is a far better side effect of active combat as opposed to the finding them space in Arlington cemetery. When the enemy is willing to stop hiding behind women, children, weddings, schools and churches then maybe a face to face conflict can take place. The windowless room is simply a response to faceless enemy. In my opinion that’s the real moral injury… That’s true cowardice.

  74. This is a courageous article. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of war is traumatically clear. However, the ‘WHY’ of war remains the only crucial question. America could not possibly be more economically or militarily secure. America, essentially, has no threats or enemies just client states and targets. The moral disorders suffered by these servicemen is logical and expectable. What is the use of “morality” if it can be so easily manipulated and dismissed? The answer is that it cannot be dismissed without damaging the actor. This is analogous to the impact of endless war on American society. The blanket of denial and/or pseudo glorification of warring is giving way to a national moral decay. The reconstitution of the reputation of Bush, the sacred status of of Obama, and the ascension of Trump are symptoms of a nation that has lost its way. Those who enjoy middle class security and above will cling to the notion that America is still the ‘shining city on the hill.’ However, the economy is based on war and the erosion of essential human services in support of it will be as obvious as the physical and psychological symptoms these veterans bear everyday. The concept of killing with impunity does not exist. When the American people choose to ‘study war no more’, then the real healing can begin for the world.

  75. This is an excellent example of one of the main reasons the C.I.A. has become so inept, when it comes to collecting and analyzing information meaningfully: it has gotten into the large scale operations business, an activity properly the province of our military.

    The mandate of our intelligence services is to gather and analyze information accurately, leaving it to our elected officials to decide how to use that information. Unfortunately, for decades those agencies have been highly politicized, trying to please Presidents instead of informing them. And no President has held our intelligence agencies accountable. With operations, Presidents have allowed themselves to be carried away with executive power, using especially the C.I.A. to operate as a personal military force out of the effective reach, review, and control of Congress and the public.

  76. Seems like these operators are inadequately prepared. At the service academies and in a lot of other training programs, there is an indoctrination that shields the people doing this sort of work from personal responsibility. Although this sort of indoctrination is often criticized, it's necessary internal armor for these people to keep them from taking undeserved responsibility for the actions they take in warfare. The real responsibility is in the people who send them and give them orders. These honest good folks would not have been in positions where they would need to take these awful actions, were it not for a declared war or similar military action.

  77. ' ...keep them from taking undeserved responsibility for the actions they take in warfare'

    You are of course far to young to remember this, or maybe even have heard of it, but people were executed at Nuremberg for doing exactly as you suggest. And there were top-level meetings with Goebbels and others, about the stress caused to SS members as they slaughtered Jewish, and other, civilians. It was stressed that they be told that however distasteful, it was their duty to kill when told to.
    If you pull the trigger/push the button/give the order, it's on you and nobody else. The responsibility is not only deserved, but earned.

  78. We need to have frank and adult discussions about conscience in our communities, families and in society. The Quakers, who have maintained a testimony against war and the preparation for war for centuries, have a phrase "a stop in the mind" that accurately describe some of what Christopher was experiencing.

  79. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card addressed this in 1985. A cautionary tale for all.
    I hope that all the soldiers can receive the help they need and deserve.

  80. Important piece although it would have made sense to cite the documentary film "drone" (2014) which lays much of this groundwork and raises many important questions about this type of warfare (which have been largely kept secret).

  81. This is a very powerful and well written article. You should be very proud of your work. It’s also incredibly painful to realize how many people are suffering from this extensive war. I think we are remiss if we don’t at least consider the position of the people we’re fighting. There is oil, we can’t ignore that. I feel like America needs a reckoning. Do we really need to consume so much, to drive such big cars, To constantly need more? If we lived more simply, more humbly, I don’t think so many people would hate us. On the other hand, when terrorist attack us,We must be able to respond. We are entitled to safety and security on our homeland. But we need to be honest with ourselves; we are not guilt free. I pity every single person involved in the process of waging war, from the foot soldier to the president, at least the presidents who are conscientious enough to fully consider the implications of their decisions.

  82. May I suggest the book, Enough, by Bill McKibben.

  83. Anyone who has read the sci-fi classic "Ender's Game" and sequels knows how eerily prescient it was.

  84. Why couldn’t any of them say “No”? Is all the bureaucratic and legal opprobrium such a refusal would create worth more than one’s morality or soul? What price man’s conscience?

  85. Why not? That was a crucial point of the article! Because they thought they helped their country. Because unless you have actually "done" something you have no real clue what it feels like - only some abstract ideas (that were obviously different). Perhaps because of hippie parents that said NO too many times to "things of war" (no red meat, no video games) - which made a YES all the more attractive. If the pendulum swings too far one way - it will swing back far on the other.

  86. American tax dollars hard at work making America safe for war and more wars.
    Maybe it's time for Americans to rethink American "exceptionalism" and go back to the essentials, such as "Thou shalt not kill."
    Otherwise the world might get the impression Americans believe not in the 10 Commandments, but the 10 Delusions.

  87. That's exactly why we are developing lethal autonomous weapon systems.

    Machines can follow commands without lags or moral problems. They won't develop PTSD as they commit murders. They will strictly follow their orders to kill civilians.

    Once they are deployed, human soldiers are obselete. Trump can declear martial law and order his robocops to hunt down all his adversaries on the planet.

    Pay attention to what Boston Dynamic is developing. Prepare your weapons accordingly. Worst case scenario, you might need them.

  88. There is something dishonorable about this entire drone subject. It's akin to tying an animal to a tree, and then killing it. If there is any "honor" in war, this certainly isn't it. We, Man, continue to evolve in the ways we fight and kill.

  89. I highly recommend Netflix's "National Bird" for anyone not otherwise engaged.

  90. Excellent, well-written article. The concept of 'moral injury' is new to me, but I understand it. To take responsibility for doing harm to another is a sign of moral maturity. Drones do not conduct warfare, they are instruments of terror. And the U.S. is becoming the world's worst terrorist.

  91. More progressive mullarkey. One commenter says we could not be more economically and militarily secure. Tell that to the 3000 Americans who died on 9/11. This is a Clash of Civilizations and the bleeding hearts won't recognize this until a nuclear weapon goes off in one of our cities, a water supply is poisoned or radiation is released in Times Square.

  92. Are you saying that the drone operators haven't really suffered from their war responsibilities?

  93. Say, Bob, you sure did do a deep reading of this piece. And, "bleeding hearts"? American citizens would be greater patriots if they allowed their hearts to be pierced by the facts of the futility of war.

  94. All cultures teach us that we do not kill people. It is fully engrained in us by the time we can join the military. Then you are taught to kill either hand to hand (Rangers) or where you are never personally at risk by a drone. It seems disgusting actually, to sit behind a screen and inflict death on someone you do not know. How can you justify to your conscience that this was a “good kill”? My dad took his own life due to PTSD and he killed people up close and personal as a Ranger. If you kill people with drones, while you are out of harms way, like a video game, what does that do to your soul? Do you have a soul?

  95. There IS such a thing as morality. Part of it innate, part of it nurtured. But it is there. And it is strong. And it is needed.
    And if you kick it repeatedly, you kick yourself. And you will suffer.
    Humans are capable of the utmost cruelty.
    But not all humans, and not all the time.

  96. So, who drafted you "drone warriors?
    You signed up to do what you were told to do and you were told to murder people from afar.
    That was the time to get out.
    That's what patriots do when their government asks them to commit war crimes.
    Don't ask for my sympathy, ask your victims to forgive you.

  97. And Obama was awarded the Nobel for Peace?

  98. "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him." - Ender's Game

  99. These warriors should be advised that “morality” and “justice” are nothing but human concepts created to control the masses. There is no sin, there is no St Peter, there is no judgement. There is survival of the fittest, evolution, science. The morals that were ingrained in these soldiers cannot possibly be compatible with the society we are becoming. Perhaps by understanding this, they can let go of their guilt.

  100. Some guilt is necessary to have. Some of it is protective, even. Without it we would basically have an animalistic society, or a psychopathic one. Not that we're that far off.

  101. A powerful article which should be read by all thoughtful people. This is where the reality of killing meets the reality of the effect of being required to do things which have an incredible psychological cost. We glorify war and praise those who join the military, while nothing can ever prepare them for the toll that having to kill will take on them. In a world where there is a demand for easy answers, this is an area where there are no easy answers. On one hand, it cannot be said that mankind's problem has been that we have not tried hard enough to kill each other through history. On the other hand, there are some things such as the acts of ISIS and Nazi Germany that cannot be stopped by anything other then violent resistance. And those in the military should have no illusions that they have signed up work for a system, which for all the talk about honor and valor, ultimately requires that they be prepared to kill other human beings, as some of those interviewed seem to have been incredibly naive. Perhaps a good start would be to try and have compassion, understanding and yes, forgiveness for all human beings involved, from those who are ordered to kill to the innocent and even to the most psychopathic and immoral killers that they may kill. In the end, no person can escape the moral, psychic and karmic consequences of their actions.

  102. In speaking woith a drone pilot, he told me that when children are part of a target group, thewy refer to them as TOTS: Terrorists in trianing.

  103. If you don't want to kill the enemy, then DON'T TAKE THE JOB!

  104. This for bringing some light on this important matter.

  105. I’m confused, can civilian contractors operate killer drones or is only the military that do the killing?

  106. AT THE END OF THE MOVIE SCHINDLER'S LIST, Oskar Schindler is presented by the Jews he saved with a gold ring with the inscription, in Hebrew, that he who saves a single person saves the whole world. In that sense, the destruction of even a single life has a universal impact. I am saddened by the dedication shown by the young warrior who had to leave the job of killing. However, looking at the statistics, I have to say that in comparison with the hundreds of thousands killed and wounded in the Syria war along with the millions forced to flee as war refugees, the surgical strikes, objectively speaking, save many lives and much hardship and suffering, in terms of quantity. If, however, each person's life is worth the universe, therein lies the conundrum. Is it better to kill, injure and uproot milions or a few thousands? I leave the answer to you, dear readers, as I have none.

  107. Disregarding the fact we shouldn't even be in these countries, it is interesting the author brought up what General Patton infamously said (and did) to the soldier who was in the medical tent for "battle fatigue". It reminds me of the point brought home very near the end of the film "Patton". It is the scene in which General Patton is being interviewed by several reporters, while he is trotting his white horse in a large barn. He is asked a question about (I'm paraphrasing) future wars possibly being fought by "push button". His reply (again, I'm paraphrasing) was something to the effect that he was glad he would not be around to see such wars, because there would be no honor in such a "war". I in no way intend to demean any soldiers who are "drone fighting"; however, I do find myself agreeing with Patton. I strongly disagree with the figures given by the US regarding the number of "non-combatants" killed. If you average all the high end and low end figures from the London based organization mentioned in the article ("The Bureau of Investigative Journalism") and the "official" US numbers, the US is suggesting you to believe 1 tenth of 1% are killed in this manner. That is an outrageous figure, and it must be wrong (I prefer the term "lying to the public").

  108. The sense of 'right and wrong' may be innate, at least in some sense. I've read recently of work with other animals that might indicate this. The use of the 'other' to override this innate sense and the apparent hunger for 'religion' also might be evidence of it.
    I doubt whether a sociopath would suffer the symptoms described were he, or she, to participate in such activity - or designed and used it to serve their ends.

  109. I think most people signing up for the military have morals or 'souls'. They go in trying to defeat the enemy. They go in wanting to fight what's bad in order to restore what's good. What they likely never thought about is that what's "good" and what's "bad" DEPENDS on individual points of view. Often they discover their own more complex ideas via emotional or physical injuries - very 'personal', and separating injuries. But it's the military and not a philosophy class. If I were to lead a war, however just or unjust it was perceived to be - I would NOT want for my soldiers to start questioning any of my commands. When WWII was fought and 'won' there were countless innocent German families killed by Americans. Was that any more right than killing innocent Afghani families? Think twice. Imagine it was your family. There is ALWAYS a price to pay, in peace and in war, in whatever currency, with your body and/or your mind. The ONLY CHOICE anyone EVER HAS is WHICH price to pay.

  110. The Newspeak term in our own Brave New World is "collateral damage". We are becoming immune to the shock and horror of the death of long distance death. Statements like "We fight them there, so we don't have to fight them here" keeps the wars going and justifies killing the enemy in a bloodless way. Americans need to see the results of long distance killing. Don't hide the coffins of our own soldiers when they come home. Don't lie about the actual number of drone strikes. Don't call it "The war on Terror" because there is no such country, just a tactic that can appear anywhere. More Newspeak. The United States kicked the hornets' nest in Iraq, and we will now pay the price. I am so sorry for the soldiers who will never forget what they sacrifice for their country, but their guilt for collateral damage should be shared by all of us.

  111. Some few yeas ago, I interviewed a retired sniper. My topic was gun violence. He was still a young man. He was soft-spoken and deferential. He asked me if he could show his Powerpoint deck of his experiences. They were photos taken through the scope, before and after, and some taken beside the body. Like a big game hunter. We sat together and, like the drone pilots, viewed the carnage from thousands of miles away. My last contact with him provided an anecdotal reaction to your story on military drone pilots. After leaving the military he trained for and became an EMT.

  112. There is a movie called Good Kill - available on Netflix - about this subject. I found it enlightening and recommend it to anyone interested in this article.

  113. I operate in this world. That ‘movie’ is the biggest, most disgustingly single sided and biased incidence of reporting on this subject that I have seen. It makes no attempts to push into the real reasons and motivations of the other side, it makes no attempt to balance good with bad, and takes a significant amount of liberties with the ‘facts’ that it is espousing. It is also painfully clear to those with actual working knowledge of this subject that the producers didn’t have anything like the clearances they required to get an ACTUAL understanding of the subject; rather than just those who receive the strikes.

    No, I would not recommend that if you want a true and accurate representation of the good and bad aspects of this work. It is nonsense at best, outright propaganda at worst.

  114. Thanks for the Netflix rec. I've just started watching it.

  115. I have no sympathy whatsoever for these war criminals. Their so-called wounds are rather well deserved. Perhaps they should turn themselves in to the proper authorities.

  116. That's a bit heartless. Right or wrong, they are performing these duties in our name. What we need is a political system that goes to war with eyes wide open and only when absolutely necessary.

  117. Barack Obama comes to mind.

  118. Any killing, other than one done in self defense or to thwart a huge and imminent danger, is murder. That there are people willing to take on the job of a drone operator at a young age, without even having gone through enough life experiences to know what it means, is a tragedy. Whatever discomfort they experience as a consequence is but a shadow of the wanton pain and suffering they have caused to other people and communities in distant lands, something they will never ever experience here at home.

  119. Thank you for this multi-layered story of horror, exploitation of the individual in service to who-knows-what, and moral agony. Researchers and treatment people might want to take a look at the testimonies of those who served on the ground in Vietnam. Grunts often say that the didn't fight/kill/die for "America", they fought/killed/died for their buddies in their platoon. The drone operators fight/kill and morally take deadly hit to their entire beings - alone.

  120. I am the Chris Mooney quoted in the article. I'm so appreciative of the author and the Times for bringing this important story to light. My friend Christopher is a strong and courageous person, and it took a lot for him to share his story in these pages. He is still on the search for inner peace and working to make the lives of his fellow service men and women better, especially when their tours of duty are finished. We need more of him in the world.

  121. Filed under: Icing on the cake.

  122. One section struck me in particular in this thoughtful article: the concern that "remotely piloted aircraft [could create] a PlayStation mentality to killing."

    The author. however, goes on to dismiss any worry that "joystick warriors" would ever view war "as an activity as carefree and impersonal as a video game."

    But it's not the drone warriors we should be worried about. (They'll be replaced someday by bots.) It's the carefree nonchalance of the public--and our politicians--who will be able to wage endless war with impunity.

    Unless you have a loved one in the military, most of us live our lives giving little thought to the distant wars being fought in our name.

  123. Thank you for covering moral injury. It has a huge impact on veterans, and, as the article states, has taken a back seat to PTSD, TBIs, and other wounds of war. Many veterans have substance abuse problems which only complicates the other issues they have to deal with. Many veterans have written books that can give civilians good insight into what war/killing does to a person's soul. As mentionedi n the article: The Things They Carried , by tim O'Brien (Vietnam); Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes (Vietnam) and What It Is Like To Go To War; The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (Iraq). The journalist David Finkel has written two excellent books: "The Good Soldiers" and "Thank You For Your Service." If more people read these accounts of war, perhaps it would inspire a movement to stop this ultimate form of man's inhumanity to man. Most wars, in the end, are about power and profit.

  124. Germans, who murdered thousands of unarmed civilians in WWI and more than ten million in WWII, don't seem to suffer from this condition. None of them ever seem to have expressed remorse, or even moral concern.

    That says something about the moral superiority of Americans, who are morally wounded even when they make an honest mistake with the best of intentions.

  125. I dislike commenting on these things but for this I feel like I have a sense of perspective that I can give as I actually work in and around this area.

    Yes, there is a mental burden to bear. But the majority of it comes not from what we do and see, regardless of those that struggle with it. All of us are classified highly enough that we know and understand the right in what we do.

    No, a lot of the mental burden comes from society, and the impact of the views of people that I see commenting up and down this thread. Those who call us murderers. Who do not understand the reasons behind our actions, who do not know the actions of the people we target have towards everyone and everything we hold dear - but still judge us.

    Governments use drones for strikes in areas only because the risk to their own service personnel is low. It means we can have an effect on evil people planning evil things with no risk to our own. This has been the aim of warfare since the first spear was thrown. To affect, without being effected. If it were a manned aircraft then I doubt so many would have this view of us as murderers... but ultimately a manned aircraft can’t be used in the places that we are. The use of an RPAS makes the risk/reward achievable.

    I sleep well at night. I know anything that I have done was for the greater good. Watching IS throw gay men off roofs, simply for their sexuality, gives a certain sense of ‘rightness’ when you stop it.

    I just wish our story could be properly told

  126. I think there are two lessons here.
    1. War, no matter how "legal, lawfull, justified" <WILL> damage the people, soldiers/civilians, that are part of it, be it by taking action or wrong time wrong place.
    Even if every human who ever lived and is someway ethical would agree that yes, this war was justified, there are no "winners" (And i believe that sometimes not waging war can be the bigger evil)
    2. Therefore the one cruical point is not so much about how "that war is done" (Important but not most important) but if it is really an war of "last resolve".

    Me personally i think the honour should be in lying, bribing, cheating and using dirty tricks to prevent wars.
    Killing in a war is, and always should be, an necessary evil.
    No police officer (should) take the job for the power to kill, and i highly doubt that soldiers are different there, booth (should) take up the job because they want to protect.

    It is not the soldiers or police officers duty to define when killing is necessary, it is the duty of the people they serve (us, the citizens of so called civilised countries) to do that.

    (yes, there is personal ethics and guilt of the person who takes action, but that comes secondary)

    First comes that a) there are no winners in wars, they are the last resort to minimize damage AS SOON ALL ELSE FAILED, b) Responsibility is (in an democracy) "on the people" ALL OF THEM, not only politicans, they are elected and they can be removed as quickly if the citizens (we) demand it.

  127. I know from flying radio controlled airplanes that it is very hard to fly them if you are not “in” them. That is the joy, you can vicariously soar around the sky. Someone once pointed out that I always freeze up for a second before a crash(I do crash a lot) and I realized I was pulling my soul out of the plane and back to me to protect it. I don’t see how drone pilots could not be affected by what they are doing with their airplanes.

  128. This is part and parcel of going to war. War chews people up and spits out even the lucky ones, damaged. When a nation goes to war it must accept that there will be atrocities, there will be 'friendly fire' deaths, there will be corruption and graft. In addition to the bodies coming home, there will be those coming home who are maimed both in body and in spirit.

    My uncle was a chopper pilot in Vietnam. About 5 years after coming home he tried to commit suicide. He shot himself in the head. He used a small caliber gun and he survived, but it was no blessing. The damage cause by the bullet ricocheting around his skull messed him up, physically, emotionally and mentally. About 15 years later, he had enough of the pain, and tried again and succeeded.

    His story and thousands like him, are part of the reason why no nation should ever go to war unless its very survival is at stake. We on the other hand seem to love war, we are not very good at it(we have not won a major war since WWII), but we will invade someone at the drop of a hat and stay there for decades. During this whole time we are creating thousands of people just like my uncle, their wounds may not be as visible as the person with the artificial leg you see in the mall, but their wounds are just as real and just as painful.

  129. I love reading about the realities of military life, and the mental health issues it causes its participants. These people will suffer with these syndromes for the rest of their lives, as the article so ably illustrates.

  130. This is not a new problem with soldiers. See the following:
    Warrior Transitions: From Combat to Social Contract

    By Shannon E. French, Ph.D.
    United States Naval Academy
    January 2005 JSCOPE

    http://isme.tamu.edu/JSCOPE05/French05.html

    "T]he Christian community of the first millennium generally assumed that warriors returning from battle would or should be feeling guilty and ashamed for all the wartime killing they had done. Far from having such feelings dismissed as insignificant or irrelevant, returning warriors were encouraged to seek resolution of them through rituals of purification, expiation, and reconciliation. "

    It's a pity that we have seemingly lost the ability to provide this for our returning warriors.

  131. I was a combat US army rifleman who volunteered for service in Vietnam in September of 1969 out of Cornell Law School. I learned history and international affairs at Brown University under former CIA officers. I served in the Central Highlands and am still haunted by the booming sounds of the B-52 pounding the enemy troops. I admired them for their courage in standing up to this horrific treatment. I felt they had more courage than we displayed. We killed over three or four million Vietnamese, Cambodians and people from Laos, a slaughter on Nazi level of murder. I heard bragging of our truck drivers telling of the thrill of running over little old ladies but could not prove this, and remained silent like a good German in WW II. Still haunted by these memories in nightmares.