Can Drones Be Heroes?

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Once upon a time, says H. D. S. Greenway in The Boston Globe, we had gallant flying heroes--real-life ace pilots from the World Wars, or Hollywood flyers played by Errol Flynn and William Holden. Now we have drones. They may cut down on casualties on our end, but do we lose something in the process?

Today's pilot, explains Greenway, "may be middle-age with a bit of a Paunch, looking nothing like Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun.'" His flying is done in front of a computer screen in Langley, Virginia. "He can zoom in, see whom he wants to kill, and push a button. Sometimes he sees people running out of targeted houses for cover." When he's done, he heads home for breakfast--"it's night in Virginia when it's day in Pakistan." The gallantry is gone--there is no pilot risking life and limb for the battle, and no commander marveling at his worth. Is the humanity gone, too? The people running from the drones on the screens are called "squirters." Collateral damage has become a rule of the game:

Before 9/11, the CIA hesitated to strike bin Laden’s farm in Afghanistan because women and children might be killed. But as the war drags on the rules of engagement, rules against targeted assassination, whom to kill and not kill, have slipped, as they invariably do in all wars.

Can drones replace fighter pilots? And how do drones change the humans behind the computer screens?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.