In a windowless office near Las Vegas, Nevada, an American Air Force operator controls one of the deadly Predator drones that fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. He hunches over his keyboard and joystick, squints at his computer monitors. He presses some buttons, and on the other side of the world, a few lives are quietly erased.
Then at the end of his shift, he gets into his minivan and drives home to his house in the suburbs. Perhaps he takes his dog for walk. Maybe he plays catch with his kids, or has a few friends over for a barbecue. He waves politely at his neighbour. On Sunday he goes to church.
What would it feel like to be that guys neighbour? The thought fills me with a profound disquiet. I live on a street populated with accountants and software developers and police officers and teachers. In general they are quiet, friendly people. I like them. But I never have to look at them and wonder how many mothers and fathers and children they have killed today. Would I want such a person living next to me? Would I let my kids visit their house, knowing that they are capable of taking another human life with little more effort than filling in an Excel spreadsheet? How would I feel standing next to him in the pew at church at Christmas, singing together about the Prince of Peace, and goodwill to all mankind?
The more I think about our society’s quiet acceptance of death dealing flying robots, the more it worries me, but I worry most of all about the type of person who apply for and perform a job controlling one.