Pentagon Creates New Medals for Drone Pilots… and the backlash since

The Pentagon announced the creation of a new combat medal earlier this week, named the Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM). The DWM will be used to recognize “extraordinary achievement, not involving acts of valor, directly impacting combat operations or other military operations.” In layperson speak, this means that “unlike other combat medals, [the DWM] does not require the recipient risk his or her life to get it.” Drone pilots seem to be the obvious demographic here, alongside their compatriots in the cyberwarfare division.

A petition has already been created at the whitehouse.gov website to lower the precedence of the DWM, as it currently ranks above a Bronze Star Medal – typically awarded with valor devices “in recognition of a soldier’s service in the heat of combat while on the ground in the theater of operation.” The petition states

Under no circumstance should a medal that is designed to honor a pilot, that is controlling a drone via remote control, thousands of miles away from the theater of operation, rank above a medal that involves a soldier being in the line of fire on the ground. This is an injustice to those who have served and risked their lives and this should not be allowed to move forward as planned.

Meanwhile, others have found more creative and less formal means of protesting this new medal, as evinced in the image below:

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You can read individuals’ comments on this image at this facebook link.

Foreign Policy adds

as recognition grew around the Defense Department that the new DWM would occupy a higher precedence than a Bronze Star with a combat ‘V’ device, another list of proposed devices were making their way into inboxes yesterday. They include: Hemorrhoid Donut Device, a Boil Lance Device, a Carpal Tunnel Splint Device, a Rush Hour Traffic Monopoly Car Device, a Spilled Coffee on Crotch Cup Device, a Sports Page Paper Cut Band-Aid Device, a Cyberwar PacMan Device, a Direct Combat Pressure Tea-Pot Device, and a Flight Suit Looks Snazzy Mirror Device.

The stark omission of the inhumanity of drone strikes or the ineffectiveness of drone strikes as a policy tool from this discussion is rather revealing of the preponderant mentality to be found within the armed forces. Discussions in the upper echelons of the Pentagon should not revolve around figuring out how to commend individuals for facilitating state extrajudicial killings of non-US citizens. Rule of law is completely absent from the discourse here, and this is accurately reflected in the ranks below. This institutionalized disregard for both human life and international law has filtered from the top down, and thus needs to be addressed first and foremost where policy decisions are made.

The discussion of drone strikes and their innate illegality often centers on the decisions made by Obama, Brennan, and their assassination posse, without trying to address that there are people below flying the drones and launching those Hellfire missiles. But this is no shortcoming of the discourse – this is an (in my opinion) accurate reflection of how the military structure actually works. And what’s troubling about this is that it means for every policy maker who disregards common-sense, basic tenets of humanity, and the rule of the international community, there are dozens, if not hundreds of individuals willing to carry out those egregious policies without ever challenging their validity. How exactly does one broach this topic with someone who serves in the armed forces and whose only commitment is to taking orders from his or her higher-ups? How do we restore the innate capacities for humanity and empathy that have been eviscerated by the military tradition?

 

UPDATE: I would like to point out that this conflation of killing real human beings with Hellfire missile-armed drones and killing imaginary people in the virtual world of video games does a serious disservice to both the victims of drone strikes and our ability as a society to accurately understand the psychological dimensions of drone strikes. Violent video games are typically predicated on the objective of killing people – i.e. first-person shooter games are designed with the objective of killing virtual persons or virtual representations of real persons – and as such, there is a wanton recklessness and glorification of killing in this context. Such fundamentally psychopathic sentiments have absolutely no place in reality, least of all with regards to asymmetrical warfare à la drone strikes.

Whatever people might think of drone operators as it relates to combat, it is absolutely sickening for our society to treat their actions – on which the lives of people hinge – as some sort of video-game in which they can rack up kill-counts and earn medals for their behaviour. Only in a truly sick society can individuals glorify the murder of others without any sense of shame or disgust. One should do well to ponder on the immorality of it all, and how we all contribute in innumerably subtle but invariably pernicious ways to the continued operation of this over-arching structure.

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