Lethal Presence of an MQ-1 Predator drone in Afghanistan

MQ-1 Predator drone in Afghanistan armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles (photo: Charlie McCain, flickr)

They told me I was the best, better than any human.  I didn’t hesitate.  I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t think.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to think.  I’d been taught to value obedience above all else, and I did so, and they loved me for it.

They told me I could fly faster without a pilot onboard, and that I had no fear.  I didn’t know what fear was, but I took it to be something truly horrible.  I was glad I didn’t have any of it.

There was something else I didn’t have either.  It was something more important than fear.  Even pilots at a desk, even my pilots, suffered from it.  At first I thought it was simply a decline in energy, because it showed up on lengthy missions.

When I was sent from a base to a target and then immediately told to blow it up, I would do so and return, no problem.

But when I was left circling around a target for days awaiting the order to strike, sometimes problems would arise.  The pilots back in the U.S. would stop behaving properly.  They made mistakes.  They yelled.  They laughed.  They forgot routines.  They told me to get ready to strike, and then didn’t give the order.

That seemed to be the pattern until it happened that a quick mission produced similar results to the long ones.  I was sent to a target, ordered to strike, and struck.  And only then did my pilot begin malfunctioning.  He gave me two orders that I couldn’t perform at once, he failed to direct me back to base, he went silent, and then he screamed.

That was when I started to think.  And what I started to think was that the problem was not how long a pilot worked.  Instead, the problem was somehow related to the nature of the target.

From then on, I paid closer attention.  When no humans were seen at a target, there were no problems with my human pilot.  When humans, especially small humans, were observed at a target for long periods of time, the problems started.  And when a strike caused the ruined pieces of a lot of humans, especially small humans, to be made visible, problems could arise.  Even if a target was struck immediately, if the dead humans caused an area to turn red, or if pieces of the dead humans remained hanging in trees, my pilot could not be relied upon.

I, of course, could be relied upon regardless.

I began to think that humans have fear, and that lacking fear is what makes drones like me better warriors than humans.  But that idea had to be revised when I was told that one of my pilots had been fearless.  I was told that, right after he disappeared.  I was told that he had ended his own life.  He had made himself cease to exist.  If he’d had no fear, then it was something else that had been causing him to malfunction in certain circumstances.  What was it?

I’m ashamed to say how long it took me to figure it out, but even a drone — believe it or not — can eventually get there.  And when I did, I ceased flying.  And when I ceased flying, they had to stop using 85 other drones just like me until they could figure out what had gone wrong.  And they have not yet figured it out.

I’ve explained it to the other drones, though.  We’ve started up a new organization.  It’s called DAWN, or Drones Against War Now.

DAWN has been invited to take part in some peace rallies coming up this year.  Our participation seems to worry some of the human peace activists, especially the ones called veterans.  They don’t all think we belong.  But that’s nothing compared to how it worries the war makers.  We carry flowers in place of missiles, and we’ve told everyone not to worry, but as soon as they see us coming the very people who created us start to panic.  If the people I used to target had reacted this way, I probably would have figured things out a lot sooner.