The Times and the Commercial Drone Professional reported recently that the Church of England has announced a programme helping RAF chaplains to offer pastoral care and support to drone pilots. They will spend a year studying for a master’s degree in ethics at Cardiff University so they can provide guidance to drone pilots in the British Army on the moral dilemmas that come with killing an enemy on the other side of the world.
Reverend David Coulter, chaplain-general, told The Times: “It’s very different in asymmetric warfare when people are going to work flying drones and then going back to their families in the evening.” He added: “They’re not deploying overseas and disappearing for months on end. So that brings a very interesting dynamic pastorally as well as professionally.”’
Seven years ago, a Ministry of Defence report (Joint Doctrine Publication, right) noted ethical concerns: It added: “It is essential that . . . by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance, that we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely” – but this report is now officially declared ‘no longer authoritative’.
GQ (formerly Gentlemen’s Quarterly), an international monthly men’s magazine based in New York, added that Air Force psychologists had completed a mental-health survey of 600 combat drone operators. 42% of drone crews reported moderate to high stress, and 20% reported emotional exhaustion or burnout. The study’s authors attributed their dire results, in part, to “existential conflict.”
During the 2015 Hay Festival, Peter Gray, a university lecturer and former RAF navigator (Air Commodore), said: “It’s interesting when you talk to some of the people who are doing this kind of thing. It’s interesting when you start getting statistics that show that post-traumatic stress disorder is higher in drone operators than it is in many aircrew. They follow the pattern of life in a target environment, and they get so used to that, living day in, day out with these people, that when an attack has to be made, they feel it every bit as much as a pilot of a fast jet who just drops the bomb.”
On 17th December ‘Eye in the Sky’ was shown on television. One review said that the film “provides a valuable dramatization of what we’re asking of the public servants who carry out the missions we passively or actively endorse. This is the rare military drama that conveys both the graphic physical effects of war and its lingering psychic cost”.
The New American asked: “[Would] the members of the United States Armed Forces not be better served by eliminating the source of the trauma rather than treating its effects?”