To humanise violence is violence. Will drone operators sympathise with an artistic rendition in the form of a huge poster with a child's face placed in a field? What did the artists have in mind? What does #notabugsplat mean, literally and figuratively? Here:
In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as 'bug splats', since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.
To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim's face.
Drones have targeted civilian areas, knowing well they were civilian areas. The artists assume some sort of innocence, but such attacks are not aimed at 'nothing'.
Assuming that they have information about terrorists in a particular area, would this poster dissuade them? In fact, now aware of the value of this child's face, the Taliban or whoever the drones want to finish off, might find this field a convenient place to gather in. It is unlikely to happen, but this is to draw attention to the ludicrous notion of how drones work.
What terrorists are the US drones flushing out and what purpose has it achieved? Has the Taliban left? On the contrary, it is stronger than ever in Pakistan.
In most war-like situations, there is always provision made for collateral damage. The operators are professionals doing a job, in the course of which they might lose all sense of ethics simply because one wrong move and their operation will fail.
According to The Atlantic:
In the last decade, drone operators have killed as many as 3,600 people in northwest Pakistan alone. Those people — they include as many as 951 civilians and 200 children — died without trial or jury. They were specks on the screen, and then they were dead.
It is not one area where drones attack, so this is a limited experiment, and experiment it is. There have been no proven results, and no precedent to go by.
Besides, the idea of humanising is quite dehumanising in this context. Apparently, the girl is not fictitious. She lost her parents and siblings in a drone attack.
She has been made the poster child of the power of drones and not the bestiality of such killings. All such manouevres are pugnacious. As it has become public knowledge, this could be seen as a visible example of victory.
On the other hand, if a drone does bypass this field, it is possible that the operators and their bosses will gloat about sensitivity and concern.
The artists are playing into this. They aren't humanising the victims, but the perpetrators of the crime. For them this is enemy territory.
Would it have made sense had they used an American child, instead? Would the message then have rammed into their head when their own is targeted?
I ask these queries because the emotive intent of this project is exploitative, and for this reason I wouldn't want any child, anybody anywhere, to become a replacement for specks of dust.
© Farzana Versey