A spokesman for a US veterans group called the decision to honour drone pilots in this way “boneheaded.” I think this adjective is unintentionally revealing. What’s boneheaded about Leon Panetta’s decision to award the medal is that it indicates the extent to which a leader of a decadent military, whose fighting is done for the soldiers more and more by machines, comes to think himself more like a machine.My explanation of why the US military would praise drone warfare follows from what I've said elsewhere. In a decadent society, actual courage and other martial virtues mean less, because human life itself is trivialized by the population’s high-tech environment. People lose in their competition with machines. For example, many manufacturing jobs are currently being lost. And guns and drones kill more efficiently than swords. Assuming efficiency is your greatest concern, because you’re a postmodern liberal who’s lost faith in your Enlightenment ideals of individual freedom and rationalist utopia, and so you’ve been reduced to a nihilistic, pragmatic systems manager, you’ll be in favour of winning wars regardless of the moral cost to your society. You’ll think less of old school martial virtues and you’ll scientistically assume that heroism can be measured. Because drone strikes are more precise, because they kill the enemy without endangering friendly soldiers, because drones are relatively cheap to produce--for those utilitarian, Philistine reasons, you’ll really think that drone pilots are heroic. Your notion of heroism will have thus been warped by the environment you’ve been stewing in. You’ll mistake decadence and mere usefulness for heroism. The cowardly act of killing with impunity, with a projectile weapon from a position of complete safety, will be honoured with a medal as though the act were an “extraordinary achievement.” This is Orwellian and our first task should be to appreciate the dark humour in it.
[Note: this post was added as a PostScript to The Vileness of Guns and of Just Wars.]