Killing at a Distance in a Post-Panoptic Society

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Virginia Tech


The military's armed surveillance drones are the most elite modernized weaponry in the twenty-first century. They have introduced a new way to see without being seen. In this paper, I investigate the US military's use of drones in warfare, specifically in terms of distance and what that entails for the operator physically, mentally, and emotionally. My analysis will address the question: how are remotely piloted aircrafts connecting distance and humanity in asymmetric warfare? I argue that drones are unlike any other weapon produced thus far because they introduce a completely new way to fight wars at a distance; therefore, a new understanding of humanity and warfare needs to be established. Warfare by remote control in a post-panoptic society has ended the era of mutual engagement and created one of extensive asymmetry. This thesis also examines the militaries historical motives for pursuing weapons that make the enemy into an objective target below. The data that I use to explore these implications is second-hand anecdotes and interviews of former RPA operators, and various media accounts. Based on this data, I find that drones have made it more difficult to kill a target due to the added surveillance technology that allows the operator to see the effects of his or her weapon in real time. This visualization then has the effect of creating intimacy/reducing emotional distance between the operator and the target.



drone, surveillance, RPA, operator, panopticon, post-panopticon