Game of Drones
The Kroll Show did a smart and disturbing sketch about American drone pilots bombing the enemy from comfy office chairs and running out to the vending machine for triumphant snacks. We’re a long way from Norman Mailer’s “fug”-muttering infantry, Gustav Hasford’s desperate marines (in The Short-Timers, by the way, upon which Full Metal Jacket was based, Cowboy tells Joker in his dying breaths that he never liked Joker, or thought he was funny, a line I always thought the Kubrick film might have benefited from), or even the platoon in Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, where the magic realism takes us to Tehran and Paris while underscoring the everyday violence, horror, and wild talk of a decimated unit in the jungle too long. “It was a bad time,” the novel begins. “Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright, scared to death on the field of battle, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose.” We haven’t always wanted our war stories from the blood-soaked, mud-sucking vantage (think of young Robert Louis Stevenson playing general with his counterpane figurines), but the twentieth century demanded it.
But now, some might suggest that Obama’s drone armada, an image that dovetails so neatly with our national picture of itchy-thumbed, pixel-fucked youth, has erased the need for human voices from “the shit.” Even some lingo runs on fumes, as a veteran of both recent wars I know likes to refer to the “Ghan,” a joke he and a buddy shared, laughing, perhaps, over the fact that unlike the “’Nam” era, no real context