USA release April 2014
USA now available domestic-release
“Why do we wear flightsuits?”
— “Thomas Egan, Major, USAF” (Ethan Hawke)
to his squadron commander
— “Jack Johns, Lt. Col., USAF” (Bruce Greenwood)
Considerable numbers of casualties– ironically– and operational challenges loom on the radar of military-aviation services.
Ground-attack and close-air-support crew-onboard–“crewed”– aircraft are becoming dinosaurs. And those who formerly crewed these former-types of aircraft likewise are becoming dinosaurs. Be prepared, citizen-taxpayer: the psychological casualties are high. And, yes, these are casualties. The aviators afflicted with this pain, and the pain of those near-and-dear, contradict the delusion of the proponents of the mythical “rugged-individual”. These myth-mongers, their toxic doctrine is expressed in phrases like, “Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder and Any-Psychological-Diagnosis-At-All Represent Shirking or Cowardice”.
Ground-attack and close-air-support craft with aircrew are being replaced by un-crewed aircraft. These, of course, are “drones”. Or, if you prefer typical maze-like military names, you can refer to one as “UAV”: “Unmanned* Aerial Vehicle”. And their former aircrew are being displaced from cockpit in a high-performance aircraft, to cubicle in an a building.
Good Kill excellently portrays the human cost to the combatants caught in this rough transition. And both the film’s lead and support cast perfectly portray the impact of, many facets of, and arguments over, this transition.
Gone is the great self-fulfilment, self-esteem, and– for the luckiest who survive– self-actualization of the thrill and risk of saddling a small, high-performance aircraft to the “edge of the envelope”: the edge of the aviator’s human limitations, and the edge of the aircraft’s system limitations. Gone is the thrill (if one survives) of staring-down risk, danger, or even death and successfully accomplishing the mission, and surviving to tell the tale. Never mistake these for adrenaline junkies or thrill-seekers or stunt pilots. No. These men and women have a gift, and they find fulfilment as this gift serves their love of nation, constitution, and people. This gift, this love, are expressed through risk-taking.
In the place of these treasured if fearsome emotions is all the thrill and risk of an air-conditioned indoor cubicle thousands of miles from the battle field.
Thomas Egan– and many like him– are tossing through the wind-shear of emotions in this transition . But the aviation services are climbing in the headwind of the rapid pace of electronic evolution.
Given this rapid pace, some former aircrew try to adapt by appearing stoic: “It had to happen sometime”. Others try to adapt by appearing cerebral as the try to calculate an alternate successful career path, outside the cockpit, to retirement . Their cerebral and stoic appearances may cloak a perfect storm of emotional and cognitive struggles.
There is no cloak for the others. In these others, struggles are visible to all. These have comrades, superiors, spouses and children. And all– along with their now-displaced aviators– are subjected to the struggles of guilt, dysfunction, mal-adaptation, disorientation, a nostalgia comfortable as parachuting into the winter North Atlantic, and loss of self-esteem. These aviators know all too painfully, no welcoming cockpit is represented by their uniform, winged-badge or not. They are unable or unwilling to understand or believe it is time for them to permanently exit their beloved, esteemed cockpit. They can’t or won’t permanently debark the cockpit. For them, this disability has no cloak.
Rather, for these, any attempt at adaptation likely is through the swamp of emotional abuse of those they love most, and escape through mind-altering substances.
These aviators feel depreciated. And probably they are correct: isolated in the crosshairs, this transition probably is a “simple” matter of cost-effectiveness, with principles of supply-and-demand.
Other demons haunt these mal-adapted aviators. The services like to exorcise these demons with bland, benign incantations like “collateral damage”. But through the zoom-lens of the recon cam of the drone, for the first time these aviators see the blood and anguish caused by victorious ground-attack missions. The killed and wounded sometimes are innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet for the first time plainly-visible the the aviators on their monitor-screens. Such sights are naturally-disturbing to some aviators.
Yet, do they really think attack from cockpit rather than cubicle cost fewer innocent lives?
Behind all this confusion lies the haunting possibility the precision of the drones costs fewer innocents.
And the aviators suffer from cognitive dissonance: hours of duty in aviation combat, yet situated in an air-conditioned cubicle 3,000 miles away. That’s a lot of dissonance itself. Yet, there’s more: after these hours of combat, immediately it’s back-home to wifey or hubby and kids and doggy or kitty and home and everything’s great, no-worries; take out the trash, mow the lawn, let’s have a barbecue, right? Yet more, much-more, haunting dissonance.
Now there are all kinds of arguments why this force-shift is or is not valid. But their discussion, here is not the time or place.
Yet, in conclusion, a few notes, I think, bear upon the heading of this shift and its costs to our aviators and their comrades and loved-ones.
- For generations, to stir their courage and maintain their reliability, these aviators have been wrapped in the distinction and perhaps vanity of traditions such as the squadron silk scarves ’round their necks. And with these, always there’s been (what may seem aberrant to civilians) a stirring sense of romance. But now, in the air-conditioned drone cubicle, these traditions, it’s embarrassingly obvious, have much-less– if any– effect or utility. They’re lost anachronisms. They’ve outlived their time and place.
“Why do we wear flight suits?”, indeed.
- This shift to drones is here. And no amount of anachronistic romance will scare it away.
- And those in this field, those who protect us, are hurt and confused. These, we citizen-taxpayers see well in Good Kill. We see these, with irony and little wonder, as well as they now see the human consequences of their missions.
So those who protect us can adjust in a healthy, functional, productive way, let’s be ready to support them.
*the sexism of this nomenclature aside