Later this week, I’m heading to Chicago (yay!) for my first-ever Midwest Political Science Association conference.
The paper I’m presenting, “Traumatized Drone Operators and the Rescue of American Exceptionalism,” will be part of a larger panel on the theme of “Anxiety and Politics.” Here’s the abstract:
This paper queries the popular fascination with PTSD among drone operators. I argue that anti-drone discourses rely on this suffering to assuage anxiety about the affront to American exceptionalism (read as moral goodness) and that drone warfare seemingly poses. In June 2018, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature story entitled, “The Wounds of the Drone Warrior.” Against the popular fantasy of a bloodless war being prosecuted easily by a military of ‘joystick warriors,’ the article meditates on the somatic and psychological suffering of drone pilots.
This story, while newsy in its focus on experimental treatments for drone pilot PTSD, is hardly news; accounts of this type of distress have been circulating on academic, clinical, and journalistic platforms for years, while popular culture representations of distressed drone pilots have also become commonplace. This paper queries the popular fascination with the notion of the traumatized drone operator, focusing on a pair of anxieties that circulate within it: about their suffering and about the status of the U.S. in the world. I demonstrate that the figure of the traumatized drone operator serves crucial discursive functions for arguments against drone warfare, working to assuage anxiety about the ways that this mode of fighting has seemingly besmirched American identity. Building on Caruth’s (2017) reading of Freud’s theorization of anxiety—namely that anxiety appears as a retroactive, repetitive, and ultimately fruitless defense against a traumatic event—I argue that concern about the suffering of drone operators becomes a strategy for the rescue of American exceptionalism, even as the killing continues apace.
I’m also looking forward to participating in (and chairing) a roundtable on how to balance work and life demands, which is one of my favorite and best-trodden soapboxes.