The Rude Pundit Talks to an Apache Helicopter Pilot:
The Apache helicopter pilot told the Rude Pundit that he lost count of how many people he had killed "once I got up to 40." The pilot had dreamed for years about flying the tight little attack copter, and his dream came true when he trained and was certified to fly missions going after the enemy in Afghanistan. The pilot had done his time over there, and he was sure he wouldn't be going back because the war would be over next year.
Although if you had been talking to the pilot, you would have known: he wanted to go back. When the Rude Pundit asked him if how it was to fly out over the American coast, expecting to hear how rapturous it was to be speeding above beaches. "It's boring," the pilot said. He was used to patrolling with multiple radios and audio, a constant barrage of information about where enemy combatants might be before heading out to take them out. Flying when you're just flying? Just dull. Don't even get him started about the tedium of driving a car.
The point of this is not to tell you about the daily life of an Apache helicopter pilot. The point of the conversation was not to argue. It was to hear what he had to say in that sleazy bar where they had met. And, yes, the Rude Pundit knows for sure that he was an actual pilot, an actual soldier, an actual warrior who had been in Afghanistan. No, the point is not even his belief, one that, actually, the Rude Pundit shares, that if you're going to go to something you're calling a "war," you can't do it without civilian casualties, that if you care so much about killing civilians, you shouldn't bother with the war because sure as shooting, you're going to kill them. And, no, he wasn't saying that he killed civilians, and he wasn't saying that he hadn't.
The real point of bringing up this beer and greasy burger conversation is that the Apache pilot told the Rude Pundit something that he hadn't heard before: the pilots who fly missions over Afghanistan hate the drones and they can't stand the people who launch them. "I've had to take evasive action more than once to avoid getting hit by our own drones," the pilot said. And when one goes down without hitting its target, somewhere in the mountains and plains, "we have to go out and retrieve them so that the other side doesn't get their hands on them." See, each drone contains a great deal of secret technology, secret information, things you wouldn't want your enemy to learn about your abilities. "They fail a lot," the pilot said.
He believes that the human element is crucial in the situation. And he also thinks it's bullshit that people who sit at a computer in California and program the drones to hit their targets get some of the same combat pay that he gets. Maybe the drone programmers who are actually on a base in Afghanistan. But not the guys at desks in the states playing a video game.
There are other things the Apache pilot said. "Everyone knows" that the real problem is Pakistan. "Everyone knows" that the drones just piss off the locals and make it more dangerous for the military there, something that retired General Stanly McChrystal also commented on recently. And the Rude Pundit and the pilot agreed that Iraq was just a huge distraction and waste of lives and money. "We'd have been out of Afghanistan by 2005 if we had just stayed focused," he said.
We're about to have hearings on whether or not former Senator Chuck Hagel should be Secretary of Defense and whether or not John Brennan should be CIA director. While the media has been focused on Hagel saying something vaguely not nice about lobbyists for Israel and how he doesn't want us to go to war in Iran for no good reason, Brennan has more or less gotten a pass, despite being one of the major advocates to President Obama on the use of drones. It bespeaks something awful and disheartening about America that we are told we should be more concerned that a nominee believes in peace than that one believes in endless attacks.
The Apache pilot will do what he's told, of course. He's in for a while longer, may even be a lifer, he doesn't know. Sure, he believes war is hell, but it sure is a rush.