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Drones, risk, and moral injury

Drones, risk, and moral injury
Drones, risk, and moral injury
This article assesses the ethical significance of drone violence by focusing on the experience of drone operators as moral agents. In recent debates over the use of armed drones, ethical judgments have tended to be informed by the Just War principles that traditionally govern the conduct of war. However, Just War thinking is not the only way to think morally about the killing that drone operators do. Drone violence could also be assessed by reference to the notion that killing a human being can cause ‘moral injury’ to the killer because it betrays his or her personal standards of right conduct. Killing that is deemed permissible by others (by reference to Just War principles) can be judged further and differently by killers themselves, and a drone operator can make this judgement in the unprecedented circumstance of remote killing witnessed in real-time via a powerful video-camera mounted on the aircraft. Although it is sometimes claimed that physically-distant drone operators are as morally disengaged and as immune to risk as the players of violent video-games, evidence to the contrary is emerging. Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to illuminate the situation of drone operators who might actually be highly-engaged morally and to explore reasons why they might experience moral injury. If the risk of moral injury is real, it undermines the risk-avoidance rationale for sending drones rather than troops to dangerous places, and it could serve as an additional ethical basis for restraining drone violence.
drones, ethics, killing, moral injury, risk, war
2333-7486
150-167
Enemark, Christian
004b6521-f1bb-426a-a37b-686c6a8061f6
Enemark, Christian
004b6521-f1bb-426a-a37b-686c6a8061f6

Enemark, Christian (2019) Drones, risk, and moral injury. Critical Military Studies, 5 (2), 150-167. (doi:10.1080/23337486.2017.1384979).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article assesses the ethical significance of drone violence by focusing on the experience of drone operators as moral agents. In recent debates over the use of armed drones, ethical judgments have tended to be informed by the Just War principles that traditionally govern the conduct of war. However, Just War thinking is not the only way to think morally about the killing that drone operators do. Drone violence could also be assessed by reference to the notion that killing a human being can cause ‘moral injury’ to the killer because it betrays his or her personal standards of right conduct. Killing that is deemed permissible by others (by reference to Just War principles) can be judged further and differently by killers themselves, and a drone operator can make this judgement in the unprecedented circumstance of remote killing witnessed in real-time via a powerful video-camera mounted on the aircraft. Although it is sometimes claimed that physically-distant drone operators are as morally disengaged and as immune to risk as the players of violent video-games, evidence to the contrary is emerging. Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to illuminate the situation of drone operators who might actually be highly-engaged morally and to explore reasons why they might experience moral injury. If the risk of moral injury is real, it undermines the risk-avoidance rationale for sending drones rather than troops to dangerous places, and it could serve as an additional ethical basis for restraining drone violence.

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Accepted/In Press date: 6 September 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 5 October 2017
Published date: 26 April 2019
Keywords: drones, ethics, killing, moral injury, risk, war

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 413871
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/413871
ISSN: 2333-7486
PURE UUID: 7f7e72b4-3578-47dc-b30e-d20850417426
ORCID for Christian Enemark: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-1833-0927

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 08 Sep 2017 16:30
Last modified: 23 Jul 2022 04:20

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