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Nintendo Valor and F-35 Zombies

March 17, 2013

Star Tribune Wyoming: “F-35 Zombie” by Dave Raynolds:

[Secretary of] Defense Chuck Hagel bravely put a 30-day hold on a new medal for chair-borne drone “pilots”which would outrank the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. That’s a good start. Now let’s see if he can eliminate the can’t-fly Lockheed Martin F-35. The Washington Post recently published a lengthy article claiming the monster is too big to kill. Perhaps it should be re-named the F-35 Zombie.

Both these stories (the drone pilot medal and the F-35 money pit) are related to our society’s mixed desires for and confused understandings about technological development.

f-35 f35 zombie zombies nintendo drone

First, let’s look back to the full 1986 NYTimes movie review from the classic F-14 jet fighter movie, “Top Gun”, review by Walter Goodman:

there’s something about the technical wizardry of today’s jets that, for dramatic purposes, diminishes the role of the men who fly them. Despite the movie’s emphasis on the importance of the pilots, given all the electronic wonders at their touch – such as being able to lock an enemy plane in their sights and dispatch a missile to chase and destroy it – they seem part of some cosmic technological enterprise.

Technology and the promises of unfettered speeds as related to the zombie inside the machine shell. Though the “inverse zombie problem” is about cases like Terry Schiavo (the possibility of mind within catatonic vegetables) the Tom Cruise Maverick Top Gun character is also a sort of inverse zombie – his “ego is writing checks [his] body can’t cash”.

Maverick is existentially opposed to zombies. Maverick is dangerous because accidents kill the geese, but in moments of crisis even the Ice Man thaws to the ‘need for speed risk’ (Tom Cruise = “Risky Business”).

The F-35 is writing bills our nation can’t cash but then again, I think we should keep funding engineers to for design innovation. We can cry about the F-35’s monumental cost, or surely we can also use pieces of the failure to learn new science? Is there any lemonade from this lemon? (of course, but it’s classified). The F-35 is a zombie because of the failed use of money but what else might Lockheed discover from the that money. Science is funded in weird ways and new faster technologies make zombies of us all.

Now about the drones (which are in part making the F-35 obsolete before it’s developed), but how to honor the pilots? See “The Nintendo Medal’? New Military Award for Drone Pilots Draws Hill Protest” by Devin Dwyer about controversies of the new medal for drone pilots:

Critics have panned it as the “Chair-borne Medal,” “the Nintendo Medal,” “Distant Warfare Medal” and “the Purple Buttocks,” alluding to fact that computer-based warriors do their work from a chair, among other names.

Now, we could mock the idea of remote pilots getting “Nintendo” medals, but if we are to honor warriors at all then we do need to honor these “pilots”, too. The emotionally dissociative risks they put their bodies through by killing from abroad may be more troubling than the physical death risks faced on traditional battlefields. This issue is directly related to zombies because it is about the distinctions of mind and body and the meaning of valor in virtual battlefields. It should depend on much more context, not just whether the physical body was in actual danger – the mind responds to the virtual as if it were real. These drone pilots can suffer severe trauma even if their actual bodies were never in any physical danger. I can imagine the hierarchical structure of military ranking makes this kind of mind-body distinction very troubling.

Andrew Tilghman of Marine Corps Times writes: “Hagel to order review of drone medal precedence”:

The decision in February to create the new Distinguished Warfare Medal — a gold medallion with prominent blue stripes, according to its current design — has drawn criticism from veterans’ groups and lawmakers on Capitol Hill because the medal will be formally placed above the Bronze Star, which is awarded with a “V” valor device for heroic conduct in combat.

And that doesn’t sit quite right. Did the “valor” still happen? M-W defines valor:

strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness

In World War 1 that meant storming trenches and mustard gas but rather different storming from a fighter jet. So with a broadened definition of danger (M-W: “exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss”) – the drone pilot as with the F-35 pilot, how much valor is there in killing through a dissociative machine technology.

And continuing with this the widened definition of danger, consider Raynold’s conclusion from the F-35 editorial:

Chuck Hagel should invite Dick Cheney to lunch.

Zombies love lunch — Nom Nom– Cheney epitomizes the Washington War from a distance, machine for a heart, whereas Hagel personifies the purple heart farmboy foot soldier risen through political ranks. There is no doubt they could learn a lot from one another over a series of well -prepared lunches.


From → money, politics, protests, war

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