The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, has become one of the most potent weapons of contemporary warfare. Remotely controlled by operators thousands of miles away from the theatre of war, drones carry out aerial attacks which leave hundreds of people dead. The increasing amount of ‘collateral damage’ from US drone strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, recently lead prominent politician, Imran Khan, to lead a high-profile protest against their use.
Artists have been actively documenting the impact of the use of drones in warfare for some years now. Trevor Paglen’s Drone Vision, recently on show at Lighthouse in Brighton, provides us with a chilling “drones-eye-view” of a landscape, enabling us to see what drone-operators see.
The utterly compelling and disturbing film installation, Five Thousand Feet is the Best by Israeli artist Omer Fast, tells the story of a former Predator drone operator, recalling his experience of using drones to fire at civilians and militia in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At one stage of the film, he describes the use of what marines refer to as “the light of god”, the laser targeting marker, which is used to direct hellfire missiles to their intended target.
“We call it in, and we’re given all the clearances that are necessary, all the approvals and everything else, and then we do something called the Light of God – the Marines like to call it the Light of God. It’s a laser targeting marker. We just send out a beam of laser and when the troops put on their night vision goggles they’ll just see this light that looks like it’s coming from heaven. Right on the spot, coming out of nowhere, from the sky. It’s quite beautiful.” (quoted from Five Thousand Feet is the Best).