Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper

I.
(I dreamt you up in third grade.) Ultra-cool & promo slick, a predatory dart
zip-lining threads of nimbi, unmanned, over darkling continents, your bot-brain
is a paragon of focus & yet mechanizedly desireless, as self-aware as silverware,
& thus incapable of cruelty when delivering laser-guided missiles calibrated
to fountain a small bus full of explosives into a contained puff above a crowded
marketplace, or slip eel-like through a cave's oculate within the Hindu Kush.
Your blurry, thermal aerial view beset with squared crosshairs a rookie war
director's owlet dream: oblivious vermin swept up with gestural efficiency from
heights that confer the necessary filmic distance of omniscience, as if each strike
were a warrant fulfilled by reason abiding divine instruction: Michelangelo's
God fist-bumping Adam. Edited & packaged, a select few videoed assaults ship
to media outlets as evidence, an impressive staging intent to show a public what
humdrum work war's become—locate, track, eviscerate. Replicate. From these
spare scenes of bombed & reconfigured wreckages of cars & buildings ghosting
though a dusty plume arrives a satisfying vengeance for the loss of Sgt. Elias
from Platoon, those spry young Wolverines in Red Dawn, & my uncle's waking
battle dreams (of the Vietnam variety) that go unmentioned in advertisements
peddling the mastery of thumb-numbing single-shooter POV games for Xbox
& PlayStation as a skill set, with once implausible credits transferable to active
military duty. O to be gamers & destroyers, with each ethereal tick a countdown
aria to roadside decimation or the anticipated readiness of microwaved pizza—


I'm on YouTube again watching a task force seize a desert outpost, the offal
opulence of awful ordinance as witnessed by a documentarian's hand-held,
an eye unsteady in its capturing, but never insecure. By firefight an anecdotal
oral history begins developing its authors, these servicemen & -women who
user-posted comments identify as members of Generation Kill. Soldiers passing
soccer balls to poor kids an errant attempt to dupe a viewer into moral alliance
& engage the heart's surrender, but as the camera goes downrange, still settings
shiver with heat & the sudden dubstep beat drops its discharge of epinephrine,
pumps us for the possibility of a shootout & invasive human plumage: gut-shots,
headshots, Hajji hematomas (& never a dead American), the BBC-style coverage
devolving into Bang-Bang Club badassery, moments spliced for detachment via
destabilizing rapidity. The first tank shot a Globe theatric to begin the operatic
picaresque: Pafghaniraq: the Musical. Ubi sunt & heretofore? Let the bodies hit
the floor. Dulce et decorum est? You wanted in and now you're here. / Driven by
hate, consumed by fear. The tanks roll in, the tanks roll out. But Reaper, where
they cannot go, you can—& suddenly we're Superman! Eye in the sky, womb
with a view. You whizz to the rescue, my childhood A.I. dream's apotheosis
as M.Q. Joe, as a voice narrating the hunt regurgitates post-Towers ideologies—
the kind of stuff we get from news sources instead of news—& a superstructure
emerges, with themes equating learnedness with subversive otherness & might
with right, which Heaven atones, advocating our patriotic, righteous will-to-power.


& I get why we heart the hype. Your sleek iBomb design is haute Apple adorable:
the extended wingspan, the ball turret cam. Viewed full-frontal, Hellfire missiles
hang loosely clamped to the horizon of your asterisk body, itself a fusion of X-Wing
Fighter & Lambda-class Imperial Shuttle from Star Wars, a sexy sort of curvilinear
Geek Goddess whose forehead slope recalls the stately dolphin fish, rear propeller
the whirr of a rubber-banded planophore. Behold our Indian Springs Sphinx,
riddled with weapons. But your work is deadly serious: to split atmospheres &
genealogies alike, & do to human beings what bunker busters do to basements.
In my child's mind you were precise, able to de-install a dictator as effortlessly
as any computer virus, a typed command & poof, *democracy*. But the reality
is always trickier: while pursuing the enemy you also catch civilians, & often,
a fact that crass reporters reduce to food metaphor (in order to make an omelet)
& zealots to allegory (God makes his omelets with American cheese), but a truth
remains: when targeting al-Qaeda, jihadists, & the Taliban, you snatch the heads
off schoolchildren. Actual little kids, with families smothered in radii of blast circles
& a bloody sampling of bystanders. The Brookings Institution puts your civilian-to-militant kill ratio in Pakistan at 10:1. Possibly. New America Foundation says 1:6.
Maybe. Actual numbers unavailable. I click from collateral damage to Google Maps,
satellite zoom to downtown, & comb rooftops for the faintest fraction of your form
hovering Ground Zero because I've read you minnow those twin blue columns
of memorial light as New York's newest National Guard. I can't help but imagine


what future recon missions Cuomo might commission. Will you one day sweep &
clear meth labs? Will you whistle just above our neighborhoods, a goodly beat
cop who when alerted turns bag snatchers into smatterings of gore a blogged
cartoon Giuliani might welcome as graffiti? Or would you just zap terrorists? &
could we as Americans stomach accidents? A collapsed school gym, a Park Slope
bar, the IFC, NYU, or BAM? In my dream you spiral slowly overhead in a droning
corona of mechanized security, attentive as any parent. Are you the border patrol
or the border? In your harmonious hum I hear George Carlin proselytizing on
flamethrowers, a confluence of human ingenuity (How do I throw fire from here—)
& what our culture embraces as a necessary wickedness (—on people over there?),
as if the bargain struck with sentience was having to fulfill its darker innovations.
Will the ramifications of your exploits serve as a parable, or dictate foreign policy?
Do robot assassins outstrip the honor of our enemy, or us? This is not, I think,
an academic question, unless we really wish to own the role of a global hobgoblin,
dining expansively at the expense of others, crematoriums stirring in our cocktails.

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