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“Sky Raper”: US Drones as Tools of the Patriarchy

Journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald posted a disturbing report at their new site The Intercept on Monday about the NSA’s secret role in the U.S. assassination program. It’s a fascinating read, and I recommend you read it in its entirety, but I wanted to explore a very specific passage in the report—an interview with a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA.

The former drone operator explains that remotely piloted Reaper and Predator vehicles are often given cute little nicknames. For example, those used in Afghanistan were called “Lightning” and “Sky Raider.”

Badass!

But then the source candidly reveals there’s a subset of nicknames. The “Sky Raider” was also referred to as “Sky Raper” because “it killed a lot of people.”

Badas—Wait, whaaaat.

When operators were assigned to “Sky Raper,” he adds, it meant that “somebody was going to die. It was always set to the most high-priority missions.”

So here we have a bunch of joystick jockeys not only responsible for killing nameless, faceless brown people thousands of miles away, but as if that wasn’t enough of a violation, they decided to sprinkle a dash of rape culture onto their acts of horrific violence.

Sky Raper. The name reminds me of how my hipster journalist friends refer to drones as “sky death robots,” or similarly creepy euphemisms — names that would never actually be used officially by military brass because they’re too close to the truth. That’s why the military comes up with polite, sterile terms like collateral damage and kinetic military action in order to insert a wedge between civilians and the terrible consequences of war.

But here is the truth: Sky Raper.

The comment is extremely revealing because it lays bare the true nature of patriarchy, and the roles of the military and rape culture within patriarchy. These three mechanisms  of oppression work in tandem, each reliant on the other. The military cannot exist without rape culture and patriarchy, just as rape culture relies on the military and patriarchy to export violence all across the globe, and the patriarchy requires the military and rape culture to bolster its very existence.

The military figuratively and actually rapes on a regular basis, whether we’re talking about soldiers invading autonomous regions in order to aid the U.S. government’s plundering of natural resources, or soldiers literally raping indigenous peoples. Then there’s the epidemic of rape within the military, a crime that grew so unmanageable that President Obama signed a 2013 bill that would ostensibly crack down on sexual assaults in the military.

The act of rape is about power and violence—two favorite hobbies of the military, and the patriarchy that relies on the military to invade and conquer in order to acquire even more power in order to fuel future acts of violence.

Sky Raper. It’s sort of beautifully succinct in a really fucked up way.

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