Student Reflections on National Bird

Reflection assignment for Wooster’s class on Globalization and Contemporary China. By Brenton Kalinowski.

The documentary film National Bird, by Sonia Kennebeck, examines a few different perspectives on the use of drones by the US government in situations of war. These perspectives are the consequences for whistleblowers in the government, the trauma that can result from operating drones, and the on the ground results and inaccuracies of drone strikes. The film was very successful in providing this information and telling the stories of those involved without telling the viewer what to think, but rather allowing them to make their own conclusions. While I personally find great issue with the use of drone strikes, I support the way that the film did not clearly push a political stance and take an overly subjective approach of its own. I felt that the overall effect this left was to strengthen the legitimacy of the stories and images. In reality I am sure that Kennebeck views drones strikes negatively and her film is a way of spreading a political point. Not forcing this political point on viewers was simply an effective way of creating a more powerful documentary.

Returning to the three perspectives the film showed. The aftermath of strikes and how targets are sometimes wrongly chosen was the most troubling part to watch. One specific example given was a caravan of innocent civilians who were bombed by a drone traveling home from a funeral, resulting in the deaths of men women and children. The transcript of the drone operators and their superiors is particularly disturbing. They talk about the people in a very dehumanizing manner and seem to be trying to find excuses to fire. Even though they see children, they talk back and forth about how a 12-year-old with a gun can be dangerous. As if that is enough reason to kill them. One woman who they interview for the film, a former drone operator, describes the lengthy training that she had to go through to be able to identity women and children as well as weapons. This shows that collateral damage is not actually accidental, but rather, it comes from a lack of concern from some drone operators. I believe that the distance drones create from the operators and the people they kill creates a desensitizing effect. I hope that people speaking out, as some have done in this film, will place pressure on the government.


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