Drones have changed the face of modern warfare. Killing enemy soldiers, while still a brutal act, is no longer as intimate as it was in the last century. Nowadays the distance between target and targeter can be thousands of miles, and launching an attack can look more like a video game.
In 2013 a "pilot" operating an armed drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle, from a control center at an Air Force base in Nevada can push a button and kill someone he believes to be an al-Qaida commander on a back road in Pakistan. From the perspective of the victim and the collateral damage that results, it doesn't matter whether the assault came from an American soldier in a hideout 200 feet away or a military base 7,000 miles away. In either case, the target is extinguished.
That may be what compelled the Pentagon to make U.S. military personnel who operate drones far from combat zones eligible for a Distinguished Warfare Medal. But recognizing the skills and contributions of drone operators isn't the problem, according to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Tim Murphy.
They object to the Defense Department's decision to rank the Distinguished Warfare Medal higher than the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, two honors that can be earned only in the face of combat. The Purple Heart goes to wounded soldiers, but in the new hierarchy it will sit lower than the award given to a service member pushing buttons in the safety and comfort of a control room in the United States.
Mr. Murphy of Upper St. Clair said, "Literally, you could be sitting in a mock-up of an airplane thousands of miles away from battle and at the end of the day you go home." Not so the soldier who totes a rifle and engages the enemy in close combat. The congressman wants to address this in a new bill, and we hope he's successful.
The logic of elevating the Distinguished Warfare Medal over established honors given for valor on the battlefield is inexplicable. War is hell, but the Pentagon doesn't have to make it worse by losing perspective on loyal troops' sacrifice.