Look Who’s Coming to Dinner…

“Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” I first heard of “replacement theory” following the neo-Nazi, Unite the Right, demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017. Antisemitic neo-Nazis with tiki torches marching across the street from a university campus designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Those demonstrators were promoting a fear-based theory that rests on the proposition that “elites” are encouraging illegal immigration so non-whites can take over, become the majority, and deny the “native” white population its rightful place atop the demographic pyramid, as they believe the Founders intended.

I thought organized white supremacy was a relic of WWII’s National Socialism (Nazism), but I was wrong. Replacement theory is centuries old, but its latest iteration, title and philosophical roots were re-articulated by French author Renaud Camus in his book The Great Replacement in 2011.

I had never heard the words “(they) will not replace us” spoken until the events in Charlottesville. But they were always there…unspoken. From slavery to Reconstruction, to the Tulsa Race Massacre, Jim Crow, and on. The movement was mostly hidden in the shadows. White robed Ku Klux Klansmen in the South. Neo-Nazis in rural Idaho, and cells of “European identity groups” spread across rural America. I never imagined white supremacy could become a mainstream political force in America. But it has–as nightly screeds by Tucker Carlson on Fox News and race-inspired mass shootings in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Charleston, and El Paso attest. White supremacy, antisemitism, and replacement theory are out in the open and gaining support.

I didn’t understand “white flight” when I was growing up, how a white family could feel compelled to move to a new neighborhood if a Black family moved into theirs. Now I understand it was their fear of “otherness” that “forced” them out–of their neighborhood being invaded by people of another race.

And in the beginning, white governance came to their rescue with “redlining,” creating legal exclusion zones to protect them from people who were different. Jews, Blacks, Asians. They were protected by restrictive covenants that prevented sales to those “others.” That was the official response to replacement theory before it was outlawed, before it had a name, and before the “invasion of “illegal aliens.”

What’s difficult to understand about replacement theory is who these “elites” are? Are these mysterious “elites” just garden variety vanilla-flavored Democrats? Who’s behind the movement. Is this “dark money” from the likes of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos? And how do they plan to maintain control once non-whites have ousted the “native” white population? This is a dystopian fever dream, like QAnon’s Pizzagate pedophilia.

If I have this right, white people are afraid of dark-skinned immigrants, but other “elite” white people are encouraging them to flood the country, become the majority, and replace the “native” whites. And by replacing them, the “elites” will be able to maintain power. It sounds more like a proposition for a 1984-like dystopia or some kind of an American apartheid, with white “elites” ruling the emergent larger non-white population.

I’m appalled by the purveyors of misinformation and the unabashed promotion of replacement theory by mainstream media personalities like Tucker Carlson, but in these chaotic times America has bigger problems than Mr. Carlson. Today, for the second time in a week a teenage boy with a semi-automatic weapon killed more than 10 people. Last weekend it was 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York. Today, it was 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

I’m not risk averse, but because these times are so chaotic I am more cautious than I was a few years ago.  Covid-19 remains a wrecking ball and monkeypox, the latest viral invader, has just landed on our shore. I’m fully vaccinated, boosted, and wear an N95 mask in public settings. I’ve spent my whole life traveling, but haven’t been on an airplane in almost three years because of fluctuations in the virus and not wanting to come down with it away from home. I’ve opted to stay put. Nor do I go to my “office” in downtown Seattle, not because of Covid-19, but because my bus stop at 3rd and Pine is a dangerous drug dealer dominated war zone. 

I have a hard time believing that replacement theory has a foothold in America, but there is another replacement theory I wish would take its place. It’s the one that would replace cowardly legislators with courageous ones, homeless camps with secure housing and mental health services, drug and crime infected neighborhoods with reliable community policing, and unrestricted gun purchases with universal background checks and a ban on military-style weapons. That’s the kind of replacement theory I can believe in.


Good News in a Bad News Cycle…

The US Soccer Federation announced today that the men’s and women’s national soccer teams have agreed to identical compensation and commercial revenue sharing for all competitions, including FIFA World Cup competition.

In addition, next Sunday, Seattle Sounders FC will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, (Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1965) along with members of OL Reign, our professional women’s soccer team.

Both are good news but not easy to find in the wake of mass shootings, war in Ukraine, the pending reversal of Roe v. Wade, and diatribes on mainstream media about “replacement theory”.

The weight of bad news always prompts me to look for signs of progress, signs we are evolving in a positive direction. Equal pay for men and women is one of those signs. Title IX prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance is another.

Based on these trends, I’m wavering between short term pessimism and long-term optimism. Bipolar but not in the mental health sense – rather in the how can we be optimistic when we’re inundated with news of war, insurrection, gun violence, racial unrest, and political polarization.

I’m old enough to remember the turmoil following Brown v. Board of Education. The racist rhetoric of George Wallace. Federal intervention in Little Rock schools. James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK–but followed by the Civil Rights Act(s) of 1964 and 1965.

During a period of relative peace, I served seven years in the military. I thought it was my duty to defend our freedom. We thought that way then. But those were the same years Emmett Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman and four black girls were killed in a church bombing. It became clear to me that a large portion of the country was not as free as I was.

I was naïve and privileged. I’m still privileged. I don’t live in a neighborhood where a racist killer might target my supermarket, Walmart, or church, but I’m no longer naïve. I see and hear things I never thought possible in America.
As a child, I had a BB gun and was taught gun safety. Today more than 300 million guns are in the hands of Americans – beyond the point of no return. The NRA used to teach gun safety. Now they protect manufacturers of military-style semi-automatic weapons from liability.

I was equally naïve when Richard Nixon was elected president. I didn’t trust him, but never thought he would stoop to burglary to hang on to power. I was wrong. But, 34 years after he resigned in disgrace, America elected Barack Obama its first black president. I want to believe in cycles. I’d prefer they be good, but I’m willing to accept some bad with the good if there is progress.

We just endured another bad cycle. Things are more stable now that the former guy is no longer center stage. I believe the current president is doing his best, but he doesn’t inspire. We need leadership, vision, and inspiration to move forward.

Things are better than earlier in my lifetime. I try to keep that in mind. History is cyclical. Civilizations come and go. They decline and fall. In the meantime, I will try to wean myself off fossil fuels, buy organic fair-trade coffee, use public transportation, support UNICEF and World Central Kitchen, trust public education, stand up for a woman’s right to choose, and cheer the Seattle Sounders.

“In spite of everything, I believe that people are good at heart.” Anne Frank 

Travel is Like Chocolate Mousse…

It might have been Treasure Island or Mutiny on the Bounty that sparked my interest, but islands have always exerted a magnetic pull on me. Small. Romantic. Isolated. Surrounded by water. Their attraction is galvanic.

I first heard about the Balearic Islands when I was in college.  Dots in the Mediterranean Sea, ruled successively by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Moors, and Catalans. Spain, but not quite Spanish – Mallorquin. Exotic.

The archipelago has four major islands – Mallorca, the largest, with Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera in descending order. My first visit was to Formentera a few years before its first hotel was built. Then, a windless sailing trip took me to Ibiza, the party island, where we repaired the blown engine that left us becalmed in Mediterranean shipping lanes at night. Mallorca was last in the sequence but not least in its appeal.

Despite a career in international aviation and years of independent travel, my wife M and I have seen a lot of the world, but it hasn’t dampened our curiosity or desire for more. For nearly two decades we took annual self-supported bike trips to Europe, but as we grew older (and slower) our approach to travel changed. Our richest experiences were always those closest to the ground – biking, walking, sitting in a sidewalk cafés – so in 2014 we altered our approach and began to pick destinations for extended stays. We wanted to experience living as locals. First in Paris, then Rome and Berlin. Two months each.

International travel can be overwhelming. Speed travel is exhausting. Cramming as many cities, museums, and monuments as possible into a short time diminishes the experience. Remember the film If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium? Probably not, but there’s a message in the title. Travel is enriching but, like chocolate mousse, whose dark flavor and creamy texture is more enjoyable in small portions, we think travel is better savored in small bites.

In 2018, a year and a half before the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown most elective travel, we settled on Mallorca as our next extended stay. Island life would be our next small bite.

Nevertheless, just before our flight touched down in Palma, we had a personal issue–a little rough patch to get over. Inbound, I learned that a Legends’ Cup tennis event was scheduled to begin the night of our arrival. I winced, knowing it would rankle if I asked M to spend her first night on Mallorca at a tennis tournament, but I couldn’t resist.

I knew it would stress test her generosity and patience – virtues she has in abundance but not unlimited supply. Of course she’d seen it all before. The French Open in Paris (2016). The Italian Open in Rome (2017) and the U.S. Open years before. But, none of them was on the first night of her vacation. None was on an island in the Mediterranean. And not one was…on her birthday.

“Are you kidding? Tennis? On our first night in Palma? Did you forget it’s my birthday?”

“I did. I mean no, I didn’t. But these guys are legends. Mats Wilander. Carlos Moya. Tim Henman. Tennis greats. All in Palma. All competing. There’s even a chance we might catch a glimpse of Nadal. It’ll be great. Up close and personal. On clay. Close enough to reach out and touch ’em. And it’s part of the local scene. I mean it’s Mallorca. Rafa and Moya are local heroes.”

“Amazing. What about my birthday?”

“We’ll do it up big tomorrow. I promise.”

“One night? Just one night? One night and one night only? Not the whole tournament, right?”

“Yup. I promise.” I was all in. She wasn’t, but she gave in. I don’t want to leave the wrong impression though. She is not long suffering and doesn’t suffer fools—me included—but she is forgiving and that counts for a lot. I knew it would cost me, but it would be worth it. Mea culpa.

On the advice of a friend, we had chosen a small ground floor apartment in Santa Catalina, a lively area neighborhood full of bars and restaurants just a short walk to the harbor, cathedral and city park. After checking in and getting settled that afternoon, we walked the short distance to the tennis stadium.

We watched the first two matches then took a break to stretch our legs and look for a snack. While I was in line for tapas and wine, M scouted for a place to sit. The tables near the refreshments tent were all occupied, but she spotted one with two empty seats and asked the couple seated there if we could share with them. They gestured yes, and by the time I showed up with the tapas M had them deep in conversation.

“Jack, say hello to Gisela and Nicolas. They’ve invited us to share their table. They live just across the street; in the building you can see behind Court One.”

I laughed and nodded. “Hi! Nice to meet you. Thanks for letting us share your table. I’m sure M has told you all about us? She’s very good at making friends.”

Sharing their table established a connection that was key to the success of our Mallorquin adventure. That’s generally how it goes when we travel. I find places, she makes friends, and it all works out. Our best travel memories almost always center on the people we encounter.

As we drank our wine and nibbled on tapas surrounded by fragrant bouganvilla, they gave us a quick rundown on themselves. Both had long careers in the hospitality sector. On Mallorca, Gisela was consulting for a hotel chain and Nicolas was General Manager for a high-end resort called Sa Torre. Those we discovered were the least interesting things about them.

Nicolas was born in Paris to a Russian émigré father and Swedish mother. He met Gisela, a Chilean, while they were both working in Sweden. There’s a lot to unpack in those two sentences. Global citizens to be sure. Our serendipitous meeting, another instance of how good fortune often follows when time and opportunity come together. The tennis match was never part of our vacation plan, but we leveraged it into something more. Two glasses of Rioja and a short conversation were all it took.

As we headed back to the match, Gisela told us they’d like to see us again so they could “share something very Mallorquin” with us. We exchanged phone numbers, and Gisela promised to be in touch.


In his 1953 memoir, Majorca Observed, the poet Robert Graves, wrote,

“I chose Majorca as my home because its climate had the reputation of being better than any other in Europe…. because it was large enough – some 1300 square miles – not to make me claustrophobic. Then, from all of Majorca I chose Deia, a small fishing and olive producing village on the mountainous north-west coast of the island… where I found everything I wanted as a background to my work as a writer: sun, sea, mountains, spring water, shady trees, no politics, and a few civilized luxuries such as electric light and a bus service to Palma, the capital.”

The morning following the tournament (and M’s birthday), we initiated a ritual we held to for the rest of our stay. Roll out of bed. Slip on shorts and T-shirts, and step next door to SIM-PLE, a “smart food” organic café,for lattes with a side of yoghurt and fresh fruit. English is the café’s lingua franca, but the air was full of Swedish, Dutch, and German voices blending with Castilian Spanish and the local Mallorquin dialect. We acclimate quickly, adjusting to differences, but with its polished concrete floor, exposed pipes and ducting, this small café could have been anywhere in the world, making those adjustments easy.

SIM-PLE’s baristas, Sergio and Miryam, welcomed us with smiles and a warm “Que tal?” each morning and when we finished, they sent us off with the same smiles and a “Que tengas un bonito dia.”


M and I love beaches, and after breakfast on any other island we’d be thinking of which one to go to, but Mallorca is different. It has stunning, secluded beaches too, but Palma, with nearly half a million residents, is a sophisticated urban center with upscale shopping, fine dining, and an historic cathedral. Miro, a Mallorquin native, and Picasso, a Catalan, have literally left their marks on the island’s mix of Roman, Gothic, Art Nouveau, and Modernist art and architecture. As Robert Graves noted, the island’s scale makes it appealing – not too small, not too large – every part of it easily accessible.

The island’s topography is a mix of mountains and plains. The best beaches are on the east side, where the flat plains run to the sea. The other side, the Serra de Tramuntana, is a spiky ridge of mountains running from its southwestern edge near Andratx to its northernmost tip at Port de Pollensa. Razor-like peaks, limestone cliffs, centuries old terraces, hidden coves, and eye-catching villages mark the route.

Our days on the island were spent taking those proverbial small bites, discovering little-known facts buried in its historical record and unique geography. Our small bites methodology was to pick one local highlight each day – a village, gallery, museum, market, restaurant, church – then let the day unfold. A bus ride up-country with the locals, an historic touchstone like Graves’ home in Deia, the Joan Miro Museum in Palma, or the Carthusian monastery in Valdemossa where Chopin and George Sand spent a miserable winter in 1838, followed by an al fresco lunch at a shaded table in the village and a bus ride back to Palma These were the small bites that made up our nearly perfect day trips. 

Back in Palma, within a day or two of our meeting, Gisela called to invite us to their apartment. She wanted us to meet their son, Andreas, a younger version of themselves – born in Sweden, raised in Mallorca, studied in London, now working in Tanzania. When we arrived, spread out on the kitchen table was that “something very Mallorquin,” she’d mentioned as we were leaving the tennis match—a traditional fix-it-yourself dinner of – Pa Am Boli.

Artisan bread lightly toasted, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed with garlic. Salty dry-cured Iberian ham, sweet Ramallet (local) tomatoes, and slices of smooth young Manchego cheese. Sweet, tangy, savory, chewy, and spicy fragrant. The taste and scent of Spain washed down with a fruit forward Rioja red. As we sat around the table in their kitchen it was as if we had known them for years. We talked about jobs, hopes for our children, places we knew and loved, as well as things they thought we shouldn’t miss on the island. Such a generous and rich introduction to Mallorca.

During our Mallorquin holiday, we saw them several more times, including a day at Sa Torre where Nicolas walked us around the resort, treated us to an elegant English breakfast, and showed us where his guests enjoy luxurious gourmet dining, Swedish crystal, Italian linens, horses, golf, tennis, three swimming pools – even a 17th Century chapel.

Their generosity continued with suggestions of even more Mallorquin sites, foods, and restaurants, many of which we took in. We couldn’t begin to repay their hospitality but did take them to a lovely indoor/outdoor restaurant in the heart of the old city to share one last meal before our departure.

It’s been three years since our Mallorca adventure, but we continue to be in regular communication. Nicolas and Gisela are still in Palma, but Andreas is back in Tanzania, with a project that brings lighting to rural villages without electricity. Last year I put him in touch with a friend of mine who delivers medical and dental care in the same area, and they’re hoping to collaborate on a project in the future.

Like most serious travelers we work hard to shed our Seattle skins and adapt to the local culture. Mallorca had everything we were looking for—striking landscape, interesting people, unique culture, fragrant bougainvillea, and savory foods. But, arriving in Palma in 2018, we couldn’t have known that within a year Covid-19 would strike and disrupt elective travel.

Life is full of surprises and this one taught us to expect the unexpected. Because of our ages, M and I have finite travel horizons. We’re hoping to be back on the road for another extended stay later this year, but if we’re delayed we will still have the sites, smells, tastes, and Mallorquin friends who linger in the small bites we banked on our last stay.

Have We Passed the Point of No Return?

I am profoundly sad today. Yesterday, the country I love, the country I served, and the liberal democracy I believed in revealed itself to be under the thumb of an ultra-conservative, self-serving minority.

I remember the racist backlash when Michelle Obama told a 2008 primary campaign audience,

“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is making a comeback … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

I too was proud – for the same reason. We were about to elect an African American, running on a platform of “hope and change,” to the presidency of the United States. I was all in.

But eight years later, thanks to an archaic, anachronistic, Electoral College system, an amoral, ignorant, uninformed, racist, misogynist, draft-dodging anti-democrat was elected to the same office – even though he did not win a majority of the vote. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes.

Today the Supreme Court, including the three justices he appointed, indicated it is planning to take away the established right of a woman and her doctor to decide the future of her pregnancy. A leaked draft opinion revealed that five conservative justices, all of whom affirmed the importance of stare decisis (precedent) in their confirmation hearings, are poised to reverse 50 years of settled law, overturn Roe vs. Wade, and deny women their established right to an abortion.

But today’s sadness extends far beyond taking away a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health. In recent years, other changes have shown us the anti-democratic vector but until now I believed we could reverse the trend at the ballot box. The truth is hard, but the list of America’s failings is long and shows just how far and fast we are moving away from a true democracy.

In October of 2021 the New York Times reported that China’s dictator, Xi Jinping, “shared with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a belief that ‘autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function’ in the complexities of the modern world.” President Biden responded by telling reporters that, “This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”

I don’t know precisely how we failed to uphold the Founder’s vision and where or when we passed the point-of-no-return (PNR). It was somewhere in the last 60 years, and I was around for all of it. I’ve been the frog in the pot filled with pleasantly tepid water. I stayed there as it was gradually heated. I, like the frog, would have boiled to death had it not been for Donald Trump. I knew the temp was rising but didn’t feel the danger until I saw his scorched earth attack on our democratic norms and institutions. He wasn’t solely responsible for what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe,” but he and his posse put the final nails in the coffin.

The tragedy lies in the fact that our founding documents had the bones to build on. The Founders studied and debated alternatives to build a system with institutions that protected citizens against the tyranny like the one they were rebelling against. It wasn’t perfect, but it functioned for almost 200 years.

Those documents were the foundation of the American experiment, and it’s only fair to ask why I’ve lost faith in the American experiment. Here are the reasons I see for the unraveling of our democracy:

· Slavery – the root cause and reason for American racism
· Federalism – keeps us from equal rule of law solutions across state boundaries
· Electoral College – a flawed device created to equalize population disparities
· Gerrymandering – demographic engineering that gives a political advantage
· Judiciary – the Federalist Society’s politicization of the independent branch
· Education – failure to adequately fund and teach critical thinking skills
· Militarism – America’s dependence on the military-industrial complex
· Police – reliance on a military approach to law enforcement
· Infrastructure – failure to fund and maintain basic infrastructure
· Healthcare – the only developed nation without a universal healthcare coverage
· Income inequality – a system that favors the rich to the detriment of all others
I’ve always described myself as a short-term pessimist but long-term optimist. My personal PNR came on January 6, 2021 when those states of mind swapped places. Today, I see a fractured, dysfunctional, polarized country with no viable reconciliation in sight. My generation failed to keep progress on track. I spent 7 years defending it and many more as an active citizen before seeing it unravel. I fear for my children’s future and even more for my grandchildren’s. Maybe they will be more successful than we were in finding a course correction. For their sakes, I hope so.

I continue to believe that education, free speech, and a free press are the foundations of a democratic state, and I believe in the power of words – written and spoken. I don’t know if what I write changes minds, but I have several friends who disagree with my politics but are regular readers and continue to give me feedback. I respect their opinions and hope our dialogue keeps us moving toward a safe place somewhere in the middle.

Today’s headline reflects America’s polarized upset over Roe v. Wade. The “reveal,” in a “leaked” draft of the opinion, is yet another example of a breached norm. This one further undermines the reputation and credibility of the Supreme Court, an institution we have always relied on for apolitical independence. Chief Justice Roberts has promised a full investigation, and it’s the right thing to do. But it doesn’t lessen my profound sadness. It only adds to it. I sincerely believe we have passed the point of no return, but I’ve been wrong before. The closet optimist in me hopes a following wind will kick in and prove me wrong again.

Zipless Death, PTSD, and Suicide…

The guided missile attacks that are an important part of Putin’s assault on Ukraine remind me of my own sharply contrasting experience as a fighter pilot in the 1960s. Combined with a recent story of a University of Washington graduate turned drone pilot, it’s brought the horror of today’s remote killing machines home in a heart-wrenching manner.

For seven years I flew state-of-the-art Marine Corps fighters in air-to-air combat, but it was peacetime and my aerial combat took place over California’s Salton Sea. It was the Marine Corps vs. the Air Force. We flew out of MCAS El Toro and the Air Force from bases in the So Cal desert. Engagement was unplanned but both sides entered the restricted area over the Salton Sea looking for targets of opportunity. Our F8s would jump their F-100s or vice versa, and the fight was on. Then, having burned thousands of gallons of JP4, we would return to base and regale comrades at Happy Hour with “war stories” of how we kicked Air “Farce” ass.

What an innocent time it was.

No longer. All three southern California bases are abandoned now. Air-to-air combat is a thing of the past. Fighter aircraft no longer have guns, and one-on-one dogfights are relegated to military history. It’s all missiles now. Heat-seeking (air-to-air) or laser-guided (air-to- ground). Going eye-to-eye with the Red Baron or Yuri Gagarin is pure fantasy.

Today, Air Force “pilots” kill enemy combatants halfway around the globe from windowless, air-conditioned, shipping container modules in the Nevada desert. America still maintains fighter squadrons on alert, but most of the “kills” today are done by drones remotely.

Five years ago, I wrote an essay called “Zipless in Nevada. These distant deaths reminded me of the “zipless fuck” made famous in Erica Jong’s 1973 novel Fear of Flying – a sexual encounter involving two previously unacquainted persons with no emotional commitment.

Drone kills are equally “zipless” – unemotional and anonymous. An old-time dogfight was over in a matter of minutes. Death by drone takes longer. Satellites do the work. The target is identified and stalked. The remote operator watches stealthily. Sometimes for days. He or she might even watch interactions with the target’s family and neighbors. The order to kill is issued…and the target erased.

When drone strikes were first authorized, after 9/11, decisions were made at the presidential level. Under G.W. Bush and Obama, orders were sanctioned at the General Officer level. Under Trump, the rules were loosened, and authorization delegated down to and including senior non-commissioned officers.


Another aspect of the drone story has been getting attention lately. Two weeks ago, the front-page of the New York Times featured an article on the suicide of an Air Force drone pilot – a churchgoing, Eagle Scout, University of Washington graduate and son of two Yakima police officers. He was perfect until he wasn’t. Captain Kevin Larson’s drug use, spousal abuse, divorce, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and “conduct unbecoming an officer” led to his court-martial. The saga ended with his suicide as a fugitive. It’s a terrible story. Read it.

Or, as Pin-Up: The Magazine for Architectural Entertainment, put it in its spring-summer 2018 issue:

“The United States Air Force does not publish statistics on suicides committed by pilots of their unmanned combat aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, but it is the most significant bodily risk they face. In general, suicide ranks as the biggest killer of all active-duty Airmen, and surpassed war as the entire military’s leading cause of death in 2014 (as reported by USA Today in October of that year). Contrary to common assumptions, the suicides are not necessarily preceded by trauma from battlefield experiences. In fact, 68% of members of the Air Force who committed suicide were never deployed, according to the Air Force deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services when interviewed by U.S. Medicine in October 2011.”  

Kevin Larson’s true story is not unique. Fictional versions have also brought an awareness of the mental health problems associated with drone piloting. In 2017, Seattle Public Theater presented a play by George Brant about a woman F-16 pilot assigned as a UAV (unmanned air vehicle) “pilot” after being grounded by a pregnancy. Grounded is one of several stage and film treatments of the subject. In the film Good Kill (2014), Ethan Hawke plays a drone pilot who questions the ethics of firing missiles in Afghanistan from his trailer in the Nevada desert, and Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman posed similar ethical questions about civilian casualties, chain of command, personal responsibility, and other political questions relative to drone warfare in Eye in the Sky (2016).

Is it any wonder that PTSD and suicide are widespread among UAV “pilots” when they learn that their targeting errors have killed innocent civilians? Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a botched drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, during the chaos of America’s departure from Afghanistan. Zipless deaths from air-conditioned trailers in the Nevada desert are real, and so are the mental health problems of those who kill anonymously.

As I wrote in April 2017:

“Drone piloting is the ultimate video game, and the Air Force is now acknowledging that it doesn’t take an F-16 pilot to fly one. Today’s cadre of drone pilots includes rigorously screened enlisted men and women as well as combat trained pilots. It takes two years and $2,600,000 to train a fighter pilot but only10 weeks and $175,000 to train a drone pilot. You do the math.

Even though ‘the threat of death has been removed’ unmanned vehicle pilots have a surprisingly high burnout rate. Long boring days in a darkened trailer looking at a computer screen has its downside. Pilots have always said their lives are filled with hours of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror, and while physical danger is missing in that trailer, the job exacts its own emotional toll.”

Reading Captain Larson’s story was painful. I cried. I wish we could go back to those sport warrior days over the Salton Sea, but the world is a dangerous place. I loved my time as a fighter pilot, but I was lucky. Just a few years after we battled above the Salton Sea, I lost two of those friends over North Vietnam. We need both kinds of pilots, but we owe it to them to recognize trouble before it leads to suicide. We need better mental health care all-around – both civilian and military.