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Operating in Mid-Air - Can You Imagine Killing Someone on the Other Side of the Earth by the Press of a Button?

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Operating in Mid-Air

Can you imagine killing someone on the other side of the earth by the press[a] of a button?

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, can result in civilian deaths.

The modernized type of warfare, drone strikes, is the focus in the short story "Operating in Mid-Air" that is set in the U.S. The story revolves around the former Air Force pilot, Meghan Tumlins, who now works as a drone operator. “Operating in the[b] Mid-Air” not only shows the critical consequences associated with drone warfare, but also how they affect the individual.[c]

The protagonist Megha[d]n is on a mission surveilling a warehouse in Afghanistan from a control room in Virginia, which consequently is the actual physical setting of the story. The main elements of the physical setting are the main character’s home, her office and the road between them. The road to work is described by the narrator in an irritated manner: “I commute to war five days a week in a station wagon the color of an egg. I count on ten minutes of traffic by the Dunkin’ Donuts intersection. When I slam the car door, I count on the tree above my parking spot depositing a green scrim of pollen on my flight suit.” (p. 1, ll. 9-11). The fact that she for instance regularly slams her car door as if it is a habit accentuates that she is frustrated with her life. Perhaps the reason could be that she is discontented with her current job or even longs for working in the Air Force again seeing that she used to despise and not least mock drone operators, whom she used to work with. She says: “I’m a reach-back geek, and not even a military one. You can imagine the hell I catch for that.” (p. 1, l. 28). It appears that she finds her current position irreleva[e]nt compared to her former job. In keeping with this she narrates: “Something buried in his garden. Could be suspicious. So I keep watching. I log it. I hover and I circle. Warehouse, road, shacks. Nothing. Warehouse, road, shacks.  Nothing. Soccer. Nothing. Goats. A whole lot of nothing.” (p. 2, ll. 13-16). The area she is observing is almost desolate, and there is nothing of interest [f]in the area. This description indicates that she is depressed about her job and thinks about it as if it does not matter. All in all, Meghan is quite dissatisfied with her job. The only thing keeping her from resigning is perhaps the fact that she is paid well and presumably her reason for accepting the job was her child and the financial necessities related to raising him.                                                     The social setting reflects the realities of modern warfare as the story describes the lives of both those who are under surveillance, and of those behind modern technological weapons. Through Meghan and her colleagues, the short story presents the part of the western society involved in wars from behind desks. In contrast the story also presents the rural life in Afghanistan where poverty can lead to people getting involved in terrorist [g]activities, which Daddio is an example of. Moreover, the story portrays the part of society who prefer not to deal with the realities of modern warfare, such as Meghan’s husband Sean.

“Operating in Mid-Air” is a first-person narrative, which mainl[h]y is told in[i] present tense from the perspective of the main character, Meghan Tumlins, as the events occur in “real time”. Therefore, the narrator tell[j]s everything that comes into her mind, when it comes into her mind and tells things from the past, the moment she is reminded of them: “Tumlins,” Dave says. “You seeing this?” And that’s when I realize that there are four cars rolling up to the warehouse and I’ve still been thinking about junior-league soccer” (p. 3, ll. 41-43). Being also a character, the narrator has a limited knowledge regarding the events and other characters seeing that the protagonist’s narrative merely is based on observations and her own thoughts, which the previous quote shows. The story is structured as an inner monologue of the protagonist with flashbacks of the past events: “He was trying to make me feel better, but all that meant was there were a hundred other poisonous things I’d failed to notice that were just waiting for Nico to swallow them and wasn’t I unfit for duty until I could foresee every fucking one?” (p. 3, ll. 28-30). Including this flashback helps clarify why Meghan Tumlins behaves the way she does, and along with the previous quote it emphasizes that she struggles reconc[k]iling her identities as a drone operator and a family mom. The above-mentioned part of her inner monologue not only shows the character’s unspoken thoughts, it also reveals her self-perception as the quote evidently shows that she feels bad about herself and considers herself a lousy mother[l]. Overall, this creates a closer bond between the main character and the reader as we are allowed inside the mind of the narrator and see the situation from her point of view.

The narrative style and the language are constructed in such a way that they reflect the character’s personality. Meghan Tumlins is a former Air Force pilot working in the drone industry, and her tough character is reflected in her remarks about the “shitty little house” (p. 1, l. 43) or “fucking Afghanistan” (p. 1, l. 35). In fact, she says the swear word “fucking” twelve times throughout the story. The slang along with the pejorative words contributes to a quite informal and aggressive tone. √  Additionally, some words are simply repeated to emphasize an idea, such as an uneventful surveillance round where the tone is bored and disappointed, which the third-mentioned quote is an example of.  Furthermore, the use of imagery in the very first quote sets a rather pessimistic and irritated tone, which portrays her as a joyless person, yet the words “egg”, “Donuts” and “scrim” all are things that often can be found in kitchens, hence it seems like she would rather be home with her family. Besides, she narrates: “He leans in and bites my ear gently. I mentally reenlist in my family, re-upping us again. […]” (p. 3, ll. 5-6). The fact that the protagonist feels like she is reenlisting for something whenever she spends time with her family shows that it does not come naturally to her. In fact, it appears that she is the one providing for the family financially since Sean always is home whenever she comes home. Given the nature of Meghan’s job, the author includes war-enriched words such as “red flag”, “F-16”, “Bangana” and “Pressure plate”, which enhances the topic of the short story.

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