Our Military Calls Drone Victims Bug Splats; This Gigantic Photo of a Kid's Face Proves Otherwise

The #NotABugSplat art project makes it clear that people killed by strikes aren't crushable insects.

(Photo: Notabugsplat)

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at GOOD.

Thanks to a provocative art installation, drones flying over Pakistan might catch a hard-to-ignore image with their cameras: the gigantic face of a smiling child. The project #NotABugSplat has placed a huge image flat on the ground, and the child’s visage looks skyward, right into the lens of a drone.

The installation, which is run by an anonymous collective of Pakistani and American artists, is designed to raise awareness about the number of civilians who have been killed by drones in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan. The raids in this region of the country are due to its close proximity to al-Qaida hideouts in Afghanistan. According to the project’s website, more than 380 drone strikes have killed more than 3,500 innocent Pakistanis—200 of them children.

The name has its roots in the slang the U.S. military uses to describe a person killed by a drone strike. The military uses the callous term, according to the #NotABugSplat website, because “viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.”

Human rights activists and politicians around the world have urged the Obama administration to end the strikes because the U.S. isn’t at war with Pakistan. Despite those demands, the killing of that nation’s civilians continues. 

The massive photo makes it impossible to ignore that a life is being stamped out by the strikes. The unnamed child in the image is still alive, but both parents were killed in a strike. The activists and artists behind the installation hope that when it’s obvious to drone operators that they’re killing an innocent person—not a bug—a sense of empathy and humanity will kick in before the trigger button is pushed. 

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