What’s in a Name?
By Taylor Marvin
“But God bless drone warfare. I guess because it’s still so new, the DoD functionaries who get to name drones haven’t yet forgotten how to call a spade a spade. There was little reason to doubt what a “Predator” drone intended to do. But I guess that just wasn’t blunt enough. So when time came in 2006 to name its successor, “Reaper” carried the day.(Its builder, General Atomics Aeronautical, more demurely prefers to call it the Predator B.) I’m pretty sure “Reaper” is not intended as a tribute to the great American inventor Cyrus McCormick. When the Reaper reaches the end of its useful life will DoD call its successor the Assassin?”
While Noah makes the very good point that the Pentagon’s favored euphemistic kinetic/non-kinetic distinction is inherently ridiculous, he gets the logic behind the “Predator” name exactly backwards. While the aircraft that would evolve into the MQ-1 was first flown as the “Predator” in 1994, the Air Force only began arming Predators in 2002, meaning that the MQ-1’s menacing name predates its strike role by eight years. Similarly, the MQ-9’s “Reaper” designation isn’t exactly a euphemism — I think its fair to say that few people would be confused about the lethality of an aircraft whose name evokes the personification death. And while the MQ-9’s upcoming, jet powered General Atomics “Avenger” sucessor’s name drips with indulgent self-righteousness, it isn’t exactly misleading: Predators, Reapers, and Avengers all kill.
Anyways, this is all a bit silly — aircrafts’ given names rarely have anything to do with their missions. The F-15 and F-16, both designed from the ground up as ferocious combat aircraft, are innocently designated as the “Eagle” and “Fighting Falcon”, while the more martially named A-5 Vigilante saw most of its service in the reconnaissance role. The Pentagons’s linguistic slight-of-hand is an important part American culture’s internalization of contant war as the new normal. But sometimes a name is just a name.