Independent Lens: National Bird

About This Episode


National Bird follows the dramatic journey of three U.S. military veterans/whistleblowers - Heather, Daniel, and Lisa - determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war, which has been waged globally for more than a decade. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, each decides to speak out publicly, regardless of the consequences. Their stories take dramatic turns, leading one of them to Afghanistan, where she learns about a tragic incident involving drone warfare. But her journey also gives hope for peace and redemption.

The film explores the difficult circumstances faced by military personnel involved with combat drones, the use of which has transformed modern warfare. Missions are highly classified, and there are no official counts of military or civilian casualties. The need for operators and intelligence analysts is increasing, yet their experiences and perspectives have been largely neglected because of their distance from the battlefield. While it may be true that these veterans don’t sustain battlefield injuries, their psychological wounds can be substantial, leading some to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pilots and analysts observe airstrikes live and in detail, including the aftermath, when survivors pick up human remains for burial. Yet due to the secrecy of their positions, they are prohibited from discussing the details of their experiences with anyone - even their psychiatrists. For some veterans these constraints are too much to handle.