Katherine Chandler researcher, critic and artist

Katherine Chandler
American Kamikaze

Images from Television Guided Drone Attacks, Test Flight, 1944

In 1934, Vladamir Zworykin, the lead engineer for Radio Corporation of America’s (RCA) new television technologies, circulated a memorandum, “A Flying Torpedo with an Electric Eye.” He outlined how imaging systems created at RCA could guide aerial weapons, integrating the systems with remote controlled aircraft also in development at the time. Zworykin claimed the television-guided system would have the same effects as a suicide bomber. This chapter examines how the United States Navy took up this project – and its subsequent failure – during World War II, flying the American kamikazes for a month-long mission in the South Pacific in 1944. It studies how the human and nonhuman parts of the drone were organized to efface the role of the operator and position the assault system as a technical analogue to a kamikaze, figuring “us” and “the enemy” in the process. Such distinctions were constituted by the Navy project, contrasting the “technical” deaths caused by drones and “inhumane” tactics of the enemy that the drone mimicked as the groundwork of their early development.

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