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Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:40 AM

Psychologists Propose Horrifying Solution to PTSD in Drone Operators

Psychologists Propose Horrifying Solution to PTSD in Drone Operators
Drone operators often kill their targets from a continent away, but studies suggest that even thousands of miles of distance cannot mitigate war's devastating psychological effects. But just wait until you hear how researchers propose preventing PTSD, alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide in drone operators.
The latest issue of GQ features a stunning read, written by Michael Powers, about former Air Force drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant and his military service. One of the first pilots to speak out about his experience with the drone program, Bryant paints a frightening portrait of death-dealing from a distance, and the psychological trauma wrought by his nearly six-years of service as a drone operator.

It's a captivating read one definitely worth reading in its entirety but we were particularly struck by the section exploring Bryant's PTSD diagnosis, which he received just a few months after his heavy conscience led him to leave the Air Force:

***CUT***

These effects appeared to spike at the exact time of Bryant's deployment, during the surge in Iraq. (Chillingly, to mitigate these effects, researchers have proposed creating a Siri-like user interface, a virtual copilot that anthropomorphizes the drone and lets crews shunt off the blame for whatever happens. Siri, have those people killed.)


I think that putting Siri in charge of all that death and destruction is wrong headed an, ultimately, will fail. The article reveals evidence that it isn't necessary to be there in the middle of it when the shit comes down. People sitting at a computer terminal in Nevada receive a "moral injury" when placed in these situation. Telling Siri to blow up those people will extract the same toll as operating the drone, guiding the missile, or putting a bullet through he head of another person. War is ugly, but it is part of what we are. Even our nearest relatives, Bonobos and other great apes, fight wars. When a war is necessary, putting these layers of insulation between the soldier and the act will just make unnecessary wars more likely.

If we don't perceive a high cost to an endeavor, we don't think about it quite so much.

If we must fight, then everybody should fight. Every citizen should pay the cost.

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Reply Psychologists Propose Horrifying Solution to PTSD in Drone Operators (Original post)
Agnosticsherbet Oct 2013 OP
Octafish Oct 2013 #1
Agnosticsherbet Oct 2013 #2
Octafish Oct 2013 #36
madokie Oct 2013 #41
cthulu2016 Oct 2013 #7
Jackpine Radical Oct 2013 #10
nadinbrzezinski Oct 2013 #12
sarisataka Oct 2013 #13
FarCenter Oct 2013 #51
Xithras Oct 2013 #16
nadinbrzezinski Oct 2013 #20
MADem Oct 2013 #56
Dash87 Oct 2013 #27
Victor_c3 Oct 2013 #33
Octafish Oct 2013 #38
polichick Oct 2013 #3
Skidmore Oct 2013 #6
polichick Oct 2013 #8
Skidmore Oct 2013 #14
polichick Oct 2013 #18
Skidmore Oct 2013 #21
polichick Oct 2013 #22
Skidmore Oct 2013 #28
polichick Oct 2013 #29
Skidmore Oct 2013 #30
polichick Oct 2013 #31
Skidmore Oct 2013 #35
polichick Oct 2013 #37
solarhydrocan Oct 2013 #9
ann--- Oct 2013 #53
polichick Oct 2013 #55
JVS Oct 2013 #4
Blue_Tires Oct 2013 #23
cthulu2016 Oct 2013 #5
MuseRider Oct 2013 #11
TDale313 Oct 2013 #17
nadinbrzezinski Oct 2013 #26
Baitball Blogger Oct 2013 #15
Denninmi Oct 2013 #24
KT2000 Oct 2013 #19
JHB Oct 2013 #25
GreenPartyVoter Oct 2013 #42
longship Oct 2013 #49
CoffeeCat Oct 2013 #32
Demo_Chris Oct 2013 #39
Pretzel_Warrior Oct 2013 #34
Demo_Chris Oct 2013 #40
CoffeeCat Oct 2013 #44
Demo_Chris Oct 2013 #50
Orrex Oct 2013 #43
lumberjack_jeff Oct 2013 #46
Orrex Oct 2013 #47
d_r Oct 2013 #45
nadinbrzezinski Oct 2013 #48
ann--- Oct 2013 #52
Tierra_y_Libertad Oct 2013 #54

Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:43 AM

1. A moral firewall.

If it were a "just cause," there'd be no shame or guilt.

As these are, at essence, wars for profit, there is big guilt. Why Bush and Cheney aren't hospitalized in an institution for the criminally insane shows just how far the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave has descended.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:52 AM

2. I don't agree that if it is "just cause" there is no shame or guilt.

People who must kill out of pure self defense, or by accident, often suffer from PTSD.

Very few soldiers approach killing and fighting with the idea that they're doing it for McDonald Douglass and the old bottom line, or even for the nation. That patriotic crap is good to maintain order and discipline, and to gin up support for a war, but it slips away in the field. They are put in a situation where they must fight and kill for themselves and their friends. It doesn't matter whether it is a misty rice paddy in Vietnam or a smoke filled room in Fallujah. The big picture type stuff of "just war" or "just cause" has nothing to do with it.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Reply #2)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:56 PM

36. That's all true.

Perhaps I should have included all that you and the others below make clear. Of course, as I've noted previously on DU, that's why the military puts the recruits through dehumanization routines in basic training to make it possible to overcome the humanity in our hearts.

What I want to make clear: When the country is in danger, we can defend it in good conscience. When it's a war for Halliburton and the rest of Corporate America to make a buck, it makes it very difficult to do.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #36)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:08 PM

41. I say I have tp agree with you Octafish

Went through the dehumanization upon entering and through debriefing upon leaving. Neither actually worked though, well if they did they didn't negate all the negative associated with war.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:58 AM

7. Ridiculous

If it were a "just cause," there'd be no shame or guilt.


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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:07 PM

10. Sorry, Octa. I think you're wrong on this one.

Not that the killings are justified, but that the perception of a moral high ground inoculates you against PTSD. The field even recognizes "secondary PTSD," which happens to people treating PTSD cases and thereby traumatized just being exposed to the stories of their patients.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:10 PM

12. Plenty of US troops came home from Europe

And the Pacific with PTSD. It was called something else back then. Killing another human being scars the normal individual for life, regardless of the cause of the war

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:11 PM

13. Most humans

have a natural aversion to killing fellow humans. Even in war most combat soldiers will not fire or will do so intentionally ineffectively so as to avoid killing.
PTSD can occur in anyone, regardless of the justification.

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Response to sarisataka (Reply #13)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 03:08 PM

51. It's more like a third who will not fire for effect in their first battle

That is why green troops are ineffective if kept in a unit and why it is better to use new troops to fill out and bring battle-tested units back up to full strength.

After the first battle, having seen the wounding and killing of their fellow soldiers, the green troops become more effective.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:20 PM

16. Spoken like someone who's never been there.

As one of only a few people on DU who has shot another human being, I can state this unequivocally: It doesn't matter how evil the other guy is, or how much the other guy had his fate coming or "deserved it"...taking the life of another person is a traumatic experience that leaves deep psychological scars.

Nearly 20 years ago I shot a man who was in the middle of committing a violent rape (I've posted about it on DU a few times over the years, so a search will give you the gory details if you want them). He certainly deserved what he received, and I probably saved the woman from even greater physical harm (he had a knife shoved into her neck), but that didn't stop me from puking my guts out after the shooting, it took days for my hands to stop shaking, and several years to stop having weird dreams about it (mostly I kept "hearing" the gurgling noise his body made as his lung sucked air through the bullet hole).

I was traumatized, and I pulled the trigger only once, against a guy who unquestionably "deserved it", and to save a victim who unquestionably did not. Heck, my victim didn't even die...a nearby ER guaranteed that he lived to face a trial and a long prison sentence. I can't imagine the trauma experienced by those who have to kill repeatedly, or even worse, experienced by those who have pulled the trigger only to learn later that they unintentionally took out a wedding, or a bunch of kids playing in an orchard.

Human beings aren't meant to kill each other. There are times when we must do so anyway, but it's never easy, and it's never without shame or guilt...no matter what Hollywood, John Wayne, the chickenhawks, or the Republicans would like you to think.

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Response to Xithras (Reply #16)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:34 PM

20. The good news, there is some, you are normal

Only psychopaths do not react to that.

Why they are well, psycopaths

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Response to Xithras (Reply #16)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 04:56 PM

56. +1 nt

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:40 PM

27. I can't agree. Everybody gets PTSD in wars.

Even soldiers in heavy propaganda places like North Korea get PTSD. People in general, minus sociopaths, feel guilty after killing another human despite how much danger they were in or why they did it.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #1)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:53 PM

33. Most people seem to disagree with your first statement, but for me I believe it

I was an Infantry Platoon Leader in Iraq from Feb 2004-Mar 2005. Guilt and the fact that much of what I saw, did, and/or allowed to happen was for a completely unjustified and "fruitless" war is a huge part of my issues.

I don't think it is the whole root of my issues, but the war not being justified and being for nothing is a huge part of it. At least I could sleep easier at night knowing the stuff that happened in Iraq was for a good cause and my conscious would be a lot easier.

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Response to Victor_c3 (Reply #33)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:01 PM

38. Thank you, Victor_c3.

''Money trumps peace." -- George W Bush on Feb. 14, 2007, uttered at a press conference in which not a single of the callow, cowed press corpse saw fit to ask a follow-up.



I remember Cindy Sheehan tried to bring it to our nation's attention.

There is a difference between defending one's country and fighting in a war for profit. Thank you, Lieutenant, for being brave in both counts.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:54 AM

3. Jesus Christ! What the fuck is wrong with this country?!

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Response to polichick (Reply #3)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:58 AM

6. Better question is "WTF is wrong with mankind?".

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #6)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:04 PM

8. There are a lot of countries that aren't going around the globe killing people.

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Response to polichick (Reply #8)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:13 PM

14. There are lots of countries that kill their own and others with impunity in

any number of horrifiying ways. Somehow we should expect to see ourselves as superhuman and less base than all other peoples of the earth? How many times do we wring our hand and cry to the heavens over some other nation's genocide or torture or massacre or just plain old sociopathic behavior? Ours is no better or worse. Humankind swims in cesspools of its own making regardless of the smokescreen of tribal affiliations.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #14)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:23 PM

18. You're looking at the worst and saying we're better - I'm looking at the best...

and saying let's be more like them.

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Response to polichick (Reply #18)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:35 PM

21. I'm saying that we are not one whit different

than the rest of the human species. Not one whit, and we are fooling ourselves if we look at the trappings of modern civilization and try to claim that we are. We only have to look around our nation at the type and scope of domestic crime to see that.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #21)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:37 PM

22. That's just an excuse not to do anything about our out-of-control mic.

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Response to polichick (Reply #22)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:41 PM

28. No, it's not.

It's an observation and a valid one at that. There's a whole lot of ugly in the human animal. I'm speaking of something much more fundamental than any political shine can hide for long.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #28)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:43 PM

29. So what? Therefore our drone killings are okay?

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Response to polichick (Reply #29)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:46 PM

30. Did I say or imply that?

I made an observation about the nature of the beast.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #30)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:51 PM

31. Yes, you implied it.

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Response to polichick (Reply #31)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:55 PM

35. In what manner?

I must apologize a bit because I am in an unusually crabby mood today but the notion that somehow we (as in the US of A) is somehow above the rest of humanity always grates me a bit. What expectations should we set that should not include the rest of mankind as well? We are not more superlative than any other peoples. That is just a fact.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #35)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:59 PM

37. No worries. A lot of countries could be using drones but choose not to...

I think its time for Americans to say no to the killing done in our name.

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Response to Skidmore (Reply #6)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:04 PM

9. what other countries are drone killing grandmothers picking okra?

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Response to polichick (Reply #3)


Response to ann--- (Reply #53)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 04:55 PM

55. Yeah, things have gotten so crazy.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:55 AM

4. Why not just outsource it to a third world sweatshop for pennies per day?

Save money and let keep the PTSD safely far away.

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Response to JVS (Reply #4)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:38 PM

23. DON'T give them any ideas...

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 11:57 AM

5. Wow. Enders Game comes to life

(Hard to describe the connection without spoilers, but people familiar with the book will get it)

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:09 PM

11. My first thought too.

This is horrifying. Well, the entire thing has always been horrifying to me but to go this far is simply unthinkable.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:21 PM

17. I had the same thought.



It also reminded me of a fact I'd heard about firing squads- that one of the common practices was to load one of the rifles with a blank round. None of the shooters would know which was the blank, so all could realistically believe that perhaps they hadn't fired the shot that killed the prisoner.

I am no expert on the subject, but I'm not sure that the supposed distance or detachment drone strikes seen to give is altogether a good thing. I also don't know if, were I in the situation of having to order a strike, that would make it much easier for me to process. JMO. I think we're fooling ourselves if we think drone strikes are somehow humane- to the ones being struck or the ones ordering the strike.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:40 PM

26. I must admit I am partial to the short story

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:16 PM

15. Siri doesn't even understand me.

Can you imagine the potential for a miscommunication?

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Response to Baitball Blogger (Reply #15)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:38 PM

24. Yup, I ask for directions from A to B

Siri gives me the phone number of a Thai restaurant in Seattle.

This should work out great.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:34 PM

19. It is impossible to reconcile

the behavior of war with our internal morality. The drone operators go home each night so they are whiplashed between two worlds. They go home to children they are raising to be moral human beings and going to work to kill. I would suspect a unique set of problems for these operators.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:39 PM

25. Siri is too tame a name. They shoud use something more macho...

...like 'Skynet' or 'Colossus' or 'Cylon'

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Response to JHB (Reply #25)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:10 PM

42. Skynet came to mind here, too.

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Response to JHB (Reply #25)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 02:23 PM

49. I like Colossus... "Welcome to world control..." nt

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:52 PM

32. This is just awful...

PTSD is a horrible problem and our soldiers should be given extraordinary treatment when it occurs.

With that said, I read this article and it feels like the higher ups order these killings are missing the point.

Our goal shouldn't be to avoid PTSD. Our goal should be to avoid engaging in sociopathic behaviors that cause the PTSD. The PTSD is a signal that the action is wrong for the human psyche. So, let's not do it, ok?

We are not meant to kill other human beings. It's trauma-inducing because we are not built to kill each other. Sociopaths and psychopaths are able to do these things without trauma--because something is horribly wrong with them. NOT RIGHT.

Passing off murder to robots/computers means that we're still killing innocent people.

How about we stop acting like psychopaths and sociopaths, in the first place?

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Response to CoffeeCat (Reply #32)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:03 PM

39. I suppose, but we're really REALLY good at it. nt

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 12:55 PM

34. Siri, bomb those tents

 

<ding ding> I'll get right on that. Don't feel bad about this. Life is short and painful. We're helping these people go to a better place.

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Response to Pretzel_Warrior (Reply #34)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:04 PM

40. Siri, bomb those children...

What children sir, I see only some small terrorists!

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Response to Demo_Chris (Reply #40)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:41 PM

44. We may be able to lessen the PTSD of individual soldiers...

...but really, this affects all of our psyches. Knowing that we live in a country that surgically kills innocent men, women and children--using computers, is a living nightmare to many of us.

If anything, the damage is even greater.

Is this what we are? Is this who we are?

If so, we all suffer from knowing that this is what we allow, as a species.

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Response to CoffeeCat (Reply #44)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 03:06 PM

50. It is apparently acceptable to everyone but the victims....

As for Democrats versus Republicans, all that matters here is the party in power. We certainly can claim no moral high ground, and if anything we are worse. Republicans are in favor of vaporizing foreigners pretty much all the time, and criticize our hesitation. We Democrats, on the other hand, only oppose it when it's the Republicans turn to aim pull the trigger.

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:11 PM

43. Cortana

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Response to Orrex (Reply #43)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:54 PM

46. The guy actually running the drone is no less a tool than the siri/cortana/skynet persona.

Everyone above their pay grade is insulated from the effects.

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Response to lumberjack_jeff (Reply #46)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 02:05 PM

47. Very true--that's the problem exactly

It seems clear that the intent is to create a wall of denial between the operator and the people being killed.

I'm sure that it will work smashingly well in the immediate short term, but what happens hours or days or weeks later when the denial starts to break down, and the operator realizes exactly what he or she has done? Will Siri still be there to hold their hands?

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 01:53 PM

45. this is like science fiction

this kind of crap is how we get to terminator

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Response to d_r (Reply #45)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 02:19 PM

48. Think cyberpunk

and you are very correct

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Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)


Response to Agnosticsherbet (Original post)

Mon Oct 28, 2013, 03:13 PM

54. Maybe being in the dock for war crimes will help.

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