Monday, August 08, 2005

 

Designs of War

I've been pondering something for many weeks now. I don't even know how this will read when I get done, but it's been weighing on me. If you think you can explain to me why, and what it means, please do.

NOTE: It occurs to me to offer a warning that any of my readers with tender sensibilities or an aversion to things that sound threatening or scary might want to skip this post. I don't get graphic or gory, but some might be disturbed by the description of munitions and their effects.

Many weeks ago now, we had a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) detonate just on the other side of our compound wall (outside the FOB). The blast was loud, and did the usual shake-up and shake-off of any plaster remotely loose. The doors flew open, but other than another (boarded up) window breaking into pieces and falling behind the plywood, we suffered no physical damage. Thankfully, no one was outside in the vicinity when it hit.

We've become quite adept at identifying explosive types and locations by the sound, and more importantly, by the accoustic, blast wave, and air compression that accompanies the explosions. (I think some of us harbor secret desires to be on some Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) team, and not just to be part of the beautiful people (who happen to look at a lot of dead guys).

Most of us can distinguish rocket from mortar (rockets whistle through the air, the mortar makes less noise after the "Poof" at launch; mortars usually come in groups of 2-4, rockets are usually solo). We can tell both from VBIED (VBIEDs are usually much bigger explosions, and carry all the after-effects of large artillery shells, of which most of them consist.) For all explosions, we can generally tell if on or off the FOB (which is not small), and where in the city (Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, US Special Forces, government, or against one of the gates or against a convoy somewhere on the main supply route (MSR).

Well this VBIED in our neighborhood, even if outside the FOB proper, impacted us in a way we hadn't quite expected.

It rained car parts all over our building and front, rear and side areas. Bits of hose, pipe, frame, rubber, plastic, most pieces not much bigger than your hand. Thankfully, we weren't subjected to any pieces of the other type of (organic) matter that usually accompanies such detonations. (It may have been remotely detonated, or we were just spared the forensics.) The specialists who deal with such things came and scooped most everything up.

They were especially interested in the other pieces of debris from the explosion that fell around our building: shrapnel. Now as I've mentioned from time to time, being in military intelligence (MI), I have never had any opportunity to see what might otherwise be commonplace (or at least experienced from time to time) in combat arms units. I really did not expect what we found.

When a high explosive (HE) artillery round explodes, there are multiple effects that are designed to be triggered by the explosion. There is the blast itself and its force, there are combustion effects, especially if there are any fire accelerants or other combustibles in the vicinity, and there is shrapnel. Shrapnel is intentionally caused by the projectile itself (and other metal packaging or metal objects pulverized nearby) exploding on impact or detonation.

Okay, okay, all of that I expect. But this was the surprise part. Projectiles are designed to fragment in specific ways to maximize the effect of the shrapnel. This in effect means that this rather large blob of metal is of a particular metallurgy and machined in such a way as to produce shards (almost flakes) of very sharp edged metal.

What we found could almost be compared to knife blades. One piece we passed around (before it was collected) was about the size of a Bowie knife blade, just about as sharp around all of its edges, with a somewhat denser fatness in the center of the piece. (My guess is that's not an accident either, to give the piece a weight of density to carry it further with greater velocity. Kind of how a well made knife is machined for balance and heft.)

Which is what first got me to thinking. Technological advances have provided us with an incredible capacity for destruction and mayhem. We just spent a couple of days on the range which I posted here. We experienced in some small way the power and destructive capability of our M240B 7.62mm machine guns (mid size), our M2 .50 caliber machine guns (bigger), and the AT4, an anti-tank rocket designed to penetrate and cause a detonation inside a vehicle.

Anyone who watches modern action flicks sees (simulated) versions of terrible destruction, and maybe it's true that Americans today have grown increasingly desensitized to scenes of carnage and destruction.

But I have to say, standing next to these powerful weapons when they discharge, or picking up a fragment that was intended to tear through both metal and flesh, might give anyone pause. Like I said, it made me think.

Listen, I know we are at war, I know we are at war even if we don't think so. I know there are states, and non-state groups, individuals, and all manner of people driven by ideology and simple hate who will continue to try to destroy our nation, our citizens, our friends, and our very way of life. I believe strongly in the concept of a "Just War," and I am certain we are in the middle of one. So don't misunderstand what I'm going to say next.

War and violence have always been a part of our fallen natures. In the way animals may seem remorseless in the killing of prey, somehow we as humans are capable of the same detachment and apparent unconcern when inflicting harm upon each other.

Sure, we first seek food and survival. In prehistory, that no doubt took place on the scale of clans and tribes, eventually to the point of kingdoms and states. Even with the advent of philosophies and religious observance, wars did not end. "There shall be wars and rumors of wars," foretold Jesus, as he ended His earthly ministry as Man.

Once fed and secure, it seems the hands and minds of the clever will earn their due, and work their destruction. Something about idle minds I suppose. At first for self, then for kin and clan, eventually for country. I can appreciate how one might fervently desire to be a pacifist, even if I could never be one myself.

That is why the concept of Just War is so important. The impulses for violence and destruction will always be with us. Evil and hate will often be its motive, and initiator. But unless we surrender to evil, or try to appease those who threaten to destroy us; unless we offer tribute in gold or the human sacrifice of willing bondage or self-genocide; we must harness those impulses of our lesser selves in channeling that violence on behalf of good.

We need desperately to control our lesser selves, but we need to overcome these clear and present dangers to the very survival of our civilization.

Seek all great wisdom of the Ages, the words revealed of God, the great utterances of men and women faced with the challenge of death or victory. Society desperately needs the old moral and spiritual frameworks that faddish modernity discarded as so much old fogginess and cant.

We idle upon the crossroads of a critical time in our history, with technological power and capabilities perhaps beyond our capacity to control them. We try to see down the road, see how it all turns out, what way we must turn.

Whatever happens next, whatever path we take, the potential cost of error may be greater than we can bear. And we're running out of time.

If reasonable men and women can agree that the next catastrophic terrorist act -- carried out by terrorists but surely funded and sponsored by nation states -- may very well involve nuclear weapons, then I would ask:
Will we be safer the longer we wait to deal with the real sources of the threat?
And if the answer is no, then like Michael Ledeen I would say, "Faster Please!"

(Linked as a Covered Dish lunch special at Basil's Blog. Also linked at Monday Winds of War at Winds of Change.)



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