Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The Most Cost Effective Weapon in History?

with 18 comments

Turns out there is an effective, cheap, low-tech alternative to this…

There is terrible news out of Iraq recently. I know there’s bad news pretty much constantly out of Iraq, but like the blowing up of the Golden Domed Mosque last year, this stands out. An Al Qaeda suicide bomber penetrated three layers of security in a Baghdad Hotel and blew up a meeting of senior Sunni tribal leaders. Four Sheiks were killed outright among the twelve dead. These were the guys who had been cooperating with the US to fight Al Qaeda in Anbar province.

It’s terrible for so many reasons. It is sure to increase tensions obviously, and people in Iraq are way too wound up and trigger happy as it is. More importantly, that the Americans couldn’t protect the Sheiks shows how powerless we really are in Iraq, both our friends and our enemies will note this. In fact consorting with Americans is becoming the kiss of death throughout the Arab world, this is a very bad development.

And it didn’t just happen, Bush’s ham fisted foreign policy got us to this point. Which sadly continues unabated I might add, now we apparently think we can pay people to be our allies in Iraq. Didn’t Bush ever see Lawrence of Arabia? Not only can you not buy an Arab’s loyalty with money, it has the opposite effect. They will take your money to use for their own purposes, and loathe you all the more. Look how well the warlords we have bought off in Afghanistan are doing, yeah, they’re big players in the fight against the Taliban. Not.

Moving past politics to military affairs, this assassination once again demonstrates the increasing power and sophistication of human guided munitions. After four hundred years, someone figured out a countermeasure to the gun…the suicide bomber. They are simple, cheap, and basically impervious to gunfire. Sure, a few of them get shot before they reach their target, but many or most get through. And since they are a “fire and forget” weapon, it doesn’t matter how many you shoot. Defending yourself against a weapon that can come at you anytime, anywhere, in the form of anybody is an impossible task. Can everyone in America live 24-7 in a bomb proof suit? For all practical purposes, the terminator is here. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than any mechanical version we will be building anytime soon.

The point I am making here is that propaganda has obscured the fact that suicide bombings are simply a development in weapons technology, no different than the stealth bomber or the cruise missile. There’s nothing unfair about using them in a war, because war by definition is suspension of the rules. I mean, there’s nothing fair and sporting about flying stealth bombers from Kansas to the other side side of the world drop bombs on unsuspecting people in the middle of the night either, is there? Worst of all, the suicide bomber is a terribly effective weapon simply because of its almost zero cost. In terms of bang for the buck, the suicide bomber is very likely the most cost effective weapon in history.

And right now the only defence against them is basically living in a sealed enclave. This is what Israel has done on its “borders” and what the US has done in the green zone in Baghdad. At of course staggering cost with little to show for it. (And suicide bombers have penetrated the multiple layers of security in even the green zone.) Security walls will not save Israel or the US occupation in Iraq, any more than the Berlin Wall saved communism. Walls are a temporary and expensive solution that not only ignore the problems they are meant to solve, they actually make the problems worse. Islamic Republic of Hamas anyone?

I’m not saying we can’t fight people who are using suicide weapons, I’m saying that we need to understand that they represent a fundamental change in the evolution of warfare, and no mere application of firepower, armour, or willpower is going to fix it. World War Two thinking and fall of communism thinking is not only not going to get us out of this mess, they are going to make things worse. Like smokeless gunpowder, the suicide bomber is a development that is fundamentally changing the face of warfare. Right now it is the ultimate smart weapon and will get even smarter in the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen whether we can adapt to it, or go the way of the Ottoman Empire before us.

“Human guided munitions are the wave of the future.”
—Doug Stych, 1983, after the Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon.

(It is believed that limited use of web resolution screenshots from movies in a non profit context constitutes Fair Use under US copyright law. The above image of a cybernetic terminator is so claimed. It is an iconic image, it is not being used for profit, and it is central to illustrating the post. Credit: © 1991 StudioCanal Image S.A. All Rights Reserved.)


Written by unitedcats

June 27, 2007 at 7:58 am

18 Responses

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  1. I don’t think suicide missions are anything new in warfare either.


    June 27, 2007 at 8:53 am

  2. I think something must be said against the idea of modern warfare altogether, especially involving those possessing nuclear technology. It is a crime against humanity to initiate such a conflict.


    June 27, 2007 at 9:27 am

  3. That we’ve kept the nuclear weapon sheathed is no excuse, it keeps all other countries from intervening against us in any way, except to abstain and exercise watchful waiting to see if we cure ourselves of this disease.

    Apart from that nuclear capacity no one fears our military any longer. It has been broken in Iraq, and will not recover soon if ever. Nor should it, perhaps, be restored in a way that it could ever act as a threat to the world again.


    June 27, 2007 at 9:30 am

  4. This administration is the most dangerous since Hitler. More dangerous, because nuclear powered. Think on it.


    June 27, 2007 at 9:32 am

  5. If Hitler was Bush, World War Two would have consisted of Germany invading Poland with only ten thousand troops and spending the next four years bogged down fighting Polish partisans. I disagree, Bush is no Hitler for so many reasons, but thanks for a great idea for a blog post!

    Suicide missions are nothing new, carefully strapping explosives onto people (with or without vehicles) and using them as guided missiles as part of a regular military arsenal dates from the kamikazes of WW2, where it was a failure due to poor tactics. The idea was shelved for decades to be revived by the Tamil Tigers and has been used with increasingly deadly effect since then.

    People have been claiming that warfare is obsolete because of increasing deadliness since the invention of the crossbow. They’ve always been wrong before and I see no reason why they aren’t wrong now. The tactics and methods constantly evolve, that’s all. Sometimes new weapons or methods of fighting change history, gunpowder made the feudal system obsolete for example. I think the suicide bomber is going to be the death knell for colonialism and empire, already mortally wounded by the introduction of smokeless gunpowder 100 years ago.

    As always thanks for the thought provoking comments. —Doug


    June 27, 2007 at 10:32 am

  6. I enjoyed your excellent post.

    The import and impact of the suicide bomber on contemporary warfare has been unquestionably understated and swept under the rug for years. The genrerals and commanders-in-chiefs of successive administrations seem to have completely ignored the specificity of this development, in that they apparently have made no attempt to develop a direct, technological antidote to it, walls not withstanding.


    June 27, 2007 at 11:46 pm

  7. Oh boo hoo… looks like were going to have to throw in the towel, and just bury all of our weapons.

    The mighty suicide bomber is upon us! Nobody is safe.

    We are just going to have to listen to ‘them’ cause they are so tough.



    June 28, 2007 at 7:02 am

  8. It dignifies these bombers to discuss them in the above way.

    Lets discuss the ‘cradle to bombing’ indoctrination being done to so many arab kids.
    How about the dipiction of Mickey Mouse in a Bomb belt as a tool for brainwashing these kids.

    Only a culture of death can spawn this.

    We are talking about a culture where fathers KILL their own daughters for being raped for gods sake.

    Nothing good has come out of their culture since 800AD.

    So its no wonder they strap bombs on their own kids, and bomb their own people. They are animals.. humans of the LOWEST order.
    They will NEVER advance because of THEMSELVES.

    Homocide bombers should not be given the dignity of any press coverage or discussion, it only feeds their insanity.

    We should make a policy of wrapping their remains in pig blood for all to see.


    June 28, 2007 at 7:18 am

  9. Dehumanization. That’s not a new tactic either.


    June 28, 2007 at 9:08 am

  10. You should hear the stories the rest of the world hears about America, and see the pictures of your own carnage.


    June 28, 2007 at 9:12 am

  11. Wow. Yeah, there’s no debate with comments like that. 40 years ago some Americans said the same about the Vietnamese, 70 years ago about the Japanese, 90 years ago about the Germans, last century about the Indians, etc. All accompanied by ferocious self-righteous bloodletting on our part that made and makes our enemy’s pale in comparison. And they’re the “culture of death?” Go figure.


    June 28, 2007 at 11:09 am

  12. Suicide bombings are simply a development in weapons technology.

    An interesting and provocative point.


    June 28, 2007 at 12:34 pm

  13. Thanks, glad someone understood me. I wasn’t defending terrorism nor was I suggesting surrender. In fact it’s only the far Right that seems to talk about surrender, which I see as further evidence of just how logically weak their position is these days. But I digress.

    I’m just trying to look at the situation dispassionately, because no one has ever won a war yet by relying on name calling, demonization, and hysteria.

    More than one war has been lost that way though.


    June 28, 2007 at 1:24 pm

  14. What war are you hoping to win? Iraq? Afghanistan?


    June 28, 2007 at 3:17 pm

  15. No one should ever win a war. All sides should lose.


    June 28, 2007 at 3:18 pm

  16. The question should be ‘how much do we lose?’ The sooner we figure out how to reduce our losses, the better.


    June 28, 2007 at 3:19 pm

  17. By contrast, all sides should always gain from peace.


    June 28, 2007 at 3:21 pm

  18. I’m so tempted to comment , such a thought provoking post.So much so that I’m just going to absorb and think instead. I’m choosing to boomerang your remark w/ a twist.Please allow the plagiarism.
    As always thanks for the thought provoking comments. —I2TF.


    June 28, 2007 at 3:26 pm

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