The Most Cost Effective Weapon in History?
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.)