Copyright John T. Reed

‘Smart’ bomb kits

I saw on TV that they have kits to make “dumb” bombs (unguided) “smart” (guided) bombs. The kit consists of a set of movable fins and a radio receiver that receives instructions from GPS or laser and use the fins to guide the bomb.

Steel reinforcing bar falling from 50,000 feet

In view of the government’s squeamishness about civilian casualties and our appearing to wage war too brutally, I wondered why they don’t strap one of those “smart” kits to a piece of rebar. “Rebar” is short for steel reinforcing bar which is used inside concrete to make it stronger. In other words, it’s just a straight piece of metal. But if you drop it from 50,000 feet and guide it into the hood of an enemy truck, I expect it will end the usefulness of that truck’s engine. I also expect it would clear the bowels and bladders of anyone who was nearby at the time, like in the driver’s seat, albeit without physically injuring them.

It would make a point and destroy the truck engine without the arguably overkill of an explosive bomb. In other words, very little violence. No fire or explosion caused by the contents of the item dropped from the plane. The rebar itself would be cheap. The kits, less so. Of course, the plane to drop it would cost the same as with explosive bombs.

Short out the enemy’s power grid

During one of our wars against Iraq, we dropped some sort of device that spread falling electric wires across the distribution wires of Iraq’s power grid, shorting them out. That’s another non-explosive, yet effective, weapon.

I have seen some shows on cable TV showing the increasing number of non-lethal weapons available to and being used by police. Readers will recall that the police used to have nothing but injurious and usually deadly weapons. A theoretical argument could be made in favor of the U.S. military broadly using non-lethal weapons. Such weapons would allow our military to be more appropriately aggressive in certain missions in this climate of squeamishness about war.

Tear gas

A non-lethal weapon that civilian police often use to good effect is tear gas. Why don’t we use that in military operations?

I believe we ratified a treaty that banned it. We need to unratify that treaty. We can sign one that says we will try to take those affected by tear gas prisoner rather than slaughtering them while they are blinded. But that should be the limit of our restrictions on tear gas use in military operations. Unless the enemy got gas masks, tear gas would have been very effective at clearing Fallujah buildings without destroying them or risking the lives of U.S. Marines unnecessarily in 2004.

I support rules of war against the use of poison gas but I see no reason to prohibit the use of non-poison gases.

No risk to the enemy

I quickly admit the problem of letting our enemies try to kill our men and women without risking their own lives and limbs. Talk about asymmetrical war!

The reasons for us to kill or maim enemy fighters are to

  1. deter them
  2. punish them
  3. terminate them

Deterrence does not seem to have universal effect in the Middle East where many enemy fighters are suicide bombers or commit the military equivalent of “suicide by cop,” that is, engaging in military actions where they have no hope of surviving, like the 2004 Fallujah battle against U.S. Marines. Deterrence had little or no effect against disciplined Nazi or fanatical Japanese soldiers in World War II.

To be sure, the 60,000 Iraqis who surrendered during Desert Storm did seem to be affected by the deterrence value of exploding U.S. weapons.

Punishing the enemy is emotionally satisfying—President Bush’s speech from the rubble of the World Trade Center appealed to that—but it is really not an appropriate mission for the military. For one thing, it starts to make us sound like the Old World’s many eternally feuding factions. One 2007 Doonesbury comic strip had an Iraqi Army solider telling a U.S. ally that he had to kill another Iraqi because that Iraqi’s relative had previously killed his relative. “When?” the American asked. “1347.”

The military’s job is to accomplish the mission and take care of the welfare of the U.S. troops. We are also required to abide by the various Geneva Conventions and other treaties we have ratified regarding the rules of war. Generally, it is immoral and illegal to kill an enemy soldier who is no longer a threat to you. He must be taken prisoner instead.

Punishment is the province of war crimes trials and civilian courts.

Terminating the enemy by killing him or rendering him so maimed that he is no longer a threat is a punishment, but it is also a permanent solution to the problem of his propensity to harm U.S. people or property.

I do not get the impression that the U.S. wishes it had killed more German and Japanese soldiers during World War II. In other words, we do not regret accepting the surrender of those who surrendered and were released after the war. I do get the impression that we wish we had killed fewer civilians in those wars.


However, what about the advantages of non-lethal weapons? It certainly gives us a higher moral ground from which to fight. Public relations is clearly part of Twenty-First Century wars.

My other Web articles on the military and civilian squeamishness about turning the military loose essentially say that we either need to get over our squeamishness or stop putting U.S. military personnel in harm’s way in wars we are unwilling to win. Use of non-lethal weapons might satisfy both sides by letting the U.S. military personnel be as aggressive toward the enemy as they need to be while satisfying the “I love war in the abstract but not in the concrete” chicken-hawk hand wringers in the civilian leadership.

Non-explosive war heads would cause far fewer collateral damage casualties. They would be a little cheaper to manufacture. They can be as effective as explosive war heads for many targets if accurate enough.

Just let our troops be effective on way or the other

My basic position is that I really don’t care whether the U.S. military uses lethal or non-lethal weapons. But I do want them to be allowed in every case to use whatever they need to accomplish the mission and protect the welfare of our troops. The current policy of putting them in harm’s way then handicapping them with ridiculous rules of engagement that render them ineffective is insane, immoral, and stupid at every level.

Actually, I saw on TV that the U.S. military has, on occasion, dropped “smart” bombs in which the explosive war head was replaced by sand or another non-explosive material. So I am not suggesting anything the military has not already done.

The military should use more precision, no-explosive weapons when they are enough to get the particular mission accomplished. They should not go so far in that direction that our troops cannot get explosive munitions dropped on targets when explosive munitions are what’s needed.

John T. Reed

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