This time, all the bombs
will be above average

Eking out a crumb of truth,
every six years



Whilst leafing through a copy of TLD 18 the other day — reliving the glory of those long-lost, myth-misty days of ink on paper — I came across the lead segment I wrote for that issue's "Recon from Roanoke," our standing department of short takes. We published TLD 18 in September 1997, but the segment in question seems to have some, how you say, contemporary relevance:

Pinpoint carpet-bombing

"Pinpoint accuracy replaced brute force," is how narrator Gerald McRaney characterized the performance of the American Empire's wonder weapons during the Gulf War, in a documentary shown recently on the Imperial Military Propaganda Channel — excuse me — the History Channel. (Darn it, I always get that wrong.)

I'm not sure when that documentary was made, but within the past few months — a full six years after Mr. Bush's War, please note — we have finally been permitted to learn that the United State's so-called smart weapons hit their designated targets only about half the time. As a result, there's been a lot of sniggering and head-shaking and commenting about how truth is always the first casualty in war — "Those rascally Pentagon types and their news management! Imagine them concealing their inefficiency like that!"

What I haven't seen is any speculation about what happened to the 50 percent of the "smart" bombs that didn't hit their designated targets in Baghdad. They didn't magically dematerialize in midair, after all. What did they hit? Private homes and businesses? Schools, mosques, hospitals, and orphanages? Air-raid shelters?

I suppose we'll have to wait another six years for the Yankee War Ministry to revise those low-ball estimates of civilian casualties — upward. Radically upward. In 2003, we can tune in to catch Mr. McRaney's update on the, ahem, History Channel.

As it turns out, the War Ministry is still keeping pretty quiet about the number of civilians it "accidentally" murdered last time in Iraq, but there is another revelation that does seem to have fully emerged, finally, this very year: namely, that 90 percent of the munitions dropped on Iraq during the 1991 war weren't smart bombs at all! They were the same kind of American dumb bombs that the inhabitants of Europe and Japan became intimately familiar with during the 1940s. Readers of military journals and think-tank white papers may have gotten clued in to this before 2003, but mass dumb-bombing has certainly never loomed large in the casual news consumer's image of the 1991 war.

After all, most Americans don't read: they just watch TV. (I do read, but books, mostly.) And what most people remember, I'm pretty sure, is the same thing I remember: a series of carefully plotted, highly cinematic snippets of miracle weapons at work, narrated by the genial, portly Reichsmarschall Schwarzkopf. Recall how the kindly Oberbefehlshaber chortled over the luck of that truck driver who barely cleared the bridge before the V-weapon hit it? What good, ghastly, video-game fun that was! How could you forget it?

On the other hand, how could you remember images of low-tech carpet bombing that you were never allowed to see?

If I may digress momentarily, it occurs to me that the case of the lucky truck driver actually might have struck some viewers as more horrifying than footage of bombs dropping randomly on cities from high altitude, World War II-style. However self-serving his formulation may have been, Stalin was on to something when he said that a single death is a tragedy but a million deaths are a statistic. The jovial Reichsmarschall himself is on record telling us that it was only through sheer luck that the American air-pirates didn't succeed in slaughtering that driver.

But it probably required a moral imagination unbarbarized in the first place to wonder about that truck driver — who he was, what he was thinking about as he drove, whether he had children at home — and accordingly become nauseated at Schwarzkopf's cold grisly schtick. It probably also required an unbarbarized imagination to wonder about the truck drivers who weren't so lucky and whose fate wasn't broadcast for us to see.


After the Empire consummates its next homicidally humanitarian frenzy in Iraq, it's impossible to imagine what nasty revelations will leak out over the ensuing six to twelve years, contradicting the contemporary propaganda, yet earning only the most perfunctory attention from the lords of Minitrue. But it's equally impossible to imagine there won't be some revelations.

Those Imperial spokesmen who are willing to stipulate that the first-generation smart bombs weren't all that smart are rushing to assure us now that the new smart bombs are the real deal, finally. If you read closely, though, you may come down with a case of the niggling doubt. Apparently it's not so much a case of existing technology having been perfected as, once again, first-gen technology being newly deployed. According to a CBS News report of January 27, "The Air Force has stockpiled 6,000 ... guidance kits in the Persian Gulf to convert ordinary dumb bombs into satellite-guided bombs, a weapon that didn't exist in the first war." [Emphasis added.] ("Iraq Faces Massive U.S. Missile Barrage")

Well, for all I know, the brand-new stuff just out of the box will work as advertised this time (even though that didn't happen last time and almost never does). Maybe the Empire's hot new genius bombs will be able to automatically identify a civilian truck driver with a load of gravel in back and six kids at home, and hover in the air until he drives safely away. Maybe truck drivers in Iraq won't have to be so lucky this time.

Assuming they stay out of Baghdad on der Tag, that is. If that CBS News report is accurate, another doubt about our rulers' gentle humanity may niggle its way into our minds, however treasonously. Unlike their over-achieving bombs, the Empire's cruise missiles may still be having a little trouble with the Stanford-Binet. According to CBS, the Empire is planning to start the war with massive missile attacks, and the report quotes a "Pentagon official" as saying, "There will not be a safe place in Baghdad" during the missile storms. Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't sound too civilian-friendly. The battle plan, by the bye, is called "Shock and Awe."

Let's plan to check back in 2009. By then, this war's bodyguard of lies may be nodding a bit, and we can start to find out just how well the Empire's satellite-guided gizmos succeeded in introducing Controlled Democracy to Iraq without butchering an inordinate number of Controlled Voters. Meanwhile, let's hope that the men, women, and children of Baghdad may enjoy at least as much luck as that truck driver did in 1991.

March 7, 2003

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