A cluster-F_ over cluster bombs

While the terrorists in Iraq are using poison gas in their attacks (the first time American troops have had to face such weapons in nearly a century), the anti-war twits (NOT the opponents to the Iraq war, but the idiots who are obsessed with “peace at any price”) have found their new bete noire: the cluster bomb.

Cluster bombs were first developed by Nazi Germany. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of little bombs stuffed into a big case, which scatters them all over the targeted area. They’re designed to destroy unarmored or lightly-armored targets, and are ideal for attacking dug-in infantry and light vehicles. Other good targets for cluster bombs runways (one little bomb can wreck a single plane, and a bunch of them on a runway can shut down the airfield) and power plants.

Critics say that unexploded bomblets pose a major hazard to civilians, basically as miniature “land mines” that lie around until someone stumbles across them and sets it off.

Whenever I hear about arguments like this, that some kind of weapon is “too inhumane” for use in warfare, I am reminded of a passage from David Gerrold’s “A Matter For Men.” In this section, the grizzled veteran is helping the young soldier/narrator put on a flamethrower.

“…Let me ask you this: what is it that makes a weapon inhumane?”

“Uh…” I thought about it.

“Let me make it easier for you. Tell me a humane weapon.”

“Um– I see your point.”

“Right. There’s no such thing. It’s like Christmas — it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts.” He came around behind me and started fitting the pads under the straps. “A weapon, Jim — never forget this; lift your arms — is a tool for stopping the other fellow. That’s the purpose — stopping him. The so-called humane weapons merely stop a man without permanently injuring him. The best weapons — you can put your arms down now — are the ones that work by implication, by threat, and never have to be used at all. The enemy stops himself.”

“It’s when they don’t stop” — he turned me around to adjust the fittings in front — “that the weapons become inhumane, because that’s when you have to use them. And so far, the most effective ones are the ones that kill — because they stop the guy permanently.” He had to drop to his knees to cinch the waist strap. “Although… there’s a lot to be said for maiming –“

“Huh?” I couldn’t see his eyes, so I didn’t know if he was joking or not.

“– but that’s asking too much of both the weapon and its user.”

The distinction between “humane” and “inhumane” weapons in war is absurd on its face. There simply isn’t a nice, polite, tidy, decent way to kill others — especially in large numbers. There are some weapons that have been determined to be unacceptable, but these haven’t been outlawed because people think they’re mean and icky and nasty, but because the parties have agreed to it — with the threat of retaliation as the stick to enforce it.

During World War I, chemical weapons were used extensively by all sides — and its subsequent banning was the first application of the “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine. Everyone agreed to stop using them because nobody wanted to be attacked with them. The same principle has been applied to biological and chemical weapons, which eventually evolved into the handy acronyms NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) and WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

But this movement against cluster bombs ought to be a non-starter. They are just too damned useful, and they are far more efficient at their designed purpose than other weapons systems.

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