Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sword Fighting With Flame Throwers

There is the image of two men in a swimming pool filled with gasoline, each threatening the other to light a match. This was the analogy of the Cold War, with our nuclear arsenals more of a threat to all of us at once than anyone alone.

Humans tend to stand on the edges of apocalypses most of their lives. As children we play in a world designed by chemical engineers for whom safety was a laughable afterthought. I myself, hidden with my little friends in a bathroom, poured together whatever chemicals I could find -- chlorine bleach, lye, lime, and cleaning agents of many kinds, just to see what kinds of bubble or odors they would make.
I think that society as a whole is doing exactly that, and just as in this picture, a firestorm could erupt at any moment, as fools abound. As a young person, I would fill my car with gas, puffing a cigarette -- a complete fool -- even though there were many instances of filling stations lighting on fire because of that very thing. Eventually the business and communities got wise and most gas stations post "no smoking" signs, which I guess some number of people probably obey.

Wars are now fought between countries that threaten each other with weapons somewhat less frightening than nuclear ones, but nevertheless, no matter how technologically advanced or backward the combatants might be, they will each employ whatever tactics can achieve some semblance of a balance of power.

We, the US, have weapons that most countries cannot even imagine, and similarly we cannot imagine using them. The age of firebombing cities is hopefully in the past, so our daisy cutters and various massive bombs and missiles are probably not much use these days. However, if an enemy amassed itself in such a way that we could use them without destroying a nearby city, then they are still on the table. However it is not these weapons that are so frightening.

We also have biochemical weapons. We do not promote their use, and for the most part they are reserved for some ultimate future conflagration where all holds are not barred. The problem with biochems are that anyone, of any level of sophistication, is able to produce them fairly easily. Our advanced chemical skills might make the most deadly and insidious of those kinds of weaponized materials, but snakes, spiders, fish, plants, and microbes of all kinds are also very skilled in the production of toxins. 

Simply getting hold of pure elements, especially certain metals, can provide for very insidious and effective toxins that can be secretly and undetectably placed in food or water. But there are so many toxins available from natural ingredients, from man made sources and from accidental industrial activities -- it is a wonder we are still alive at all. Even natural disease organisms are continuously threatening us, with no enemy action whatsoever.

We have electronics, but as we can see in the ancient medieval lands like Afghanistan, electronics can be employed even by the seemingly illiterate mountain men of the nearly uninhabitable lands they call home. But regardless, the electronics we are so proud of are mostly manufactured in Asia -- not in the USA. We might reserve the most advanced stuff for ourselves, but we are not so ahead of that curve. Whatever fancy guided missiles, sensors, jammers, encryptors and so forth that we can build can be built by many others throughout the world.

The one thing we have that a primitive country does not is a fleet of satellites. We have the ability to peer down on just about anyone at any time, any place, day or night, clouds or clear. This gives us a lot of information so that all the warfare happens where the bad guys live, and not where we live. The bad guys cannot see us as well as we can see them. But, instead of surrendering in the face of overwhelming odds, they cover themselves with women and children.

So, even though we know where to bomb, we cannot do so. At least not if we are reluctant to "inflict collateral damage". I, myself, loathe the killing of noncombatants in any war. It seems like a form of cowardice to use any tactics that endangers the innocents, whether as an offensive or defensive posture, yet it goes on continuously in all the current battles, by all sides.

We have a few tricks that might sway the battles of those kinds in our favor. If we can make our stand-off weapons smarter -- the Predator drone weapons, cruise missiles, smart bombs, etc. --  and smaller, miniaturized to the size of beer cans instead of oil drums or Volkswagens -- then we can minimize the collateral damage. Extreme accuracy in every situation, such as being able to strike only the bad guys even in a crowded area filled with women and children, can also be achieved using some of our most sophisticated technology, smart bullets, special marking subtances, laser pointers and so on.

Yet, even then, should we be able to perfectly kill only the "armed combatants" in a mixed crowd, you can be certain that the enemy will consist of women and children, armed to the teeth. I can't imagine what we will become if we are still involved in these wars for very much longer. The game of measures and counter-measures between life forms has been going on for billions of years, and for humanity it will become far more grotesque should it continue for even a few more years. Not even technology can erase the horror of wars.

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