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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.

Comments (28)

Jay, your'e all heart...Ame... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Jay, your'e all heart...American cluster bombs are still exploding and killing up to 300 people a year in Vietnam, 60% of them children... Your urging we can't have any restrictions on useful weapon stystems that kill civilians wide of the mark, and long after the hostilities are over, but when terrorists use civilians as cover you are the first one to cry 'foul'.

Jay,I think some e... (Below threshold)


I think some effort (and there is) should be put in to a short timer on the bomblets so that they self-detonate after a short period of time.

There are no humane weapons, but there are systems that could be revised to to work with both greater efficiency as well as less risk to the general populace.

Well bless your bleeding li... (Below threshold)

Well bless your bleeding little heart "stevie boy". Next time we go to war we will drop them cookies and milk.

For what it's worth, about ... (Below threshold)

For what it's worth, about a decade or so back there was a laser weapon developed that would temporarily incapacitate the enemy by blinding.

It was cancelled, because there was no way to insure the blinding wouldn't be permanent except by dialing the power back to where it was only a temporary (like a minute or two) - and even then it was seen as too risky and inhumane.

But bullets, bombs, missiles... they're okay.

Makes you wonder sometimes...

Steve, are you as equally c... (Below threshold)

Steve, are you as equally concerned about the 3 million people who were slaughtered in Cambodia and RVN when we retreated?

Nah...didn't think so.

Nuke the bastards.... (Below threshold)

Nuke the bastards.

It may sound absurd but e... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

It may sound absurd but even the State Department was upset about the Israelis 'misusing' American manufactured cluster bombs in the recent conflict in Lebanon. The UN says that "nearly all the Israeli cluster bombs were fired in the last three days of the conflict, after a UN ceasefire deal had been reached, but before it came into effect. thereby yielding little military advantage".

metprof. Yes sure this is a point for staying in Iraq....but woudn't the slaughter in Cambodia happened anyway, and didn't the invasion of the north Viernamese in 1978 and 79 end the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime..

jhow66.This is where consevatives and liberals are world views apart..Conservatives would say that heavy unavoidable civilian deaths from cluster bombs, Abu Ghraib, Haditha are the unfortunate by-products of war. And liberals would say precisely, and this why they are against wars in general, and this one in particular.

Yeeeee-haaaa! Man alive t... (Below threshold)

Yeeeee-haaaa! Man alive this Jay Tea is just about a genius! Its an honor and a pleasure to read the fine writing stylings of this young man! You are so brave! Them liberal hippy types would probably shrink away from advocating the killing of innocent civilians, but you realize how titanic this struggle is, and if we have to kill a few innocents to provide them their freedom, then so be it! And I loved that quote. Very brave to use a quote from a sci-fi book, since most readers of sci-fi are considered effeminate and nerdy. I like that you flew in the face of that. It would have been reall great if you could have used a quote from your acutal combat experience, but you didn't serve. I know what's that like. I was going to join up and battle the evil doers in the defining conflict of our generation, but the day before I left I had a hangnail. So now I just blog for liberty and freedom. One day, I posted 57 comments on different blogs, and it hurt so bad I couldn't defend freedom for three days. So my hats off to you JT!!!

I'm still laughing at Crick... (Below threshold)

I'm still laughing at Crickmore's "even the State Department thinks ....."

The State Department? The "Department" that actively works against America's interests all the damn time?

Bwahahahaha...too funny.

Can anyone realy argue that... (Below threshold)

Can anyone realy argue that the cluster bomb should be improved so that the unexploded bomblets don't remain active, scattered about for many years?

Instead of having a "too bad" type attitude, perhaps finding a solution is more responsible.

Gah, read: "Can an... (Below threshold)

Gah, read:

"Can anyone really argue that the cluster bomb shouldn't be improved.."

Unexploded ordinance is a p... (Below threshold)

Unexploded ordinance is a problem, certainly.

Maybe the solution is to actually win the freaking war and occupy. Gives a good motivation for clean-up since a cluster-bombed runway can't be used until it's safe again.

Don't they still find unexploded stuff from WW2 in Europe? So what is the solution? Bombs that don't explode are undesireable... after all, they didn't do what they were supposed to do and they took up the space of a little bomb that could. No one wants the little bombs to lay about blowing up children and goats 50 years later. Besides being inhumane it's inefficient.

Still, it doesn't make sense to cite Vietnam. At some point the terrain acts as a variable and at some point better technology acts as a variable.

And no... had we either 1) never gone or 2) not run away, the horrific genocides in SE Asia would not have happened the way they did.

Synova,Do... (Below threshold)


Don't they still find unexploded stuff from WW2 in Europe? So what is the solution?

It's the same school of thought that is going into new landmines...a timer that auto-detonates the bomblet. In the case of cluster munitions, the timer would want to be something like 5 minutes to 8 hours.

Somewhat related, I have an... (Below threshold)

Somewhat related, I have an acquaintance who worked on biological weapons development in the 60's and 70's. He said that one of the great motivations at the time was the hope that they might offer a non-lethal alternative to nukes and conventional weapons.

In particular, anthrax offered great promise. It was speculated that, with proper development, it could incapacitate an enemy soldier for a couple weeks, as they recuperated in bed, waiting for antibiotics to kick in. Any civilian casualties could be treated simply as well. And the good guys could be vaccinated beforehand so they could be exposed with impunity. And of course, there would be no damage to infrastructure.

Sounds great!

But we all know how that turned out....

The problem with germs is t... (Below threshold)

The problem with germs is that, like the enemy, they are alive and get a vote. Free will, and all that.

I'd like to see a reputable... (Below threshold)

I'd like to see a reputable, unbiased source for the assertion that 300 Vietnamese a year are killed by UXO. I call BS.

"Can anyone realy argue tha... (Below threshold)

"Can anyone realy argue that the cluster bomb should be improved so that the unexploded bomblets don't remain active, scattered about for many years?"

Already done. There are no cluster munitions currently in the inventory that does not have a fuze time associated with it. The cluster bombs used in prior conflicts did not have such provisions provided within the fuzing.

By the way, a farmer in Northern France was injured late last year when an unexploded bomb blew up as he was plowing his field. The shell was from from World War One.

> But this movement against... (Below threshold)

> 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.

Not so much. True, the US did have lots of cluster bomb munitions at one time. But they are LESS useful nowadays. We have so many precision weapons that we have even removed the cluster warheads from the MLRS (army rocket launcher) and replaced them with super-accurate GPS guided warheads. Not because we want to be nice but because putting 100 lbs of high explosive RIGHT where you want it is better than tossing lots of little bomblets over a football field area. In those cases where you really want to splash an area the size of a football field, we've got that covered too with weapon systems where a cruise missle can dump dozens of little missle like bombs which float down on parachutes looking for things which match stuff on the target list (tanks, trucks) and zoom down on them and blow them up.

Cluster bombs are pretty much obsolete so far as the US is concerned. Real useful for a while but that was then.

Ref other people who said that the bomblets have timers so they shouldn't hang around for decades. Yeah, that's the theory. In reality, about 20-30% of the bomblets don't explode right away and the timers don't work all the time so you still gets lots of little bomblets blowing up children right when you're trying to win the hearts and minds of their parents.

Ref unexploded ordnance from old wars. Just one collection site in France disposes of 300 TONS of unexploded artillery shells a year - every year. Mostly from World War ONE. Check out the book "Aftermath" by Donovan Webster.

I must quibble with a bit o... (Below threshold)

I must quibble with a bit of this, Jay.

The international outlawing of poison gases is wrongly believed to have been because of their fearsomeness. In point of fact -- see Herman Kahn's On Thermonuclear War for the details -- they were banned because at that time, they were not lethal enough. It was a case of governments making a humanitarian publicity measure out of something they were doing from ordinary self-interest. Of course, things have changed since then, but the original rationale is nevertheless most illuminating.

Second, though the Gerrold quote suggests it, the thought shouldn't be left incomplete: the ideal to be striven for in armed combat is not to kill but to wound disablingly. A wounded man exercises a powerful rearward tendency on his unit, far more effective than a dead soldier at reducing the unit's effectiveness. However, given current and foreseeable weapons technology, it's very difficult to inflict that sort of damage deliberately, and will probably remain so for many years to come.

Everybody knows that Japan'... (Below threshold)

Everybody knows that Japan's Rape of Nanking was much more humane than the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, right?

Where's the outcry of the i... (Below threshold)

Where's the outcry of the inhumanness of suicide and IED bombs?

Jay, tell that to all the c... (Below threshold)

Jay, tell that to all the children who get their arms and faces blown off when they find the brightly colored toys and start playing with them.

metprof, it was your bombing of Cambodia that helped Pol Pot take power. And then, after Vietnam ended the genocide, you and the British armed and trained the Khmer Rouge "resistance".

CatThe CEB (BLU-97... (Below threshold)


The CEB (BLU-97/B Combined Effects Bomb) does not look like a brightly colored toy! The 200 that come out of a single CBU are yellow in the shape of a coke can with a white decelerator chute.

Dud rate is 5%. Guess what the dud rate of a typical artillary shell is? 4-5% Heck, Scott Ritter claims that arty can be as high as 10%


Cluster bombs are pretty much obsolete so far as the US is concerned

Wrong! CBU is the weapon of choice in Close Air Support. One GBU-12 cannot supress a 300x200m rectangle. If the CBU is stringed, the armor, apc's, soft skinned vehicles, and troops in the open, can be eliminated from a 1200x200m piece of dirt on the FLOT.

Don't scream that troops are being denied body armor, but then try to strip the weapons they need out of their inventory.

Screejay:I guess C... (Below threshold)


I guess Cat comes from a childhood so deprived that weapons look like playthings. Could she be reffering to Palestinian children, whose parents allow them to play with AK-47s, wrap themselves with "play" suicide belts, and play at blowing themselves up?

SShiell:Don't tell... (Below threshold)


Don't tell Cat about our plans for Rainbow Teddy Lasers, Finger popping gummy bears, and kites that rain down napalm.

Perhaps we could engage the... (Below threshold)

Perhaps we could engage the services of Underwriters' Laboratories, Amnesty International, PETA and Good Housekeeping to form a bipartisan committee at the UN to help us sort this out. What we need are guidelines from the UN that everybody can agree on. Couldn't we just settle wars mano-a-mano with winner-take-all UN debates? Maybe a binding, globally televised "Yo momma's so ugly..." debate, decided by viewer call-ins?

Why all this shrieking and hand-wringing about accidental civilian casualties when the Islamofascists deliberately target crowds of civilians as a central strategy? Could somebody give me the lefty spin on that?

Gotta go. I'm think I'm going to swoon again.

Screejay, you got me. You'r... (Below threshold)

Screejay, you got me. You're right, yellow is not a bright color, and cluster bomblet in the picture below would not look remotely like a potential toy to most five-year-olds who, as we all know, are not curious about anything and never try to find out what happens if...


CatYou tried to im... (Below threshold)


You tried to imply that CBU was "brightly colored toys"

CEB is yellow so EOD can ID it. 191 children died this year in the US becase the matress was too soft.

Any dud CEB usually has not armed, hitting it with a hammer would not set it off.

Consider yourself a POS. We drop toy shapped bombs to kill 5 year olds. Ass Hat.






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