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My Turn: I am the maker of bombs

  • A Hellfire missile. Wikimedia Commons



For the Monitor
Sunday, April 17, 2016
The bomb-makers

The bomb makers in Brussels were trying not to call attention to themselves as they went about their activities.

They were doing everyday activities that appeared to be completely innocuous. They made trips to different hardware stores buying up nails. Then they would stop at drugstores buying up other seemingly innocent items.

They wanted a lot of these products, but they also didn’t want to buy so much in any one place that they caused people to wonder what they were doing.

At least one of these men knew how to combine these innocent items so that they would become a very primitive but extremely deadly explosive mix.

Another bomb-maker was a wonderful neighbor when my wife and I lived in the country. Whenever I had some machine that was stubbornly refusing to work, I would call on this neighbor. Gifted with his engineer’s mind, it was a puzzle that he enjoyed making right again. With his wonderful sense of humor, he was a delight to be around.

He was very supportive and caring of his grown children, always doing renovations on their houses and helping them over the bumps of starting their own families.

One day I offhandedly asked what type of engineering he was in.

“I spend all day inside cluster bombs,” he replied.

He went on to say that he worked for one of the armament companies in the Boston area designing cluster bombs, and through his computer he spent his days inside the bomb.

I knew his opposition to war and violence and was a little taken back, which I’m sure showed in my face. As if to answer my shocked expression, he continued, “Sometimes you have to be a hypocrite.”

There is nothing primitive about cluster bombs.

They are intricately designed to open in mid-air, releasing dozens or hundreds of explosives that then spread their blast over an area up to the size of several football fields.

Obviously, these explosions are designed to kill or injure anyone within this area.

Some of these bomblets don’t explode as designed and can detonate decades after their initial release if they are accidentally touched or moved.

Handicap International reports an estimated 80 million cluster bomblets that were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam war failed to detonate. Now, decades later, these munitions are still following through with their intended purpose of killing and maiming. Supposedly this type of bomb is now banned, but compliance and enforcement seem vague.

The delivery systems

The delivery system for the bomb at the Brussels airport was pretty simple – three men, a cab and three push carts.

The delivery systems for the bombs we send are anything but simple. We and others have developed an astounding number of systems for delivering destruction. The MQ-9 Reaper drone is one of the many massively sophisticated modern-day systems we use to deliver bombs. It’s jammed with the latest in computers, cameras, electronics and radar.

The Reaper is designed for surveillance and the delivery of bombs, and it prefers to deliver the Hellfire missile. Wikipedia says the type of Hellfire missile used by the Reaper is designed for the “targeted killings of high-profile individuals.” There must be something askew with the targeting, intelligence or choice of targets. The Drone Papers, a leaked classified document, states that during a five-month drone operation in northeastern Afghanistan, 90 percent of those killed were not the intended targets.

They were civilians, like the civilians in the Brussels airport.

The monetary cost

The cost of the bombs and the delivery system at the Brussels airport was probably around a few hundred dollars.

It’s impossible to really calculate the cost of the Reaper and the Hellfire missiles. The program cost for the MQ-9 Reaper is listed at $11.8 billion and the unit cost for one Reaper is $16.9 million. This doesn’t take into the account all the previous costs of the earlier, less-sophisticated drone systems and of the different types of military drones being developed and in the pipeline for the future. The Hellfire missile cost varies but one figure quoted is $110,000. The army is presently receiving 550 of these missiles per month.

The purpose

It doesn’t matter who is designing, making or delivering the bomb – the purpose is to rip people’s bodies apart and kill. Some are designed to kill as many as possible, and some are designed to be more targeted, but the goal is to kill other human beings. One has to wonder what it does to us as human beings when we invest so much energy, intelligence, time, resources, wealth and intention into the endeavor of killing.

Tax Day

Cluster bombs and the Hellfire missiles do horrendous damage as they tear people apart and devastate the lives of survivors. However, these explosions are minuscule compared to the explosions and death produced by nuclear weapons that are still on hair trigger. This country is on track to invest in a $1 trillion modernization of our nuclear weapon capacity. A trillion more in nuclear weapons will produce enough explosive power to end life on the planet as we know it.

I had known it before, but as I continue writing about others, a previous awareness thrusts its way back into my consciousness. That as a taxpayer, I pay for these explosions, destruction and death. I’m startled to realize anew that I’m the bomb-maker.

I hate it! What the hell am I doing?

(Gray Fitzgerald lives in Concord and is a retired pastor in the United Church of Christ.)