Lets face it, making war is fast superceding sports as the American national
pastime. Since 1980, overtly or covertly, the United States has been involved in
military actions in Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El
Salvador, Haiti, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sudan, the Philippines, Colombia,
Haiti (again), Afghanistan (again) and Iraq (again) and that's not even the full
list. It stands to reason when the voracious appetites of the military-corporate
complex are in constant need of feeding.
As representatives of a superpower devoted to (and enamored with) war, it's
hardly surprising that the Pentagon and allied corporations are forever planning
more effective ways to kill, maim, and inflict pain -- or that they plan to keep
it that way. Whatever the wars of the present, elaborate weapons systems for
future wars are already on the drawing boards. Planning for the
projected fighter-bombers and laser weapons of the decades from 2030 to 2050 is
underway. Meanwhile, at the Department of Defense's (DoD's) blue-skies research
outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), even wilder
projects -- from futuristic
exoskeletons to Brain/Machine Interface
initiatives -- are being explored.
Such projects, as flashy as they are frightening, are magnets for reporters
(and writers like yours truly), but it's important not to lose sight of the many
more mundane weapons currently being produced that will be pressed into service
in the nearer term in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other locale the U.S. decides
to add to the list of nations where it will turn people into casualties or
"collateral damage" in the next few years. These projects aren't as sexy as
building future robotic warriors, but they're at least as dangerous and deadly,
so lets take a quick look at a few of the weapons our tax dollars are supporting
today, before they hurt, maim, and kill tomorrow.
Set Phasers on Extreme Pain
Recently, the Air Force Research Laboratory called for "research in support
of the Directed Energy Bioeffects Division of the Human Effectiveness
Directorate." The researchers were to "conduct innovative research on the
effects of directed energy technologies" on people and animals. What types of
innovative research? One area involved identifying "biological tissue thresholds
(minimum visible lesion) and damage mechanisms from laser and non-laser
sources." In other words, how excruciating can you make it without leaving
telltale thermal burns? And a prime area of study? "Pain thresholds." Further,
there was a call for work to: "Determine the effects of electromagnetic and
biomechanical insults on the human-body." Sounds like something out of Star
Trek, right? Weaponry of the distant future? Think again.
In a Tomdispatch piece last spring, I mentioned a "painful energy beam"
weapon, the Active Denial System, that was about to be field-tested by the
military. Recent reports indicate that military Humvees will be outfitted with
exactly this weapon by the end of the
I'm sad to report that the Active Denial System isn't the only futuristic
weapon set to be deployed in the near-term. Pulsed Energy Projectiles (PEPs) are
also barreling down the weaponry-testing turnpike. They are part of a whole new
generation of weapons systems that the Pentagon promotes under the label
"non-lethal." The term conveniently obscures the fact that such weapons are
meant to cause intense physical agony without any of the normal physical signs
of trauma. (This, by the way, should make them -- or their miniaturized
descendents -- excellent devices for clandestine torture).
PEPs utilize bursts of electrically-charged gas (plasma) that yield an
electromagnetic pulse on impact with a solid object. Such pulses affect nerve
cells in humans (and animals) causing searing pain. PEPs are designed to inflict
pain from up to 2 kilometers away" No one knows the long-term physical or
psychological effects of this weapon, which is set to roll-out in 2007 and is
designed specifically to be employed against unruly civilians. But let's
remember, the Pentagon isn't the Food and Drug Administration. No need to test
for future effects when it comes to weapons aimed at someone else.
20th Century Weaponry for 21st Century Killing
Just recently the Department of Defense's Defense Contracting
Command-Washington put out a call for various technologies capable of
"near-immediate transition to operations/production at the completion of
evaluation." In other words, make it snappy.
In addition to a plethora of high-tech devices, from laser-sights for weapons
to battlefield computers, the U.S. Special Operations Forces had a special
request: 40mm rifle-launched flechette grenades. For the uninitiated, flechettes
are razor-sharp deadly darts with fins at their blunt ends. During the Vietnam
War, flechette weaponry was praised for its ability to shred people alive and
virtually nail them to trees. The question is, where will those Special Ops
forces use the grenades and which people will be torn to bits by a new
generation of American flechettes. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain
-- it will happen.
The Special Ops troops aren't the only ones with special requests. The Army
has also put out a call to arms. While Army officials recently hailed the M240B 7.62mm Medium
Machine Gun as providing "significantly improved reliability and more lethal
medium support fire to ground units," they just issued a contract to FN Manufacturing
Inc. produce a lighter-weight, hybrid titanium/steel variant of the weapon
(known as the M240E6). And these are just a few of the new and improved weapons
systems being readied to be rushed onto near-future American battlefields.
Obviously, the military is purchasing guns and other weapons for a reason: to
injure, maim, and kill. But the extent of the killing being planned for can only
be grasped if one examines the amounts of ammunition being purchased. Let's look
at recent DoD contracts awarded to just one firm -- Alliant Lake City Small
Caliber Ammunition Company, L.L.C., a subsidiary of weapons-industry giant
Alliant Techsystems (ATK):
Awarded Nov. 24, 2004: "a delivery order amount of $231,663,020 as part of a
$303,040,883 firm-fixed-price contract for various Cal .22, Cal .30, 5.56mm, and
7.62mm small caliber ammunition cartridges." Work is expected to be completed by
Sept. 30, 2006.
Awarded Feb. 7, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $20,689,101 as part of a
$363,844,808 firm-fixed-price contract for various 5.56mm and 7.62mm Small
Caliber Ammunition Cartridges." Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30,
Awarded March 4, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $8,236,906 as part of a
$372,586,618 firm-fixed-price contract for 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and .50 caliber
ammunition cartridges." Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2006.
You and I can buy 400 rounds of 7.62mm rifle ammunition for less than $40. Imagine, then,
what federal purchasing power and hundreds of millions of dollars can buy!
Alliant Ammunition and Powder Co. is also making certain that, as the years
go by, ammo-capacity won't be lacking. In February 2005, Alliant was awarded "a
delivery order amount of $19,400,000 as part of a $69,733,068 firm-fixed-price
contract for Services to Modernize Equipment at the Lake City Army Ammunition
Plant" -- a government-owned facility operated by ATK. Alliant notes that this
year it is churning out 1.2 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition at its
Lake City plant alone. But that, it seems, isn't enough when future war planning
is taken into account. As it happens, ATK and the Army are aiming to increase
the plant's "annual
capacity to support the anticipated Department of Defense demand of between
1.5 billion and 1.8 billion rounds by 2006." Think about it. In this year,
alone, one single ATK plant will produce enough ammunition, at one bullet each,
to execute every man, woman, and child in the world's most populous nation --
and next year they're upping the ante.
The Military-Corporate Complex's Merchants of Death
Once upon a time, a company like ATK would have been classified as one of the
world's "Merchants of Death." Then again, once upon a time -- we're talking
about the 1930s here -- the Senate was a place where America's representatives
were willing to launch probing inquiries into the ways in which arms
manufacturers and their huge profits as well as their influences on
international conflicts were linked to the dead of various lands. Back then,
simple partisanship was set aside as the Senate's Democratic majority appointed
North Dakota's Republican Sen. Gerald
P. Nye to head the "Senate Munitions Committee."
While today's fawning House members can barely get aging baseball heroes to
talk to them, the 1930s inquiry hauled some of the most powerful men in the
world like J.P. Morgan, Jr. and Pierre du Pont before the committee. Even back
in the 1930s, however, the nascent military-industrial complex was just too
powerful and so the Senate Munitions Committee was eventually thwarted in its
investigations. As a result, the committee's goal of nationalizing the American
arms industry went down in flames.
Today, the very idea of such a committee even attempting such an
investigation is simply beyond the pale. The planning for futuristic war of
various horrific sorts, not to speak of the production and purchase of weapons
and ammunition by the military-corporate complex, is now beyond reproach,
accepted without question as necessary for national (now homeland) security -- a
concept which long ago trumped the notion of national defense.
The Future Is Now
While the military-academic complex and DARPA scientists are hard at work
creating the sort of killing machines that a generation back were the stuff of
unbelievable sci-fi novels, old-fashioned firearms and even new energy weapons
are being readied for use by the American imperial army tomorrow or just a few
short years in the future. In February 2005, Day & Zimmerman
Inc., a mega-company with its corporate fingers dipped in everything from
nuclear security and munitions production to cryogenics and travel services,
inked a deal to deliver 445,288 M67 fragmentation hand grenades (which produce
casualties within an effective range of 15 meters) to the Army in 2006. In which
country will a civilian will lose an eye, a leg, or a life as a result? Weapons
made to kill are made to be used. This year ATK's Lake City Army Ammunition
Plant will produce 1.2 billion rounds of ammunition at the DoD's behest and the
company proudly proclaims, "Approximately
75 percent of the ammunition produced annually is consumed."
With all those exotic pain rays, flechettes, super-efficient machine guns,
and rounds and rounds of ammunition readied for action -- and they represent
only a small part of the spectrum of weaponry and munitions being produced for
war, American-style -- more people are sure to die, while others assumedly will
experience "intense pain" from PEPs weapons and the like. Back in October of
last year, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia
University, and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, knocking on thousands of
doors throughout Iraq, demonstrated
that an estimated 100,000 civilians had already died violently as the direct or
indirect consequence of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The main cause of these
deaths: attacks by coalition (read as "U.S.") forces. The future promises more
of the same.
No one should be surprised by these figures -- though many were (and many
also continue to deny the validity of these numbers). It's obvious that, if you
build them; they will kill. And you thought that we were supposed to "err on the
side of life"?
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