The Mother of All Bombs


It’s really sad to see that the US military is so desperate and stupid that they had to try showing how capable they are, by showing how capable they aren’t.

Dropping a humongous explosive on a useless target, then defending that action as being useful, is not a demonstration of peerless strength. According to some sources, the ISIS “tunnel complex” may have been occupied by a couple hundred people. So, yeah, it makes a lot of sense to drop a city-killer on them.

But, as a show of power, it begs the question: “weren’t you already incapable of keeping them from building the tunnel complex?” This is the same problem, exactly, that the US had in Vietnam: it could drive its enemies underground using superior air power, and could win every stand-up fight, but – so what? The enemy wasn’t interested in stand-up fights, and could come and go where they wanted. In military terms “come and go where you want” means “control the battlefield.” Dropping GPS-targeted bombs from high altitude is a tacit admission that we can’t send troops in on the ground because they’re not safe.

hypothetical Tora Bora complex

hypothetical Tora Bora complex

To any of us from the Vietnam generation, we immediately recognize this as “body counts” redux. What happens, when you’re losing a war, is the losers (who are supposed to be winning, and who are being paid to win) start coming up with metrics that make it more plausible for them to say they are winning. Body counting inevitably leads to body count inflation, which leads to counting 14 year-old civilian boys as militants, which leads to atrocities. I’m not trying to say “atrocities coming!” because they’re already there and already happening, but there’s always worse: the US military inevitably wants to switch to area bombing, when it has otherwise lost control of a situation. It’s the safest thing you can do that appears to be doing something.

My friend Sazz [stderr] fought around the Vietcong tunnels at Cu Chi. I don’t write “he fought in the tunnels” because only a very small number of Americans went down in them; the rest waited up top to see what happened. One of the things he said was that the tunnel complexes were extensive, but also pretty small and shabby. They weren’t the kind of things Americans would build, with a Burger King and a Starbucks’ 14 stories down, and air conditioning and power generators – they were little hidey holes and they weren’t worth a damn thing to anyone; conqueror or conquered. That’s what the MOAB blew up.

When the invasion of Afghanistan was still brewing, the US marketed the idea that Osama Bin Laden had built gigantic terror complexes under Tora Bora – multi level, hydroelectric powered, and huge. Of course, such complexes did not exist.

Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam - note the scale

Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam – note the scale

They have never existed, unless you’re thinking about the complexes politicians build to hide from their mistakes. The gigantic MOAB probably collapsed some simple dirt tunnels (because ISIS is sure as hell not tunnelling in stone) The Vietcong at Cu Chi didn’t defend the tunnels when the Americans found them: they left and went elsewhere. The ISIS survivors of the MOAB are already gone to elsewhere, and they’ve added a few recruits from the local population, because the Americans have demonstrated what ruthless assholes we can be.

In Vietnam, the US “tunnel rats” went down into the tunnels with .45s and knives and grenades. The tunnels weren’t very big but US soldiers controlled the ground above the tunnels so they could do that. In Afghanistan, the US has already ceded the landscape to ISIS and the Taliban.

If we don’t control the landscape, we’ve lost the war. Time to be leaving, not time to be dropping experimental ordnance and mugging for the cameras like some kind of reality TV show.

A bit about how the MOAB works: it’s a fuel/air explosive. The idea is to aerosolize something that burns extremely fast (nitrated alcohol and aluminum, for example) and then give it a little while to spread and settle, then you ignite it. The resulting extremely fast combustion destroys everything in the area, and consumes all the oxygen; everything that’s got lungs is dead. It’s bizzare to me that the US is bragging about using fuel/air explosives to do area bombardment, at the same time as it’s complaining about Assad’s regime using Sarin gas. I guess that, because the fuel/air explosive gets in your lungs and explodes, that’s somehow OK compared to Sarin that gets in your nervous system and jams its signalling pathways? Both are horrible deaths that give the victim a brief while in which to contemplate what is coming. It’s as if the American regime is going out of its way to be as hypocritical and vicious as possible.

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Dienstelle Marienthal by Magdanz

Dienststelle Marienthal by Magdanz

This is a picture of one of the executive conference rooms in the Dienststelle Marienthal, a “continuity of government” shelter – i.e.: a hole in the ground where politicians thought they could run and hide if they started a nuclear war. [Magdanz]

Whatever the ISIS tunnels were that they wasted the MOAB on, they were not like this.

When I learned about Marienthal, through Magdanz’ amazing book of photos, I tried for years to get permission to visit. Apparently it’s all closed down now, because keeping it in good enough condition for the lights to work, etc, is prohibitively expensive.

Marienthal, conference room

Marienthal, conference room

Remember this: This is how politicians expected to live, after they had fled the consequences of their errors, and left the rest of us to burn in nuclear fire.

Comments

  1. polishsalami says

    they’ve added a few recruits from the local population

    Unlikely. The locals would probably have been overjoyed, or at least seen it as the will of Allah. Indignation as a motivating factor for joining Islamic terrorist groups seems to be a myth.
    ——
    The problem is not with the strike itself (if it did kill 90 ISIS fighters, that’s good), but with the media’s fawning reaction. Trump’s mind is essentially Pavlovian, so the frenzied media masturbation over the Syria strikes & MOAB is only going to goad him into more bombast and fancy weaponry displays. It’s hard not to see how this will not end in a major disaster.

  2. komarov says

    Remember this: This is how politicians expected to live, after they had fled the consequences of their errors, and left the rest of us to burn in

    It stands to reason that the only people left to speak for the dead should be their (more-or-less) elected representatives.

    Trump’s mind is essentially Pavlovian, so the frenzied media masturbation over the Syria strikes & MOAB is only going to goad him into more bombast and fancy weaponry displays. It’s hard not to see how this will not end in a major disaster.

    A major disaster for someone else but great for their ratings.

  3. komarov says

    Sorry, forgot the references. First quote was from the original post, second from polishsalami’s comment in (#2).

  4. Brian English says

    Yeah but, big ka-BOOOM! Marcus and it has an acronym that has both a military sounding and cool, Sadamesque sounding sources (“Military Ordinance Air Blast/Mother Of All Battles, sorry Bombs”). Cheap at 16 million, no?

    What I find pathetic, is the media report this straight, ‘hey look, the good guys dropped a huge bomb, we’re so good, baddies be dead’ without a hint of having thought beyond the fact that the US dropped a huge bomb. I think you’ve got it right Marcus, it’s a sign of weakness, and seems morally comparable to using chemical weapons (who used, (if they were used) the weapons was again not investigated by the media, it just accepted info. from sources known to lie)……Some line about nobody winning a war or you become your enemy seems appropriate now…..

  5. lanir says

    These things make me think of dungeons in an RPG. The slightest whiff of realism and they evaporate into various contradictory impossibilities. You can tell the pictures aren’t intended to be even slightly realistic by the way they’re drawn in two dimensions like an ant farm in glass.

    The scariest part of both of those pictures is that they have air tunnels and ventilation systems. This means that someone did have that moment of realistic thinking… and pushed past it to shovel this crap at the public anyway.

  6. says

    Olav@#1:
    Thank you for the correction. I’m going to leave your comment, so that nobody thinks I am dishonestly trying to make my writing appear to be better than it is.

  7. says

    lanir@#6:
    These things make me think of dungeons in an RPG. The slightest whiff of realism and they evaporate into various contradictory impossibilities. You can tell the pictures aren’t intended to be even slightly realistic by the way they’re drawn in two dimensions like an ant farm in glass.

    Weird you mention that. When I was searching for those images I came across someone who had edited the image into an “Al Quaeda Ant Farm” … It wasn’t quite funny.

    The scariest part of both of those pictures is that they have air tunnels and ventilation systems. This means that someone did have that moment of realistic thinking… and pushed past it to shovel this crap at the public anyway.

    If you look at a Titan missile base, or Dienststelle Marienthal, you can see that’s how politicians imagine other politicians bolt-holes to be. There are huge filtration systems and power systems, etc. Because they would deny themselves nothing, they assume that their enemies would insist on similar luxuries.

    The thing that always drove me crazy about RPGs is the torches, ammunition, and enemies. I forget how many times I’ve been in some RPG, exploring an ancient dwarven city, and there are torches burning and plenty of state of the art ammunition lying around. Not to mention games like “Uncharted” where you’re exploring an abandoned nazi fort that has been unexplored for decades, but as soon as you find it, it’s already full of bad guys. How did they get there? (The simple answer is: they were there to light the torches and place ammunition caches)

  8. chigau (違う) says

    I like how the “Vietcong” are all wearing their comical, conical hats.
    Even in bed.

  9. says

    chigau@#10:
    Even in bed.

    Even underground!

    They are required to wear them. Otherwise you might mistake them for Americans and not know to bomb them.

  10. says

    starblue@12:
    Thank you! I think I know where my next vacation’s going to be. I was going to go to the Titan Missile Museum until they told me “no cameras allowed.”

  11. says

    There’s room, I feel, for the Desert Bus of RPGs, where you explore abandoned and empty mazelike structures filled with empty, smashed, dusty containers, 1000 years looted, until you die. Beautifully detailed, if occasionally jarring (algorithmically generated) everything. Occasional, erroneous, hints that there might be something over >there<, and so on.

    There aren't even snakes in this notional game.

  12. John Morales says

    And people wonder why North Korea is paranoid.

    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_North_Korea#The_Korean_War_.281950-1953.29 :

    American bombing included the use of napalm against populated areas and the destruction of dams and dykes, which caused devastating floods.[45][46] China and North Korea also alleged the US was deploying biological weapons.[47] As a result of the bombing, almost every substantial building and much of the infrastructure in North Korea was destroyed.[48][49] The North Koreans responded by building homes, schools, hospitals, and factories underground.[50] Economic output in 1953 had fallen by 75-90% compared with 1949.[51]

  13. lanir says

    Marcus @8:
    I mostly do tabletop RPGs lately. About the only creatures I put in dungeons are things that don’t eat (undead, magical constructs, etc).

    I could probably get away with some of the older, really bizarre creatures from D&D as well. Those never really made much sense to begin with. I’ve always suspected the inspiration for beholders was someone having a bad trip while watching a disco ball. Or maybe the 70’s just had a thing for weirdly floating beachballs of doom ala The Prisoner.

  14. says

    lanir@#16:
    Don’t forget the alien in Dark Star!!

    I did one dungeon that was nothing but traps and re-animating skeletons. I even assumed that the skeletons (being long dead) hated light and noise and attacked the sources of either. It took my party a few minutes to figure that out, then the elf and a hobbit held hands to stealth/infraview navigate, and walked right into a pit trap. I chortled for hours.

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