September 13, 2006

DEBUNKING Air Force Secretary Test Nonlethal Weapons On US crowds First Hype

Air Force chief: Test weapons on testy U.S. mobs is causing much reaction, with many people making far more of it than seems justified (remember, popularity comes from hype, not from being accurate). I wrote the following for a mailing-list, reposting it. Transcript to follow.

I hate to sound like a Bush apologist, but fair is fair - it reads to me like a "GOTCHA!" by the reporter. Key aspects which should be red flags for some skepticism are that:

a) The most inflammatory aspects are the reporter's paraphrase
b) It's given a sensationalistic headline
c) Context is carefully elided as to what preceded the actual quote

I conjecture that what happened was something like the following (and if a transcript comes out, we'll know, though it'll be too late):

Reporter: Mr Secretary, there's been some work on nonlethal weapons. Although these aren't considered safe to use yet in the US, would the Air Force consider using them in Iraq battles?

Secretary: [article quote] "If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

[i.e. paraphrased - No, we should eat our own dog food. And if we use something in Iraq that we haven't used in the US, we'll get slammed as doing Dr. Strangelove type experiments on the Iraqis.]

[Reporter: GOTCHA! "Air Force chief: Test weapons on testy U.S. mobs"] [I suspect if the answer had been the opposite, the article would have been "Air Force will use Iraqis as guinea pigs to test science-fiction weapons"]

That answer is a perfectly reasonable, even slightly laudable, reply in context. Even if it's not exactly nice to talk about PR negatives from weapons use, so that part was a moral _faux pas_, pragmatically he did have a point.

The article's more about pressing people's fear buttons than anything else.

By the way, there aren't any truly non-lethal weapons. A little while ago in Boston, a bystander was killed by a pepper-gun pellet which went through her eye then into her brain.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on September 13, 2006 08:18 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


"by golly you'll see that your resistance is somewhat weakened when the beam hits you"

I got to wonder what that "realy" means

Posted by: Bob Turner at September 14, 2006 01:55 PM

I don't agree with you on this.

The best that can be said (and I think it was somewhat in a comment at Engadget) is that Major Burgstein was being Swiftian. I find that to be a stretch. The glaring part of his statement was "use it here, against our fellow citizens." This just after "Yes. So I think we should use it."

This back and forth is about semantics, but if that's the basis then why can't we find people with a little more diplomatic sense to avoid suggesting that Americans should be the first ones to experience American designed and built military weapons?

If we are to go the Swiftian route then I'd suggest that the first Americans to experience these new weapons should be the families of the military leaders that want to use them. Put Major Burgstein's children or grand children under the ray gun. Not just their fingers. See how "weakened" their "resistance" becomes. And if twenty years later they should have children with no eyes, then the blow back that Burgstein wants to personally avoid will fall on the people who so desire to use these weapons on Americans first.

Burgstein could have easily used a term such as "thoroughly tested" rather than suggesting that Americans be the first test subjects. And since the sense of the discussion was in terms of civil disturbances (or hyped civil disturbances) one can assume that he meant demonstrations that turn violent or riots.

But I get a chill running through me whenever an American military leader talks about directing military force against Americans. Wasn't the 82nd Airborne in New Orleans, mainly to help cover up the rising body count through threats against the press that was there, enough to give clarity to the rule against "crossing the Rubicon." Need I mention Blackwater USA, a mercenary force which boasted about shooting suspects in New Orleans.

I'd much rather the military understand - to the core - that its purpose is to defend America, not use it as a subject of its force, even for testing purposes.

All of these feelings and impressions are easily and justifiably derived from the Major's statements. It's about semantics. Threatening semantics.

I also have a sense of foreboding about weapons that allow a small number of people to physically intimidate and control a large number of people. If you've got so many so upset with the current state of affairs that a nation is living under, is the solution to develop better weapons to enable a small minority to control those masses or to develop a better nation to suit the needs and desires of its people? New Orleans? Iraq? Free speech zones?

There is some confusion for me on the specifics of these weapons in that there are two types. Those directed or dropped from jet fighter bombers, which seem to be the ones of actual concern, and those ground vehicle mounted, which exist and apparently have been ordered by the military and may be in use. ?? There's a great stretch in my view between those delivery vehicles and their intended targets and I don't see it explained in the quotes.

Posted by: Amos Anan at September 14, 2006 05:42 PM