A Bomb And A Book

by Bill Monson


This is a cautionary column--about a bomb and a book and the message they send us in these war-tense days. The bomb is the "E-Bomb" or "Microwave Bomb." It was accidentally discovered in a high-altitude nuclear test in the Pacific back in 1958, when the explosion created an electro-magnetic pulse which disrupted telephones, street lights and radio transmission in Hawaii and Australia. Since then, the Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories have come up with a non-nuclear device that can send a country back to the Stone Age at the speed of light. An explosion is forced through a copper coil, producing what is called the "Compton Effect," sending off electrons at 186,000 miles per second.

This bomb will destroy all electrical devices permanently. Every battery, semi-conductor, electrical line and power source will be put out of action. The E-Bomb will fry all communication cables, radio towers, phone systems, automotive wiring, computers, aircraft systems, radar networks, radios, television--anything using electro-magnetic power. All this--without killing a single person.

There's only one problem with it. It violates the 1949 Geneva Conventions, specifically Protocol 1, Part IV, Article 48 which clearly states that warring parties "shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives." The U.S. is a signatory to this protocol. Saddam Hussein has already violated it in his war against Iran. There will be a great temptation to use the E-Bomb against him. Why?

That's where the book comes in.

The book is Mark Bowden's 1999 best-seller BLACK HAWK DOWN. This book tells the story of what happened in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 when elite units of the U.S. military attempted to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord, who was interfering with United Nations peace efforts in the war-torn country. These units included Delta Force, Rangers and Navy SEALS--about one-hundred in all--who were supposed to helicopter into the heart of Mogadishu, grab the two leaders, and return to their base in a Humvee convoy. Everything went wrong. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by rocket-propelled grenades, the Humvee convoy got lost, and thousands of Somalis--including civilians--swooped down to establish roadblocks and shoot up the task force. Eighteen Americans died, dozens more were badly wounded. The Somali death toll was over 500 with another 500 wounded. Even with Cobra gunships overhead, the task force had to be rescued by a U.N. ground force with armored vehicles. The Americans completed their mission, but the victory was Pyrrhic. The world was shocked by TV pictures of dead Americans being abused and dragged through the streets.

The U.S. soon pulled out. Defense Secretary Les Aspin resigned. The Black Hawks were temporarily grounded while their in-battle vulnerability was studied. The U.S. withdrawal aborted the U.N. attempt to establish a stable coalition government. The Somali people continued to starve in a country wracked by civil war. What the book and the bomb tell us is that in modern war it's tough to separate civilians from warriors. Sometimes they're the same thing. U.S. forces attacking Iraq will have armor and AC-130 gunships and plenty of airplanes and missiles. But if, as expected, Saddam Hussein pulls his Elite Guard into the city of Baghdad with its 4.5-million people--the battle will be bloody. Lots of civilians will die--just as they did in Mogadishu. The temptation will be great simply to pull back U.S. forces (or not even commit them) far enough to use an E-Bomb on Baghdad. That would put us in violation of the Geneva Conventions, but it would restrict U.S. casualties. It would also infuriate Muslims of every kind throughout the world.

Choices in Iraq are complex. Most Americans don't know the difference between Sunni and Shii, Kurd and Iraqi--or even what "jihad" really means to a Muslim. We have to hope that our government experts do--that they know what invading Iraq means-- that George Bush II isn't really trying to finish "his daddy's war."

If the experts--military and civilian--don't comprehend Middle Eastern history, if they haven't really learned the lessons of Mogadishu, then we're in for a long, bloody haul. That's why so many countries--France, Germany, Russia, China--and half of the American people don't want war without exhausting every avenue of diplomacy. That's why we should pray for President Bush every night. And ourselves as well.