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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fear the Primitive Weapons Made by Primitive People

As a former New Englander now living in Israel, I have been following the news quite closely since hearing of the horrible attack on the crowd at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  And several things about the media coverage have me genuinely concerned.

First, despite the obvious carnage caused by the two explosive devices, officials almost immediately began stressing to the media (and by extension, the public), that the bombs seemed to be small and unsophisticated... as if this were somehow good news. 

As parts of pressure cookers (which apparently housed the bombs) and kitchen egg timers (which were apparently used to trigger the bombs) were found and identified, this emphasis on the unsophisticated, improvised nature of the weapons has continued to be at the core of nearly every news story.

Apparently someone decided that telling the public that the bombs were relatively small, home-made affairs would be reassuring, since an unseen enemy lacking high end tools and materials (e.g. plastic explosives, electronic triggering devices, etc.), is far less threatening than an enemy with access to military grade stuff, right? 

After all, Hollywood has indoctrinated us to know that nothing short of a custom machined metallic briefcase containing an organized medley of circuit boards, neat blocks of C4 sprouting colored wires that lead to an ergonomic push button panel and blinking digital display, is worth worrying about.

Take for example the New York Times headline story "Boston Bombs Were Loaded To Maim", which stresses the simple nature of the bomb's construction as if to soften the gory details of the damage inflicted on the innocent bystanders by the ball bearings and nails which were apparently packed around the core of the pressure cooker bombs:

"The explosives that killed three people and injured more than 170 during the Boston Marathon on Monday were most likely rudimentary devices made from ordinary kitchen pressure cookers, except they were rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast and maim them severely, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The pressure cookers were filled with nails, ball bearings and black powder, and the devices were triggered by “kitchen-type” egg timers, one official said." [emphasis mine]

But that word 'except' which I've highlighted in the first paragraph of the quote above is the problem with the whole premise.

At a certain point, someone – either the American public or the media – is going to twig to the fact that, far from being good news, the primitive construction and deliberately barbarous scattergun nature of the bombs used in the Boston attack are, in fact, extremely bad news.

You see, modern military weapons are designed to attack specific targets with a high degree of accuracy. 

Neither the current conventions of warfare nor the news-reading public will tolerate the use of weaponry that kills or maims indiscriminately.  Surgical strikes and precision laser-guided weapons are de rigueur, and any state that cuts too wide a swath of collateral damage in persuit of an enemy is likely to find itself in the dock of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

But that's not what happened in Boston.  

The terrifying thing about being attacked by non-state actors (i.e. terrorists), whether of the domestic or international variety (and nobody knows it better than we Israelis), is that when primitive bombs packed with nails and ball bearings start blowing up in public places, everyone and anyone is the target… making it nearly impossible to mount a meaningful defense.

So as a former New Englander, my heart goes out to the victims of the Boston bombing and their loved ones. 

But as an Israeli, I hope against hope that the American public and the international media come to their collective senses sooner rather than later, and realize that it's the sick son-of-a-bitch cooking up a shrapnel bomb filled with nails and ball bearings from a pressure cooker and egg timer, that civilized countries need to be deathly afraid of… not some secret agent with a shiny metal briefcase containing a photogenic Hollywood bomb.

Posted by David Bogner on April 17, 2013 | Permalink

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Posted by: SaraK | Apr 17, 2013 4:19:30 PM

Well said, David. The fact that these bombs were put together with simple, easily obtainable materials should scare the living crap out of us.

As another former New Englander, this one hit close to home for us... especially since Elder Daughter studied at BU and we became very familiar with Boston.

I hope they find the responsible parties and roast them over a slow flame.

Posted by: Elisson | Apr 17, 2013 4:51:45 PM

It is disappointing that the media fails to make the comparison of the type of mass destruction that palestinian bombers used. I remember seeing an xray of someone who had numerous metalic fragments all over similar to the reports coming out of Boston.

Posted by: Dave | Apr 17, 2013 5:23:47 PM

There have been several bomb attemps in the last few years in the US that were prevented by pure luck. The TV pictures from Boston and reports on injuries are very reminiscent of the Israeli experience.

Posted by: Ed | Apr 17, 2013 8:39:43 PM

welcome back! I've missed your blogs.

I agree with your post. What I also wondered at the time of the bomb was whether it may be a "distraction" and that there may be something else bigger coming along when all the resources were deployed on hunting down the culprit. Sorry if that seems very negative and I don't mean in any way to dilute how terrible the actual incident was. My prayers are with the families and friends of the deceased and injured.

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Apr 17, 2013 10:35:06 PM

Spot on, David.

Posted by: Lynne | Apr 18, 2013 2:37:28 AM

From this side of the pond, the emphasis isn't that homespun=less deadly or less scary. It's that homespun=probably a white guy or at any rate a local terrorist. The use of (relatively) immature devices seems to indicate that it wasn't Al Qaeda, which is what I think everyone here dreads - that it's a Muslim group which could potentially lead us into another war. However scary a white militia guy or two out to maim people is, there's a sense that it either would be an isolated incident we can punish, or (if it's a larger group) at least a domestic enemy that we can (hopefully) locate and take out.

Posted by: Michal | Apr 18, 2013 7:02:57 PM

I'm sorry to say that the Boston Marathon bombers turned out to be of Chechen origin, which I think also means Muslim.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Apr 19, 2013 8:50:19 PM

Now that they have identified these men the question is what do they intend to do about it. Of course with fine leaders like John Kerry I am quite comfortable someone smart will figure out precisely what to do. Or maybe not.

Posted by: Josh | Apr 23, 2013 2:26:39 AM

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