By John Frederick Kaufman
So the United States suddenly felt the need to give our MOAB (“mother of all bombs”)–more officially known as GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast–a try on Thursday in the desert of Eastern Afghanistan. Though the bomb has been around for awhile, neither Presidents George W. Bush nor Barack Obama cared to actually use it because it has a “blast-radius” of a mile in all directions and the “collateral damage” could be, let’s say, excessive. But President Trump has no such qualms about the consequences of bombing as long as it doesn’t involve chemical weapons. It is heartening to know that at least we have evolved morally enough in the U.S. to take into consideration how many innocent people we will kill when we drop a bomb. When we dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan we quickly killed an estimated 120,000 civilians. As we guessed we would.
In the case of MOAB, we apparently tried to make sure no one but ISIS militants would suffer the fatal effects. According to reports, the “mother of all bombs” wiped out the lives of 36 members of ISIS. An Afghan ministry spokesman says not a single civilian was killed. But one member of the Afghan parliament told The Guardian that he had a local report of a teacher and his young son killed in the MOAB blast. Given the size and power of the bomb, some civilian casualties and damage to nearby homes would not be at all surprising. Were there women and children among the militants in the tunnels and caves? We don’t know.
After Trump launched missiles at Syria, his “job approval” went up a point to 39% and many pundits (and even some leading Democratic politicians) approved. Having dropped the “mother of all bombs” will Trump’s approval rating shamefully go up again?
But perhaps we are making too much ado about this quaintly named bomb. For as Jeffrey Lewis of the confusingly named Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (how did Vermont get to California?) has pointed out in the Washington Post, the MOAB isn’t really all that powerful and deadly compared to the atom bomb. Perhaps the shock of its use has something to do with the erratic, warmongering nature of our current president and the fact this is the first time such a weapon has been used? Or maybe we are all a little appalled by big bombs? Here’s Lewis:
As our technological capacity to wreak destruction has grown from machine guns to poison gas to nuclear weapons, more than a few people have observed that our species’ tendency to resort to violence may be our undoing. Eliminating war, though, seems unlikely. And so, falling short of that lofty goal, we try to prohibit the worst weapons — those that cause unnecessary or gruesome suffering and, most important, those that do not discriminate among combatants and noncombatants. If our lines are imperfect, we know they are better than no lines at all.
“Eliminating war, though, seems unlikely.” So much for that lofty goal. Yet our species’ tendency to resort to war is counterbalanced by the same species’ tendency not to resort to war or violence. The religious denominations all contain tenets or ideals opposed to war, and a few are outspokenly pacifist. Humanism has a strain of pacifism as well. No war is inevitable. The fact that the United States devotes 48% of its federal funds budget to military spending is a choice that makes resorting to military action far more likely and acceptable. The creation of the United Nations was meant to help make war as a method of conflict resolution obsolete. So far, the U.N. has failed to end war, but the principle and promise of discussion and diplomacy, as opposed to war, remains.
Creating highly destructive weapons is also a choice, as is choosing to actually use them. If we make such massive weapons, justifying doing so by appealing to “national security” and fear of other nations, we are at some point likely to use them. That the making and selling of arms is a very profitable business at present only adds to the likelihood of war. Not much money to be made in the peace industry, as peace activists can well attest.
If we are appalled by really big or really lethal weapons like MOAB, chemical and nuclear weapons, why are we so willing to accept the death and destruction caused by smaller, so-called “conventional” weapons? The child-like bombs of the “mother of all bombs” are just as deadly and, as we are now witnessing daily in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, are continually killing people, many of them innocent, many of them real children and mothers.
To say that we humans are doomed to state violence and personal violence, that we have to accept an acceptable level of violence, strikes me as maladroit, masculine malarkey. It may be that human beings, imperfect as we are, will always struggle against violent impulses and sometimes tragically give in to them. But equipping ourselves with powerful weapons, be they carried personally or dropped out the back of huge cargo planes, is not something done without a lot of thought and planning. We can choose not to kill and destroy in the name of nations or politics or tribes or religions. We can choose to cherish what mothers do.