Wednesday, May 09, 2007

WEAPON OF THE WEEK: Formerly a good idea, but backwards apparently

LA Times reporter Dan Neil discovered Futureweapons, the Discovery/Military channel show hosted by a shaven-headed ex-Navy SEAL who gets erections over the most terrifying weapons in the American armory. He dealt with it in a nice essay entitled Bomb Mots.

The knock on Futureweapons, and it's a legitimate one, is that it is merely a vehicle for defense contractor promotions. It is TV with no heart, no morals, not even a twinge of regret as it goes about waxing enthusiastic over the most fearsome pieces of technology, technology designed with only one reason -- to bring about massacres.

One can see it simply in reading the weekly teaser descriptions, piped in from the cable box. "Weapons designed to annihilate en masse" or "Weapons to strike utter fear in the heart of the enemy" are favored, the former for a set of episodes which have aired many more times than even gluttons for punishment could stand.

The climax of the themed show on "weapons designed to annihilate en masse" is one that's been discussed previously, the Sensor Fuzed Weapon. It revolves solely around a promotional video made by Textron, the thing's maker.

"This is awesome!" wrote an enthusiast on YouTube, where the promo is also posted.

"Your tax dollars well spent," continues the president of the sensor-fuzed-weapon's fan club. "You wold [sic] not want to be an enemy of the USA on the receiving end of these things. Obviously the B-52 can carry a whole bunch of SFW-loaded cluster bombs. That must be why a lot of pinhead nations want to ban them."

It succinctly encapsulates the core appeal for regular fans of Futureweapons.

If you think technology for triggering massacres is awesome and those appalled by the idea are pinheads, Futureweapons in infinite rotation is definitely for you.

At no time does Futureweapons, or much of anything on the Military or Discovery channels for that matter, feature any recognizable self-examination.

There's no going into how "weapons designed to annihilate en masse" -- the Sensor Fuzed Weapons, the thermobaric bombs, the computer-aided artillery rockets, the Massive Ordnance Air Blasts of the American armory -- haven't made a lick of difference with regards to the big picture, beamed in fresh from Iraq, everynight to your TV set.

The writers and producers of Futureweapons don't trouble themselves over the fact that most sane nations, realizing they can't compete with the weaponshops of the United States, have just given up on the idea of preparing gigantic militaries to meet the stuff on the battlefield. And it never touches upon one issue -- that one rational answer to defending yourself from the monster weaponshops, should the need arise, is to work secretly at getting one or two atomic bombs in hopes that you won't be leaned on too hard should the hot metal start to fly.

"[Host Richard Machowicz] visits with the men behind the Massive Ordinance Air Blast device (MOAB), a 21,000-pound, mushroom-cloud-forming super-bomb that is the largest conventional weapon in the Air Force arsenal, thus earning it the nickname Mother Of All Bombs," writes Neil.

"It was the MOAB segment that stayed my remote-control hand. While I'm no authority on the laws of armed conflict, it seemed to me a weapon with a lethal blast radius of 400 feet is a tad, well, indiscriminate. Perhaps glorifying this pseudo-nuke was in some sense ethically dubious."

Of course it is. In 2003, DD wrote of the MOAB that press exultation over it revealed a poverty of intellect and heart in the country. Iraq has done nothing but confirm it.

Through the course of the series of columns written to address the glee over the instruments of destruction that would be used in Iraq, DD never saw a blessed bit of regret or self-doubt.

Instead, one read of a unique poll conducted by the WaPost, one done without batting an eyelash or even a wink, showing that most Americans thought it would be OK to nuke Saddam Hussein. And when the Pentagon was questioned by a foreign correspondent over the legality of using something like the MOAB or thermobaric bomb, which were compared to fuel air explosives used by Russian forces, everyone was informed such weapons "were found consistent with all international legal obligations of the United States, including the law of armed conflict."

Which pretty much ended all conversation on the subject.

"A season-one segment featured the world's most powerful cluster bomb," wrote Neil in "Bomb Mots."

"That's the CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW), which can rain down molten copper over 600,000 square feet. Another segment explored ground-penetrating thermobaric weapons, which are an extremely unpleasant variety of incinerating fuel-air explosive that can be used to— if I may paraphrase President Bush — smoke them out of their holes."

Except, of course, they never did.

Futureweapons, wrote Neil, is "a televised front porch for the military-industrial complex."

If the show had a motto, it would be one from Al Capone: "You can get more with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone." Paraphrasing Einstein, one might wish for inclusion, somewhere among the giddy advertisements for steel rains, that it is easier to denature plutonium than the bad heart of man, but it's not congruent with the show's ideology.

Editors and producers might also do well to contemplate a project on America's mighty Futureweapons, one which addresses that while it's easy to whip them on an enemy, they also set in motion battles in which the designated enemy does not give up even though its cities, people, and treasure are pulverized with overwhelming force.

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