FRESNO, CA -- Here's a column all you hardware fiends will enjoy. Because although weapons tech isn't nearly as important in war these days as tribes and propaganda, every now and then a new weapon comes along that tells you everything you need to know about the military culture of a whole era.
I'm talking about a weapon with the geeky initials "DIME." That stands for "Dense Inert Metal Explosive," but that doesn't tell you much so I'll explain it in English.
This is a weapon designed to splatter thousands of tiny tungsten pellets into everybody within a 4-meter radius, without hurting anybody who happens to be standing outside that radius. In tests at the Air Force Research Laboratories, the freakish thing worked so well that it destroyed most of the instruments placed within its 4-meter destructo-zone. They actually had to design new metrics that could withstand those high-temperature tungsten pellets.
At the same time, a big part of the design effort was developing a casing that WOULDN'T hurt people. They came up with a nice light carbon-composite casing that shreds into harmless confetti. Probably recyclable too. Come to think of it, all artillery is biodegradable, or at least biodegrading. That's a marketing angle the DoD should be pushing with the greenies: "Hydrogen bombs: the ultimate in biodegradability!"
Now see, the hydrogen bomb is a sane weapon. Genghis Khan would approve of it. He had to clear countries out the slow way, one slit throat at a time. The hydrogen bomb does the job in a few seconds, and there's no nonsense about limiting the damage. The idea is to extend the damage as far as possible. That's basic military logic.
When you apply it to this DIME munitions, you have to ask why limit it to 4 meters? If Joe Schmo is your enemy, it stands to reason that anybody standing 4.5 meters from him is also likely to be your enemy. Kind of like a version of that Arab saying: "The friend of my enemy is also my enemy," or "The innocent bystander of my enemy is also, let's face it, my enemy."
To see why they've put so much effort into a weapon like this, you have to understand that it's being used in Gaza by the IDF. There've been reports out of Gaza that when the Israelis blast one of these Hamas guys outside a coffee house or his home, there've been weird injuries to the people standing next to the target -- their arms and legs get sheared off clean, as if God himself lowered a big rotary saw over him and lifted him up into the sky like a core sample from an oil rig, along with the odd arm or leg of other people who happened to be inside the magic 4 meters. The wounds have supposedly stopped clean at that point, cauterized by the blast.
So what we've got here is a bizarre weapon designed to stop any more "picnic incidents." Remember when that family of Gaza Palestinians was frolicking on the beach -- Dad, Mom and their 37 children? Well, somebody in Mossad had it in for Dad because the Israelis fired a shell from one of their offshore gunboats and Dad was shredded. Which was fine, except these normal, sane artillery shells don't make distinctions, they just send their tiny metal fragments zipping as far as possible. Which is pretty far. The kill-radius on a 155-mm shell is up to 150 meters. And those little superheated razorsharp fragments don't make exceptions, even for the kiddies.
So along with Dad, several of his frolicking kids got zapped. Naturally the neighbors were there in seconds, scrambling for a photo-op on the "beach." I mean, what kind of a beach can you have in the Gaza Strip? Instead of sandcastles the kids have to play sandshrapnel -- "Look, daddy, I found a cute little burnt femur and a cool unexploded bouncing betty--aaeiii!"
But I guess it's the best beach they got, so Dad was out there doing the arab-by-the-sea deal, which is to wear tons of clothes from head to foot and sweat and never go near the water, when that naval gunfire disrupted the picnic. It was a bad look for the IDF, all the usual wailing Palestinians holding up bloody clothes and other trophies. These guys are camera-wise now, and they got it in one take.
So this DIME was born out of the twisted logic of Gaza, where the IDF is trying to kill one or two guys wandering around the most overcrowded stinking ghetto on the planet. Arabs at that, who can't stand to be more than an inch from anybody they're talking to.
So they had a dilemma to deal with: How do you kill Arab (A) without hurting Arab (B)? DIME, that's how! One minute they're all touching each other and yammering at 150 decibels, which is their way of chatting, and suddenly Arab (A) is as gone as Elijah, along with Arab (B)'s arm up to the elbow. But hey, the good part is that aside from that little body-mod, Arab (B) comes out relatively ok. He's just going to have to favor the other arm when he plays ping-pong.
At this point a small smelly Asian guy in a sweaty sheepskin coat at the back of the DoD research-and-development briefing stands up and asks with a shy smile, "Excuse me please, should one not also kill Arab (B) rather than leave him alive to avenge his friend's death? Should one not kill all the children of this beach picnicker rather than let them grow up dreaming of avenging their father?"
And the 6'5" Lt. Col. running the briefing starts to laugh at this amateur till his aide whispers, "Umm, sir, that's Genghis Khan. So we better treat it like a serious question!"
So the Col. clears his throat and says, "Well Mister Khan sir, that's a real good question and it all has to do with collateral damage, and, um, well, what would YOU do with Gaza?"
Genghis just smiles shyly again and winks, and suddenly everybody in the room sees the same vision: an empty beach, with the camera zooming back to show an empty Middle East, a gigantic Mongol hunting preserve, with only the hawks and other large birds of prey kept as decoration.
Could've happened, too, if the damn Knights of Old had had the sense to ally themselves to the Mongols against the Saracens. The Mongols offered that deal to the Crusading Knights in the mid-13th century. The Mongols were annoyed with the Muslims, and when the Mongols were annoyed, heads didn't just roll, they got hacked off and stacked up, in big piles the size of small hills. The Mongols, who were very polite folks, offered the Crusaders the chance to crush the Muslims in a pincer movement. But no, those medieval chivalrous idiots, the dumbest generals ever with the exception of all commanders of the Army of the Potomac pre-Meade, decided to buddy up with their worst enemies the Saracens instead. The Mongols were thrown back, and here we are, stuck with a billion Muslims yelling all the time and blowing themselves up and sending their little heads bouncing into the street like rock'em-sock'em boxer toys. Thanks, Knights.
As you can probably tell, I'm getting real sick of this Lord of the Rings crap, this medieval warfare thing. Medieval European armies were crap. Russia alone had as many men in arms as the rest of Europe combined, and even the Russians collapsed when the Mongols, the first TRUE world superpower, arrived.
But no, all the fools love them knights and their lame swords.
One of the sad fat secretaries in my office is always reading these fantasy novels about knights who save ladies -- and judging by the cover pictures, these ladies always weigh about 100 pounds less than the actual ladies who read about them. The knights on the covers look like steroid casualties with these weird girly clean-cut faces, and they're always standing by a tree chatting to the skinny fantasy lady. I don't know what brought all this on, those Lord of the Rings movies or what, but it's gotta stop. Maybe we could have deprogramming centers for fat sad secretaries, introduce them to the actual world of medieval warfare. A world of shit everywhere, for starters.
Reminds me of one of the most intelligent rhymes at my elementary school, that actually taught you the truth about those times:
In days of old when knights were bold
And toilets weren't invented
They left their load beside the road
And went away contented.
Those knights would've stank up the castle from miles away. Damsel leans out the tower window, "Ah, Sir Dweebus returneth at last! I estimate him to be -- sniff, sniff -- no more than twenty leagues off, my ladies, for the stench hath not yet made me puke my entrails! O sweet shit-breeze of love!"
And as for protecting the weak and charming the ladies, come off it! Those knights were Hell's Angels with horses instead of Harleys and those stupid swords of theirs were just sharpened tire irons they smashed through the heads of anybody who didn't kiss their stinking asses. They were drunk all day and even meaner when they were hungover. They raped every girl they could catch, sold widows and orphans to the Turks, and never spared a single prisoner unless he looked rich enough to be ransomed.
And they had no loyalty, not even to their religion. Just ask the Byzantines about that. Constantinople found out what it was like being visited by the knights of old in 1204. Those wonderful chivalrous knights needed a ride to the Holy Land and the Venetians offered to drop them off if they'd do a little favor: burning Venice's trade rival, Constantinople, and killing and raping everyone in it.
"Nooooo problemo," said the valiant knights, and in a few weeks Constantinople, a Christian city that had held off the Muslim hordes for centuries, was a smoking ruin.
So don't tell me about chivalry. Those knights weren't even any good militarily. Look what happened when they faced a real military force, the Mongols, a few decades after beating up on poor Constantinople. The knights were a joke to the Mongols, like big slow hay bales tied onto gigantic slow plow-horses. The Mongol archers on their little ponies played with those suckers like a gang of Filipinos with switchblades cutting up a suburban high-school football team in full pads. Bunch of Vanilla-Ice idiots stumbling around trying to throw body blocks on a flick-knife: "Gee coach, I can't see so good with all this blood in my eyes!"
After a few minutes up against the Mongols, those 13th-c. knights had enough arrow-feathers sticking out of them to fly away, except they were too deceased to flap their arms. Thousands of El Cid galloping around -- dead guys still in the saddle.
The only army in Europe to give the Mongols any trouble was the Hungarian, and that's because the Hungarians didn't fight like Europeans. The Magyar started out as steppe nomads too, mounted archers who'd only settled in the Hungarian plain for a few generations. At Mohi they fought the Mongols to a draw for hours before the sheer size and momentum of the Mongol multi-ethnic steamroller took them down.
If civilization ever does break down and we go back to fighting medieval-style, put your money on mounted archers using compound bows vs. just about any other figuration in military history. And don't believe any hype about "chivalry." First person who uses that word to you, kill'em, preferably with a nice sneaky back-stab. That's what the knights, the real knights, would've done.