Some bombs are better than others

moral relativism and machismo


About 12 hours after I wrote this came news that we had dropped the Mother Of All Bombs somewhere in Afghanistan. Also, the startling revelation that “MOAB” is not just some moronic Trumpism but an actual acronym. I leave the title and body of the 3 minute read below stet., with stated skepticism that while some bombs are better than others, MOABs are probably not among them. And also probably have nothing to do with actual Mothers. I mean, duh.


Chemical weapons? 
Bad. Most definitely.

Worth bombing to obliteration in nine cases out of ten.

Definitely better destroyed on an airfield last Friday than deployed daily in the hope of gaining 100 yeards of Flanders wasteland. Right, boys?

Here’s my clenched fist/flexed bicep “yes” thing on hearing the news. 
Here’s my eyeroll every time I hear the justification.

“Used chemical weapons against his own people.”

Those chemical weapons — they did a number ‘our people’ and ‘your people’ and the french people in Ypres. So thick you could hardly see to stumble into the bomb craters or the enemy trenches where you might bayonet someone (one of your people, one of my people, one of the german people) who was dead anyway of dysentery or sepsis or a mortar.

Back in our barbaric days when we fought wars with gas. 
When we/they/you used them on you/them/us. But ‘we’ signed up. And ‘they’ were in uniform. They were totally ‘our own people,’ by the way. The ones who wriggled under mustard clouds to drop grenades into foxholes. I’ve read my Robert Graves.

Still, bad. Ban ‘em bad.

Banned. But still the kids wore masks during world war 2, which would make your heart break, but not as much as foaming at the mouth. Because toxins are creepier than things that blow up.

You know what I’m getting at, right? The sarin attacks were ugly. But not uglier than the five years that preceded them. The devastation of Aleppo, the siege of Homs, the deliberate destruction of hospitals, the indiscriminate airstrikes on residential districts. And the Idlib victims were innocent. But they were not more innocent than their neighbors killed by shrapnel or the doctors bombarded in their surgeries.

What they certainly are not — those 84 dead — are “Assad’s own people.” He lost that claim long ago. Bashar al Assad is fighting a war, but not for Syria and not for people, capitalized or not.

Look, relativism is dangerous. And dumb if you are Sean Spicer. But perspective is important, even if just to keep fist-pumping in check.

So I’ll end by agreeing, this one time, with our syntactically simplistic commander in chief on the use of chemical weapons.

Trump: “I think it’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world.”

Illustration: Ben Jennings, Guardian

Well, yup.

So are: open carry laws; mass incarceration; military budgets that dwarf health and education; armed confrontations legitimised by the presence of weapons of mass destruction; and nuclear arsenals controlled by erratic commanders (“I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete”).

So well done, tomahawk missiles. But don’t get cocky. Because you know what else is bad for mankind? Targeting errors. Ask you fancy pants cousins the drones who keep ruining rural wedding parties in Afghanistan because when they are not our own people we sometimes can’t tell the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them.’