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The Unbearable Lightness of Bombing

by Hamit Dardagan


“Might makes right until they’ve seen the light.”

“Send The Marines” Tom Lehrer

Be it in Afghanistan or Vietnam, Cambodia or Panama, Iraq or Kosovo, Libya, the Sudan or elsewhere, US-led bombing is always in some way associated with the word light:

Like a skilled surgeon avoiding arteries, “surgical” US bombing scrupulously avoids civilian casualties, so that the civilian death-toll is light, or as light as can be expected.

When these surgical bombs do hit a civilian artery (so to speak), American “investigators” will make light of victims’ claims, saying things like “Where are the bodies?” or “There should be more blood.” [The Guardian.] You could say that here, “Might makes light.”

When US bombing is at its most indiscriminate, as in the practise of “carpet bombing” or the use of “daisy cutters” and “cluster bombs”, it is given lighter coverage in the mainstream US media. In comparison to their laser-guided cousins, the effects of these far more numerous and destructive bombs barely see the light of day. This is presumably because masonry being expertly pulverized makes for light viewing, while humans suffering the same fate do not.

At any rate, it’s a safe guess that most US-led bombing transforms the young, the old, the tired, the poor and huddled masses at the receiving end into light sleepers.

To allay any misgivings, such bombing is always pursued from a very high moral ground, ensuring that its overall impact on the American psyche is light. (What this high moral ground is, no one can explain, but it can be assumed to be related to and approximately as substantial as a thousand points of light.)

The bombing is almost as invariably performed from a very high altitude, so that American bomber casualties are as light as air supremacy allows (although you might be pulled off the air for pointing this out; political incorrectness has its limits, after all).

Performed in a timely manner, it permits politicians facing uncomfortable domestic scrutiny to get off lightly by providing searing prime-time distractions and a convincing illusion that the country is in a shooting war. Indeed it seems that the latest, Afghan bombing campaign has cast the current light-headed, light-touch, lightweight US President in an entirely new light (apparently, just nodding at a handful of advisors is no longer regarded as light work).

It sets light to the paper on which the Geneva Conventions are written, such as the onerous provisions that would prohibit the US and its allies from performing massacre by aerial bombardment of mutinous (but completely trapped) POWs.

It lightens the workload of diplomacy, as a President who carries (and wields) this big stick can speak unintelligible nonsense and still be clearly understood in every corner of the planet.

However despite these advantages US bombing is never undertaken lightly (although that may depend on what your definition of “is” is). Instead it is always conducted in the guiding light of reason. (Or more accurately, “reasons”; reasons which may be fully revealed later but are rarely admitted. Usually these can be traced to eyes lighting up with dollar signs.)

Finally, it must always be remembered that American bombing is the greatest hope for the forces of light against the forces of darkness, in so far as US bombs flash more brightly and widely and often than any others. In this sense American bombing is truly a light unto the world.

And what a miraculous light that is: so supremely illuminating when unleashed in its ultimate form, that a blind girl many miles from the epicentre of a nuclear blast was reported to have seen it. No rapture can do such wonders justice, for in the words of its first witnesses,

“No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined.” []

Who knows? Perhaps the day will soon arrive when such sights will be glimpsed again, albeit all too briefly, by those fortunate enough to be there. []

Hamit Dardagan can be reached at:

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