Magic Helpers

Speaking of magic helpers, when I was a boy my father used to joke from time to time that a problem we were working on required a sky hook. A sky hook was an imaginary device that would float in the air above you and allow you to hang stuff from it.

I was reminded of that by Seymour Hersh’s article about air power’s role in Iraq, given that the people we might hand ground responsibilities over to haven’t any.

At one point the article falls into that defense contractor catalog motif of casting the weaponry into the role filled by magic helpers in fairytales.

These bombs home in on targets that must be “painted,” or illuminated, by laser beams directed by ground units. … “The guy with the laser is the targeteer. Not the pilot. Often you get a ‘hot-read’ “-from a military unit on the ground-“and you drop your bombs with no communication with the guys on the ground. You don’t want to break radio silence. The people on the ground are calling in targets that the pilots can’t verify.”

It’s a sky hook that breaths fire. I particularly like the detail that these are said to loiter in the skies above.

But the sentence that really caught my eye was this one. Hersh was frustrated in his attempts to figure out exactly how much fire has rained down the skyies over Iraq. The best he could do was a press release from a the fall of 2004, a year ago.

"Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance."

That’s 500,000+ tons, or 1,000,000,000 pounds of explosives. I presume that a pound of explosives refers to some standard explosive; presumably TNT. Iraq is 168,754 square miles; so that’s 5,925 pounds of explosives every square mile. And most of it is just empty desert!

We need more fairy tales where the magic helper turns out to be the wrong one.

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