Monday, 8 February 2016

A war like no other?

I've posted here previously about responding to a "dirty bomb".  The sources that I looked at for that piece were fairly low-key about the health risks posed by such a bomb, viewing it more as a "weapon of mass disruption" than a major health hazard.  This is no doubt correct, although a recent news story has suggested that in the right circumstances, a dirty bomb could pose a significant health hazard.  Professor Tom Cawthern of Salisbury University was quoted as saying that -
[Radioactive material left over from chemotherapy treatments, science experiments and construction] ... could be stuffed into a pipe bomb and detonated, sending dangerous particles into the air bomb radius and beyond.  "You would have gastrointestinal problems for sure and if it's on the skin you would end up with kind of discoloration of the skins, burns, blisters that sort of stuff," ... [and if] the radioactive material was used to contaminate a water source, such as a lake or reservoir ... people would slowly get sick, but doctors would not be able to determine the cause, resulting in likely misdiagnosis of the cause

Marxist scholar Mike Davis has described car bombs as "the poor man's air force".  He points out that they are a remarkably precise way of delivering death and destruction, and capable of causing widespread demoralization and billions of dollars in economic damage and disruption.  Moreover, defending against them is so labour intensive as to be impossible on a large scale.  Combining this type of weapon with radioactive material would be, in many ways, a more pressing threat to public welfare than the danger of North Korea developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.  If this sounds absurd, try and picture the Oklahoma City bombing with radioactive material thrown in.  Then have a stiff drink.
Image from here
What makes this supremely concerning is that the combined unpredicatability of carbombs mixed with the hazards of radiation renders meaningless - almost ridiculous - the advice that governments past have offered about nuclear warfare.
Perhaps I'm becoming paranoid.  But I find myself thinking that if certain commentators are correct and "the west" is now in another world war, then it is a war without much precedent in recent history: where for one side (maybe both, depending on your point of view) civilians are fair game, and where the groups of combattants at any one time are no larger than is needed for a given 'event'.  And where on one side at least, much of the work of recovery will be carried out by civilian volunteers and much of the task of attack and defence will fall to police who must act like soldiers and soldiers who must think like police.

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