Friday, September 28, 2007

"Clean" Killing

I suppose at first it was the sappers (combat engineers) who did tunneling during siege operations – and after them the artillerymen – back in the 14th century they were one and the same.

But perhaps not, for in the early days artillery was more like a direct fire weapon; one saw the blood and broken bodies after firing each round.

Until the 20th century, the “deciding” factor in land warfare remained close combat, sometimes even for the generals. Rifling gun bores extended effective ranges of small arms, but gains here were minor compared to the greater distances achieved by indirect fire weapons.

Still, until the development of airplanes, even navies had to see each other to engage in decisive combat.

By World War II, changes were already happening. Fleets of ships launched bombers that flew at high altitudes as they attacked the enemy’s cities with high explosives, incendiary devices, and finally, in Japan, with atomic bombs. Post-war intercontinental bombers (B-47 and B-52) and intercontinental missiles were built to deliver nuclear weapons, a contingency that, had it occurred, would have produced climate changes affecting pilots as well as those who survived the retaliation -- with everyone aware of the precipitating actions. But it wouldn’t be the same as old fashion blood and gore.

(And when the Pentagon did use these bombers for conventional war fighting, they carpet-bombed with conventional weapons, again flying at altitudes too high to see anything.)

“Precision weapons” platforms -- ships, planes, helicopters, tanks -- both manned and unmanned, with ever increasing stand-off distances, followed. And although ordinary soldiers are using a rifle designed 50 years ago, one special-duty category of soldier now operating in Iraq and Afghanistan has a long-range weapon that can destroy a materiel target (parked aircraft, light armored vehicle) out beyond 2,000 meters.
Now few people can see clearly out that far -- unless they have a sniper scope -- conveniently provides by the Army. With that, the sniper is able to see the results of his shot.

Interestingly, until a few weeks ago, the longest distance for a verified “kill” by a sniper came out of Vietnam -- 2,250 meters. The new published record just set by a member of a Canadian sniper team in Afghanistan is 2,430 meters -- a “chest” shot.

The U.S. army refuses to discuss publicly the range at which U.S. snipers have killed not a “materiel” target but a human being. The Pentagon is also tight-lipped about the use of “bait” to lure individuals to pick up “elements of weapons” (detonator cord or bullets), an action that is then used as “evidence” that the person is a terrorist or insurgent, making the unsuspecting person an enemy combatant, which frees the sniper to fire at and kill the “enemy” -- neatly collapsing the roles of accuser, investigator, prosecutor, judge, and executor into one soldier.

Of course, such a system of “justice” doesn’t need a jury, but it seems to have a Greek chorus at a trial in which members of a sniper team are cooperating with military prosecutors in the trial of other team members on charges of murder.

Ironically, the current trial involves not a long range sniper killing but shooting and killing an Iraqi with a pistol.

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