"Boutique" weaponry: the future is now

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Below, two Los Angeles Times pieces on the sort of sci-fi weaponry the American military has been madly developing for future wars. Of course, it turns out that the future is now. All those once-upon-a-time ray guns of Flash Gordon fame are suddenly about to be with us in some form, and they’re not entertaining at all. Military analyst William Arkin on the Sunday Opinion page of today’s LA Times discusses one subset of them, microwave weapons, and Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of the American Federation of Scientists, who has done yeoman work trying to track down the anthrax killer(s), describes another subset, “nonlethal” weaponry of the sort the Russians used in the Moscow theater hostage crisis.

When it comes to harming human beings, their technology and the infrastructure of their societies, it turns out we are a nonpareil. Basically there aren’t even names for some of this — to use the charming term of the military — “boutique” weaponry. Perhaps we’ll have to categorize the “nonlethal” weaponry Barbara Rosenberg describes, for instance, as weapons of mass manipulation or weapons of mass pacification.

Forget treaties, international agreements, the “rules” of war, and all the rest, in a fast militarizing society, these weapons that blur every line and cross all boundaries are, naturally enough, imagined as the answers to crucial global problems — the way, for example, to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (though they themselves will, like all weapons systems, proliferate, be possessed by smaller and smaller nations and finally by small groups of fanatics, terrorists, or apocalyptic cults). All this should be so obvious — among the few “lessons” of history of which one can be sure. But weapons, I’m afraid, are increasingly our idols and idols always blind their worshippers to the truth of things. Tom

‘Sci-Fi’ Weapons Going to War
By William M. Arkin, December 8, 2002, Los Angeles Times

SOUTH POMFRET, Vt. — On April 30, 2001, more than 30 square miles of the rolling Maryland countryside that make up the Aberdeen Proving Grounds were cleared of all nonessential personnel for the first full-scale test of a new weapon. Planners also took care to remove all unnecessary electronic equipment, because electronic equipment was exactly what the new weapon was designed to destroy.

At 6:13 p.m., the antenna on the exotic new device was switched on and a high-powered beam of microwaves was fired at a nearby truck — the first field deployment of a “directed energy” weapon. It fried the truck’s ignition and air-fuel mixing system, bringing the hapless vehicle to a halt.

To read more of this article from the Los Angeles Times, click here.


‘Nonlethal’ Weapons Put Humanity at Risk
By Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Mark L. Wheelis, December 1, 2002, Los Angeles Times

The same technological revolution that is now accelerating the development of new medical products is also making it possible for coercive regimes to manipulate human beings by altering their psychological processes, controlling their behavior, interfering with reproduction or tampering with inheritance — and even to do so without the knowledge of the victims.

The International Red Cross, not usually alarmist, has taken the unusual step of issuing an urgent appeal to prevent the use of this technology as a weapon through hostile manipulation of fundamental life processes.

Weapons with these unprecedented capabilities have been outlawed, along with other chemical and biological weapons.

To read more of this article from the Los Angeles Times, click here.