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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Killing and dying.

A long time ago I had an unusual job.
It dealt with 96 nuclear-armed, ground-launched, cruise missiles.

When you deal with weapons like that, on mobile systems – basically all-terrain tractor-trailer units, you have to deal with some very real threats. So, your training has to encompass those things.

Within this framework I’d like to paint you a picture of a portion of this training. Let me tell you about the end of the world.

If you’re hit by a nuclear weapon – hell, if it’s anywhere nearby, you’re a ghost before you even knew something bad happened. If you’re further away, you get shards of material blasted at near the speed of sound, through the walls of your house. If you’re in front of a window, the glass will shred you, and you’ll die of blood loss before you can even register the burns – and mercifully before the radiation causes you to hemhorage. The weakness and sickness and loss of hair, bodily function and finally bleeding, will kill those less lucky – those not close enough for instant vaporization, but far enough away to seemingly have escaped. They will die within days or a week, staggering through the ruins.

And a terrorist’s dirty bomb is very good at producing the latter effect, on a smaller scale. But those who die, will die badly. Very badly. Consider your own home – think about everyone sick at the same time – no one to care for them. No ability to care for each other. That is what a nuke – dirty or otherwise, produces.

All warriors are cold warriors. The truth of these things is never far from your mind. But worse truths lay in wait. Let me share them with you.

Consider a perfect day, not too much wind, not too much sun not too hot or cold. It’s a good day to be outside, walking the streets of your city. But as night approaches, an aerosol is dispersed. It won’t happen high up. But the chemical will come as a fine mist. It will stick to surfaces. There are about 70 different variations of what you just breathed or got on your skin. It may affect your vision, or your nervous system as a whole, but here’s the highlights: In as little as a few hours you and your family members will be suffering from blindness, hideous blisters which will burst and cause more blisters, lungs which are irreversibly damaged, will likely fill with fluid and you’ll die – if you’re lucky. If not, involuntary urination, defecation, vomiting, twitching, and unstoppable convulsions will precede your demise – and the death of everyone around you.

And that’s just the simple stuff.

Biological Hell is worse. With this end-of-world scenario, aerosol delivery is also very viable. The results are however, much more terrible. Weaponization of these diseases produces resistant strains with methods of delivery designed to have the greatest effect possible on the target. They are also combined and are generally existing as almost a talcum-powder consistency. Anthrax, ebola, Marburg, plague, cholera, tularemia, brucellosis, Shingella, spotted fever, typhus, psittacosis, yellow fever, hemhorragic fever, encephalitis are all known as having been considered for weaponization – or already existing as such. Most are transmissible. Bio-warfare can include variants which act against vegetation, cattle or other animals, collapsing food chains.

An SUU-24/A dispenser – which is ancient technology – could infect 50-percent or more of a population in a 16-square-mile area with Tularemia. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq officials admitted to UN inspection teams that the country produced botulinum toxin in amounts considered to be three times what is necessary to kill the entire human population of the Earth by inhalation. One gram of the toxin evenly dispersed is enough to kill one-million people, albeit technical factors make this somewhat difficult. But despite this, terrorists have already attempted its’ use in Tokyo, Japan.

Nevertheless, death by botulinum toxin is singularly horrible. Once absorbed, it binds irreversibly in the neuromuscular junctions of the synapses. Difficulty seeing, speaking or swallowing begins the process. Dry mouth and hyperventilation start as it becomes obvious that paralysis is taking place. Loss of head control, weakness. But you are not confused. You know exactly what is happening to you, and you can experience every awful moment. Without treatment, you will die. And a microbe modified, could possibly make the toxin transmissible.

So if you have read this far, understand this: Congress is attempting today to cut $2 billion from bioterrorism prevention, claiming the probability of such an attack is low. Probability figures only matter to those whom a thing does not happen to. And I would suggest, we are already seeing the effects of world-enders: witness Sept. 11, Katrina, or the most recent Gulf Oil Spill.

The end of the world doesn’t have to come with trumpets and the return of the messiah. World-enders happen all the time, to average people everywhere. They happen, because of insane acts, drunk drivers, inattentive pilots, faulty equipment, simple, unavoidable sickness and injury, and long days in a hospital waiting for some kind of hope.

Hope is rare at the end of the world.
A long time ago I had an unusual job. The ramifications surrounding the necessity of such a job are staggering. Then Ronald Reagan stood up and asked the Soviet Union to tear down a wall. The world pivoted on that moment.

But the devices and the material and the desire is still out there – a desire to kill others, whatever the cost.Consider this deeply. You are already a target, be it by those claiming “holy war,” or those just claiming it is right to hurt you because of the color of your skin – or because you speak a different language – or because you come from a particular place. Rhetoric has been ratcheted up – even by our country’s leadership, as they take away the money to treat you and your family, should a pandemic occur. The project which would be discontinued if Congress gets its’ way, has already purchased 29 million doses of anthrax vaccine, 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine and 200,000 doses of botulinum toxin treatment. But it will be discontinued because "probabilities" are low. Thousands of people dead on Sept. 11 attacks - but that's not enough. We should stick our heads in the sand and not worry about it. 

I have heard that in the a certain holy text, a specific line suggests that if a man is coming to kill you, you should wake up earlier and kill him first. This passage doesn't speak about protecting your family - it asks you to get to killing earlier.

In our greatest texts – in the things considered revered and timeless, we speak of killing on profound scales. I suppose we’re good at it – it’s the dying part that’s difficult.

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