“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, April 14, 2007

blasts from the past

Mike Davis has a new book out on the history of the car bomb. LI wanted to review this book, but we have fallen behind on our querying, and so … here it is April, and the book is already out there.

But lucky internauts don’t have to spend no stinking money nowadays to get to the heart of the heart of it. Davis spun the book out of two articles he posted with Tom’s Dispatch, here and here.

Davis is ragpicking history here – but what rags! His conceit – that the car bomb is the poor man’s bomber airplane – is one of those immediately clarifying images – especially for those who are familiar with Sven Lindquvist’s oneiric history of air bombing. Lindqvist did a lot of vampirehunting through the vaults in his book, ranging through the dream images of literature as well as the newspapers, the military reports, the testimonies. He grasps the idea that the war culture is not just found on the battlefield:

“In an illustration in Jules Verne's The Flight of Engineer Roburs (1886), the airship glides majestically over Paris, the capital of Europe. Powerful searchlights shine on the waters of the Seine, over the quays, bridges, and facades. Astonished but unperturbed, the people gaze up into the sky, amazed at the unusual sight but without fear, without feeling the need to seek cover. In the next illustration the airship floats just as majestically and inaccessibly over Africa. But here it is not a matter merely of illumination. Here the engineer intervenes in the events on the ground. With the natural authority assumed by the civilized to police the savage, he stops a crime from taking place. The airship's weapons come into play, and death and destruction rain down on the black criminals, who, screaming in terror, try to escape the murderous fire.”


That sense of who get blasted and who doesn't, that divide into acceptable and unacceptable victims, is of course still the flowsheet of our history, and its miseries.

America has always tried to be first with the weaponry, and if the poor men use car bombs, by Jihad, we are going to use them too! So, as Davis points out, we began to sponsor them in Lebanon, against Hezbollah:

“Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon, but the Reagan administration and, above all, CIA Director William Casey were left thirsting for revenge against Hezbollah. "Finally in 1985," according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in Veil, his book on Casey's career, "he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill [Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Fadlallah who they determined was one of the people behind, not only the Marine barracks, but was involved in the taking of American hostages in Beirut… It was Casey on his own, saying, ‘I‘m going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon -- the car bomb.'"

The CIA's own operatives, however, proved incapable of carrying out the bombing, so Casey subcontracted the operation to Lebanese agents led by a former British SAS officer and financed by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. In March 1984, a large car bomb was detonated about 50 yards from Sheikh Fadlallah's house in Bir El-Abed, a crowded Shiite neighborhood in southern Beirut. The sheikh wasn't harmed, but 80 innocent neighbors and passersby were killed and 200 wounded. Fadlallah immediately had a huge "MADE IN USA" banner hung across the shattered street, while Hezbollah returned tit for tat in September when a suicide truck driver managed to break through the supposedly impregnable perimeter defenses of the new U.S. embassy in eastern (Christian) Beirut, killing 23 employees and visitors.”


But Lebanon was much too complex a field for the U.S. to operate in with any assurance. In the 80s, the golden era in which uncle sam’s cartoon heroes took on the evil empire and invented the forms that would later be used by Al qaeda to attack the U.S., all the shit gravitated to Afghanistan. We already know that the U.S. and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia set up the international network to shuffle around men and money that is with us today, and that will no doubt be used when the U.S. or the U.K. or France or Denmark or wherever is attacked again. What fascinates Davis is the way the CIA – probably in a peek moment, a blue orgasm of deep ops – actually spread the technology of car bombing:


“U.S. Special Forces experts would now provide high-tech explosives and teach state-of-the-art sabotage techniques, including the fabrication of ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) car bombs, to Pakistani intelligence service (or ISI) officers under the command of Brigadier Mohammed Yousaf. These officers, in turn, would tutor thousands of Afghan and foreign mujahedin, including the future cadre of al-Qaeda, in scores of training camps financed by the Saudis. "Under ISI direction," Coll writes, "the mujahedin received training and malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities, usually designed to kill Soviet soldiers and commanders. Casey endorsed these despite the qualms of some CIA career officers."


Pynchon's novel, Against the Day, features Webb Traverse, a dynamite addict from the old mine wars back in the Rockies in the nineties - wars of the owners against the unions - who gets lost in the arcana of dynamite - for, as is usual in Pynchon, matter at the deeper levels is not physical so much as gnostic. Webb and his Finn buddy Veikko celebrate new years, 1899 with a little home anarchy, attaching fuses to a railroad bridge:

"Four closely set blasts, cracks in the fabric of air and time, merciless, bonestrumming. Breathing seemed beside the point. Rising dirt yellow clouds full of wood splinters, no wind to blow them anyplace. Track and trusswork went sagging into the arroyo.

Webb and Veikko watched across a meadow of larkspur and Indian paint brush, and behind them a little creek rushed down the hillside. "Seen worse," Webb nodded after a while.

"Was beautiful! what do you want the end of the world?"
"Sufficient unto the day," Webb shrugged. "Course."
Veikko was pouring vodka. "Happy fourth of July, Webb."

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