"It will allow us to safeguard our state’s security," declared Russia’s deputy armed forces chief of staff in publicly praising what is called the "Father of All Bombs." As the erstwhile Soviet Union continues with the fallout of its collapse, the surviving Russian government has sought ever-more-powerful weapons with which to threaten and kill those who dare to secede from its authority. Russian generals threatened to use such weaponry against Chechnyan rebels.
Twenty years ago, in my Calculated Chaos book, I wrote of the institutional virtues of the neutron bomb: a weapon that only destroys people, without damaging buildings, bridges, transportation facilities, factories, and other physical assets. While it is different from the neutron bomb, the Russians’ latest contribution to the state’s arsenals of destruction serves similar ends. "All that is alive merely evaporates," the Russians reported. The aforesaid government official added: "I want to stress that the action of this weapon does not contaminate the environment." It only obliterates pesky people, those elements in the statist equation which, characterized by their own self-interested free will, are capable of upsetting governmental planning and control. A bridge, or an airport, or an office building do not care to what ends they are being put, for they have no capacity for "caring." The state, like other institutions, seeks conditions of "equilibrium," of changelessness. The only time in which humans are in equilibrium is when they are dead or, at the very least, can be counted upon to not deviate from governmental dictates. This is why the state has long been attracted to robotic actors, be they technological or biological in nature.
The only practice in which the state has demonstrated any competency lies in its increased efficiency in the mass slaughter of people. Consistent with all forms of human action, it constantly endeavors to lower the unit costs of mass destruction. The arms race — from spear-throwing to the use of more conventional weapons to nuclear bombs — has always been driven by a desire to maximize destructiveness at the lowest costs. But the state must also take into account the costs of cleaning up the mess afterwards. The World War II "battle of Stalingrad" reportedly left some two million dead on the surrounding battlefield, with the remains of soldiers still being found. Even to the Russian government — never known to be squeamish about such matters — this is a most untidy affair. Far better to have the dead vaporized, rather than being left to litter streets, parks, and offices!
Like their American counterparts, the Russians are learning to touch all the politically-correct bases in defending their policies and practices. This bomb "does not contradict a single international treaty," the government reports, nor does it discriminate on prohibited grounds (such as race, gender, religion, etc.). It destroys indiscriminately any who have been unfortunate enough to be in a targeted area. Above all else, the bomb is environmentally safe, a quality that many self-styled environmentalists — for whom human well-being has never been the highest priority — will likely find attractive.
The Russians have added this bomb to the package of mechanized horrors with which political institutions terrorize people. In threatening to use such super-bombs in its "anti-terrorist operation" against the Chechnyans, the Russians have acknowledged that the alleged "war on terror" is, in fact, a "war of terror." The United States admitted as much — at least to those willing to look behind the cascade of lies — in the use of its own super-bomb to terrorize Iraqi civilians in its campaign of "shock and awe." Nor have the American people been deprived of the opportunity of discovering what the Chechnyans have learned, namely, that the "war on terror" is, in reality, a war against themselves.
So, where does this leave the Americans? Russian officials stated that this bomb is four times more powerful than the American version — known as the "Mother of All Bombs." In employing familial imagery in the naming of such vicious weaponry, the state has cynically perverted the normal loving and protective role parents play toward their children, into the psychotic acts by which some mothers drown their children, or fathers shoot theirs. The conservative celebrants of warfare who love to bleat their "pro-life" and "family values" homilies, might pay close attention to the contradictions they enthusiastically endorse.
I suspect that most Americans can now be counted upon to urge their government to respond with an ever-more-powerful super-bomb. After having "won" the Cold War — whatever that may mean — "we" do not want to take second place in the race to develop the tools for the mass obliteration of all the "others" in the world who might insist upon their own purposes and directions for their lives. Perhaps scientists at the University of California’s Livermore Labs can be counted upon to restore American pride by developing a "Super-Father" of a bomb. Defense contractors can certainly be counted upon to promote such a project!
Despite the rampant insanity by which we continue to organize human society, most people still regard anarchists as unrealistic and strange, and politicians as practical visionaries. Perhaps this is to be expected when people evaluate one another’s conduct by normative standards (e.g., in a cannibal society, a vegetarian would be looked upon with distrust).
Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that the state is in decline: recourse to such weaponry as described herein is testimony to the failure of political systems to generate the peaceful order they have long vocalized as their purpose. The collapse of the state will come about, I suspect, for the same reason that brought about the demise of that earlier leviathan, the dinosaur: an inability, occasioned by its massive size, to remain resilient to the changes over which it had no control.
On the other hand, it may be argued that we are genetically fated to our self-annihilation. The late Arthur Koestler once described mankind as an evolutionary mistake; a killer ape with a highly-developed intelligence was bound to prove troublesome. If Koestler is right — and I am not convinced that he is — our obsession with employing so much of our energy to the creation of technologies for controlling and destroying one another, may be so programmed into us that only a head-on confrontation with life forces might alter our behavior. If this is so, as we humans continue our lemming-like march to our own destruction, we may glimpse the dolphins waiting in the wings to bring a peaceful expression of intelligence to life’s stage.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.