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Goodbye effect

Active Denial

The US Air Force has had a new toy certified for use in Iraq, the Active Denial System. You might think Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have been using the Active Denial System in the matter of Iraq and much else for quite a long time now, but this is a somewhat different gadget. According to a Wired News report, it fires a beam of “millimeters waves” to irradiate people’s skin, causing immense pain. Lest you think this is dangerous, be assured that the corneas of monkeys were deliberately burned by holding their eyes open during exposure to the rays, and they healed within 24 hours.

ADS is an exciting new advance in the field of “non-lethal weapons”. Perhaps it is time for a sarcastic definition. A non-lethal weapon is a weapon that kills people only by accident.

It could be the case that increasing the arsenal of “non-lethal weapons” tends to widen the field of situations in which they may be used. If it doesn’t (probably) kill anyone, hey, why not use it to break up this pack of pesky placard-holding demonstrators? The squeamish may also protest about the deliberate infliction of pain for political ends, which could be argued to be wandering into the space of torture. Well, there is a range of accepted pain-compliance techniques used by authorities. A policeman who catches a mugger and puts him in a jointlock is using pain to control the subject. Is there a qualitative difference once you start using hi-tech pain rays? Perhaps the fact that the weapon is designed not to be used against a targeted individual but indiscriminately over an “area” is morally relevant here.

One might also remark on the excitement evident in the language of military officers who have talked about the new weapon. Captain Jay Delarosa of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is quoted as saying:

ADS has the same compelling nonlethal effect on all targets, regardless of size, age and gender.

It is reassuring to know that the weapon is not sexist or otherwise discriminatory. I do wonder, though, about Capt Delarosa’s use of the world “compelling”. A “compelling nonlethal effect” may well be compelling to the victim, in the sense of physical compulsion through agony. But compelling can also mean deeply fascinating. Perhaps the “effect” is compelling to those eager to try it out, too.

The ADS, says experimenters, produces “prompt and highly motivated escape behavior”. I think this means it makes you want to run like fuck. As though recognising that this deadening bureaucratic description of people fleeing deliberately inflicted pain is a bit of a mouthful, some wag has come up with a snappier description of the weapon’s consequence: the “Goodbye effect”. No reference to the fact that the word “goodbye” originates in a concatenation of the phrase “God be with you” is presumably intended. I like to imagine Air Force men singing the Beatles through a helicopter-mounted PA system to crowds of troublesome Iraqis:

You say yes, I say no
You say stop and I say go, go, go
Oh, no
You say goodbye and I say hello.

  1. 1  Anonymous  December 8, 2006, 9:51 am 

    Goodbye effect…

    ADS is an exciting new advance in the field of non-lethal weapons. Perhaps it is time for a sarcastic definition. A non-lethal weapon is a weapon that kills people only by accident….

  2. 2  Petrit  December 8, 2006, 12:52 pm 

    The military simulated crowd control situations, rescuing helicopter crews in a Black Hawk Down setting…

    The ADS – designed for use on unarmed crowds and Somalis.

    More unusual tests involved alcohol, attack dogs…

    One has to wonder whether these tests involved the torturers or victims drinking the alcohol. And indeed, whether these tests involved the attack dogs aiming the ADS at the drunken, unarmed crowds of Somalis.

    (I realise that I used the word torture, on my understanding that torture is the deliberate infliction of pain for the purposes of coercion. Others may disagree with that definition.)

  3. 3  Leinad  December 8, 2006, 4:02 pm 

    “Goodbye” effect – well it’s politer than the “Fuck Off” effect

  4. 4  MinorRipper  December 8, 2006, 8:23 pm 

    Great post, thanks. Don’t know if you’ve seen this David Letterman clip with Cheney in it, but its pretty funny–

  5. 5  Graham Giblin  December 10, 2006, 2:46 pm 

    You can understand the military finding the arguments for its use “compelling”. For one, it achieves the silencing of dissent without the inconvenience or bad press of dead bodies. (I forgot, “we don’t do body counts.”)

    My question is how much do these hell machines cost to dream up and to develop, build and deploy? And what might be the outcome if the same amount of money and effort were spent on dreaming up, developing and deploying non-viollent solutions to disagreements? What if, for example, the US Government spent some money researching Middle East societies, cultures and histories? What if they educates their officials in this information? What if they trained them to communicate with people of other cultures in non-confrontational and non-aggressive ways?

    In fact most of these materials and skills are taught in schools, technical colleges (polytechnics) and universities in my country but apparently bureaucrats, soldiers and politicians think all this stuff is a bit too new-fangled for their liking and any victory won without bloodshed (real or metaphorical) is deeply suspect. An insult to our proud military traditions, perhaps.

  6. 6  dsquared  December 11, 2006, 10:26 am 

    [ADS has the same compelling nonlethal effect on all targets, regardless of size, age and gender.]

    I suspect that the implication that it *is* possible to tune millimetre-waves to have differential effects by ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation is a mistake on my part.

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