According to the Daily Mail last week, and any news agency you care to mention, a team of highly trained sea lions is now heading for the Gulf to augment the personnel currently gathering for a war that government doublespeak spokesmen have long been claiming is “neither imminent nor inevitable”.
The sea lions will not be taking Saddam’s eye off the war-balls by balancing hoops on their noses, clapping their flippers or catching fish. Rather, they form a crack squad of operatives trained to find and remove mines, and are more specifically accomplished in the art of poking Iraqi divers on underwater sabotage missions.
According to one report “when they find [a diver] they are trained to report back to their handler and signal with excited squeaks. A small pack is then strapped to the sea lion’s back with a rigid probe running out from it and extending in front of its head. The mammal is then sent back into action – to quickly find the swimmer again and jab him with the probe”.
In some cases, the luckless saboteur is sprayed with paint that sends out a signal enabling the navy to locate them. Alternatively, a float is released with a bright strobe attached, marking the diver’s location. It doesn’t take incredible brain power to work out that it might be simpler to get the sea lion to blast the bastard out of the water, (or maybe just inject him with some ricin) but that’s not a touchy-feely tale, so the US Navy denies this. The time-honoured conspiracy logic has it that stories denied by the military are obviously true.
Hence, believe it or not, depending on your bent:
“They do not place mines or blow them up, they don’t operate weapons and they don’t kill anybody,” said a spokesman.
So that’s all right then. The navy has about 100 trained dolphins and 30 other marine mammals, and the first experiments began in the 60s. The Boy’s Own adventure involves yearly budgets of up to $8m, a rumoured “swimmer nullification programme” (i.e. killing people) in Vietnam, the death of a much-loved bottlenose called Skippy from a bacterial infection, and a battle with Ric O’Barry of the Sugarloaf Sanctuary near Key West when he released two re-trained retirees before filling out the necessary paperwork.
But it’s not all bad news: a number of Ukrainian dolphins, used by the Soviet navy, have been re-skilled. They now undertake therapy work with autistic and emotionally disturbed children. George Bush might benefit from a session.
Of course, the seal story didn’t just drop down out of the ether. Somebody punted it into the media for a reason. Presumably to enhance a general impression of the American military as an awe-inspiringly sophisticated bunch, capable of innovating fantastical but workable techniques to protect our lads and beat the bogeymen.
If they can win seals over to fight for the cause, what else could they be capable of? We’re safe, safe, safe. Hooray.
The story also activates that romantic feel for Biggles-style military derring-do that focuses on gallant fighting folk, and not on mothers bleeding to death beside kids with their legs blown off in that inconvenient, non-PR-friendly, collateral casualty kind of way. Next time you get caught up in jolly stories of seals, just stop to imagine your house in pieces and your five-year-old daughter dead amongst the wreckage.
But the great Hollywoodisation of war is now in full swing. Take this latest tale: the US Air Force (Will Dunham at Reuters tells us) is developing a secret weapon (so secret that one of the world’s biggest news agencies knows all about it). It’s a high-power microwave (HPM) that generates a massive electromagnetic pulse capable of frying the insides of digital electronic systems, disabling enemy systems. This is according to “analysts”. Which analysts? Well, military analyst Loren Thompson from the Lexington Institute think tank for one.
A note here to myself, and to anyone else with an interest in digging around for dirt. Think tank is a funny term. The Lexington Institute claims to be a non-partisan researcher into, and battler on behalf of, democracy. Odd that its mission statement includes the following:
“The Institute … actively opposes the unnecessary intrusion of the federal government into the commerce and culture of the nation, and strives to find non-governmental, market-based solutions to public-policy challenges. We believe a dynamic private sector is the greatest engine for social progress and economic prosperity”.
Hmmm. Non-partisan. Sound like the kind of folk who would define Virgin Rail’s operations as social progress.
But back to the HPM.
The really rather nifty thing about the HPM, according to our trusted, impartial analyst “is that they can shut down virtually any military electronics system while producing no casualities and minimal physical damage”. Now that is cool. We have performing seals, and we have Thunderbirds style rays that kill nobody and win the war, just like that. So no worry about dead five-year-olds.
It’s a moment to celebrate, possibly with a little light humour. As Thompson says “there’s always the possibility that you’ll get the scant general with a pacemaker”. Hee hee hee. What a card!
From the layman’s point of view, a few queries arise. Like how do you deliver a digital fryer to its target without frying the digital systems of the delivery equipment? (According to Thompson, you do that with unmanned aircraft, or cruise missiles, but then again – call me thick if you like – surely these also require digital guidance and tracking? Or maybe they only attack Iraqi electronics, which are quite probably weird).
Let’s gloss over that. “Rudimentary” versions of this stuff may be deployed in Iraq, says Thompson.
There’s loads more blah about this exciting development, much of which suggests (a) it’s just a small extension of domestic microwaving principles and (b) it won’t knock out hospital systems because it has a “small footprint”.
And then the killer app; “a fabulous target would be a deeply buried command bunker or chemical-biological weapons bunker that we weren’t certain we could dig out of the ground with conventional explosives, but which would have to have communications and power lines going into and out of it. It’s almost impossible to buffer those lines against a power surge”.
It might be worth taking a little more time looking into the Lexington Institute and, more particularly, its sponsors. Would it, perhaps, be connected to “dynamic private sector” armaments manufacturers (amongst other corporate and governmental interests)? How strong is its claim to impartiality? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.
Whatever the background: this story is another illustration of how we are being sold a smart-bomb, clinical, surgical, civilian-casualty-free concept of war, managed by a supremely sophisticated fighting machine.
This is what our lords and masters work tirelessly to promote. Don’t worry: it’s war, but it’s not war. If we have to do it, then we’ll do it neatly, tidily and quickly. Like last time. Please don’t listen to the likes of Human Rights Watch. They just make up silly, exaggerated stories for dubious propaganda purposes.
Inference, insinuation, and innuendo are rife. We’re being won over to the war by consummate professionals in the art of spinning yarns, that are fed to docile, primed, selective media targets.
Smart bombs of misinformation delivered with deadly accuracy by publicists in the pay of government interests. Effective media management is enough to win support for a war, to limit damage once the war is underway, and to portray the outcome as a victory for all.
No wonder people trust PRs less than estate agents. Estate agents just sell you a house down the road. They don’t conspire to blow them up 3,000 miles away. Which in turn might provoke someone to come back and blow up the house you’ve bought.