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 <http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,72134-0.html>, 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 to 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
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
You say goodbye and I say hello.
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