The Mother Bomb
There’s something disquieting about a military euphemism. Regardless of the baptismal name bestowed upon the bomb, weapon, or event at hand, the military euphemism sneakily portends an unavoidable military end—namely, death. Sometimes in death the end brings amelioration, more often it brings unintended destruction. Given that the military man is rarely celebrated for his “right brain” creativity, you can be sure it’s no small feat when our GIs conjure up a palatable euphemistic misdirection; the goal is to soften a wary public’s perception. A little frivolity can do just that—Daub a moribund military assault with an easy-going meme.
Fat Boy and Little Man are the most enduring names of this sort. Recently they’ve had unexpected career comebacks—as President Trump has made it known—as descriptions for Kim Jong Un and Il respectively. When not moonlighting as corpulent North Korean despots, however, those WWII behemoths find themselves comfortably placed in the pantheon of ballistic euphemism. So too does “Tsar Bomba”, the USSR’s most memorable combustible keepsake. Less folkloric, but no less puissant are America's Thin Man, Castle Bravo, Ivy Mike, Titan, Minuteman, and best of all, Peacekeeper. All are ICBMs.
Most recently introduced to this distinguished society is America’s MOAB bomb. This munition, whose acronym unpoetically spells out its personality—“Massive Ordnance Air Bomb”—is much less cleverly euphemized; our military is calling it the “Mother of All Bombs”. I should think this bold title serves more as a dysphemism rather than a euphemism, a sobriquet more dastardly than its acronym.
The MOAB, or GBU-43 in the alphanumeric parlance of the military, is unlike its earlier radioactive brethren. The MOAB is of the same genus, but a different non-nuclear species. Since its development in 2003 for its potential use in Iraq, the MOAB has laid dormant like a slumbering bear. The bomb matured fourteen years until ISIS poked and provoked it with their pliable irons. ISIS bends but doesn’t break, and it’s the group’s pliancy that makes MOAB necessary.
The mother bomb relishes little in being connoted with maternity. No nourishment is to be suckled at her teat. And lest you be confused, its pointed ballistic silhouette resembles a phallic rather than a caryatid form. This hermaphroditic munition contradicts its name when it stands eerily erect and ready to sail. Her vital statistics are as follows: thirty feet in length and over twenty thousand combustible pounds in weight. These dimensions, which promise an estimated blast radius of one mile, tend it toward diffuse rather than localized offensives.
True to its all-American roots, MOAB’s exterior is none other than “John Deere” green—a color secondary only to America’s quintessential red, white, and blue. Many middle-Americans who say they bleed the country’s colors would likely replete their loss with no color other than that of John Deere Green. It’s a transfusion they’d be eager to accept. The bomb may as well don itself some denim (overalls if available), a trucker hat, and a Bud Light in its side coaster.
Touching down in the mountainous Nangarhar Province along the westernmost border in Pakistan, the MOAB treated the landscape to unprecedented orogeny—that process by which mountains are moved. The target was the complex subterranean tunnel system within which ISIS militants furtively scurry about. As it has for the Peshawar people for most of history, these mountainous tunnels have provided northern Pakistan an inherent asset. They’ve made great use of the geological labyrinths that are their playgrounds. The selling points of this arid mountainous estate, if they need be listed, are obfuscation from the air and expeditious border access on the ground.
In the end, the bomb was dropped and its effect was immediate. The initial body count was thirty-six. Not long after, that figure inflated to ninety-four, with none reported as having been civilian. Critics quickly pounced on the calculus. A scant ninety-four militants dead, they questioned, is the effect of the most massive non-nuclear bomb deployed in history? Surely, the arithmetic is askew.
The proper response is this: if the extirpation and elimination of ISIS is the goal, we must be willing to use any means at our disposal, even if the input ultimately yields less than it really should. And while this might not have been a seismic blow to the ISIS structure, it was a significant and successful attack nonetheless. It’s important to consider the consequentialist’s prescription in this situation. The greatest good for the greatest number of people means more ISIS members taken out of the equation. The ends will justify the means, but question becomes what means are we willing to use beyond the one-off MOAB and for how long are we willing to use them?
Should we not continue to use similar bombs if our goal is the eradication of Islamic terrorism? How far are we willing to go to achieve our counter-terrorism ambitions? The offensive against ISIS requires novel approaches, and the MOAB reveals one such approach. If this “mother of all bombs” can give birth to freedom in the ashes of fanatics, and raise hope from the heaps of fear, we must be prepared to deliver it again.