High-explosive chronicles

Tomorrow we commemorate the dropping of the atom bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, some seventy-five years ago. “It seems like just yesterday,” an elderly tenant in my building comments, remembering his childhood while struggling with his bat-mask. I was born too late, for a change, but seem to remember from ballistics in high school that it was the trinitrotoluene (TNT) equivalent of fifteen tons. (Or was it fifteen thousand?)

That compares well with a terrorist IED, though poorly with some of the other great blasts of history. We tend to forget the Siege of Almeida (and a lot of other things about the Peninsular War); or even the explosion at Halifax, Nova Scotia, scarcely a century ago, when two ships collided in the harbour, and the one that was a French munitions ship took out the north half of the city. (Don’t get me started on the bureaucratic blunders.)

And then there was the blast at Fort York, here in Toronto, when the Americans landed during the War of 1812, and were a bit careless with the munitions they found stored there. (I think of it as the ancestor of our Lakeside firework displays.)

Yesterday’s explosion in Beirut has been variously estimated, to fluctuating powers of ten. I suppose it doesn’t matter whether the newsmen meant proper British tons (of 20 hundredweight, each eight times the 14-pound stone), or the rounded “short tons” of the Yankees, or those French-revolutionary “metric tonnes.” That can be their little secret. For we could all see what it looked like on the Internet. I watched it several times.

Of course, Hiroshima added the nuclear dimension. Thanks to our prejudice against nuclear fallout, we tend to overlook the more conventional explosions. During the Iraq War (which I do recall), the allies could drop “bunker-buster” bombs without excessive controversy, but just one modest nuke and there would have been a crisis at CNN. People are funny like that: they seem less bothered by death than about how they might die. Whereas, I find the former more consequential.

“They” (i.e. people unlike me) happily throw numbers about when body-counting, too. It was Stalin (or was it?) who observed, that one death is a tragedy, whereas more than a million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks was just “a statistic.” He lived in the age before CNN; but our meejah still like to juggle with statistics. No death is important to them, unless they have an axe to grind. But when they do, it is like TNT.

I didn’t know how to bring George Floyd into this, but now I see it. Police “body-cams,” only just released, show that his death was misrepresented. By sheer, characteristic malice, a police killing more easily explained, was tailored into a racial incident, in the megaton range. But had it not been Floyd’s, some other killing might have served Antifa equally well. The trick is to provide video, from which context has been omitted. Radicals are then free to supply their own. Our “social media” will latch on, right away.

The frustration of journalists, unable to attach blame for the Beirut explosion, that could link it back to Trump, was something I noticed as a former practitioner. This means the story has no “legs,” and must stand on body-count alone. But to my reasonably certain knowledge, higher body-counts can be had from a dozen obscure conflicts elsewhere in our world today, and the odd thrilling natural disaster. None of these stories have “legs,” however. They do not satisfy our lust for revenge.