Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday and Car Bombs

Today is a partly cloudy, warm Sunday -- too warm for this time of year, maybe. We went out for breakfast. On the way back, we stopped at the St. Paul Farmers Market. I bought tomatoes and red, yellow and green peppers. This is the best time of year for the market, I think. The summer vegetables are still present, and the fall foods -- apples, pumpkins, winter squashes, full sized onions, carrots and potatoes -- are also present. The sweet peppers, previously green, are turning red and yellow.

I just read Buda's Wagon, A Brief History of the Car Bomb by Mike Davis. It is exactly what it says it is, 195 pages long and easy to read in a day. For the most part, it's factual. Davis does little analysis.

He starts with Mario Buda, an Italian American anarchist and friend to Sacco and Vanzetti, who in 1920 parked a horse drawn wagon packed with explosive and iron slugs opposite the offices of J.P. Morgan on Wall Street. The explosion killed 40 and injured 200. As is usually true of car bombs, a very difficult weapon to target precisely, the people killed and injured were office workers and passersby, who had the bad luck to be there. J.P. Morgan was out of the country. His partners were not harmed. Buda got away and went back back to Italy. He was never charged with the crime.

Davis sees this "horse drawn bomb" as a precursor. The car bomb came into its own with the Stern Gang and Irgun, Jewish terrorist organizations that operated against British forces in Palestine in the 1940s.

From there he traces use of the car bomb by the Viet Cong, French settlers opposed to Algerian independence, the IRA, a group of American war protesters in Madison, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers, the CIA, Pakistani Intelligence, Peru's Sendero Luminoso, Columbian drug lords, the Italian Mafia, white supremacists in South Africa, the Basque separatist group ETA, Al Qaeda and various groups in Iraq. He does not include 9/11, because he has limited himself to car bombs.

I had not realized that the Stern gang was responsible for car bombings as a systematic method of warfare; and I had not realized how important Europe was to the development of car bomb warfare.

As should be obvious, use of the car bomb is not limited to any set of political opinions or any part of the world.

Davis calls car bombs "the poor man's air force." Like aerial bombing, their main target is civilians, and their main purpose is terror. In general, they have been used by organizations which do not have a government's resources. When car bombs are used by organizations such as the CIA or Pakistani Intelligence, it's to hide a government's involvement and create an incident which can be blamed on someone else. Or so Davis argues.

One thing I really like about the book is Davis's objective tone. He is moving fast and covering a lot of ground in this book, and he does not spend a lot of time talking about how horrible the bombs are. He lets facts speak for themselves; and he does not distinguish between kinds of terrorism. To him, government acts -- such as war -- are just as bad as a car bomb. Murder is murder. Terror is terror. A person who has been chopped to pieces by shrapnel probably does not care what kind of organization is responsible.

This is a good book. Anything by Davis is worth reading.


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