Friday, April 19, 2013

Impact Zones

Writers are weird. I think most writers concede this—especially fiction writers. After all, we spend long spans of time with imaginary people, listening to them and giving them as much credibility—and maybe more—than an actual person.

So we’re weird on that level.

Another thing that contributes to our weirdness are the rabbit holes we explore while researching a book or character. I can’t speak for other writers, but I spend at least as much time researching as I do actually writing. If I were writing romance novels maybe this wouldn’t be the case. Maybe all I would need then would be my imagination and latent knowledge, but I like adventure. I like urban fantasy. I love history that happened B.C., myths, legends, and gods.

So I research. And while I may like to focus way-way back, sometimes I also need to learn more about technologies and ideals of current day. So I learn about that. Then, once I learn stuff, I forget that not everyone knows it—that when I see things play out on the news I am considering things that some people are not.

For that reason, I submit this blog for your consideration. And I do it because I see people are confused on a subject: the number of civilian casualties in the Middle East due to targeted US bombings. I have discussed this subject firsthand intelligent people, elected officials, news anchors, and others—all with the same response:

A confused shrug and eventual dismissal of the subject as a whole. They have nothing, or little to say, and they don’t want to talk about it either. And when you mention the studies that claim that the US has a 2% desired casualty rate for its targeted missile strikes no one really believes it. Not really. After all, it only takes elementary math to get to the statistic that 98% of the casualties in the Middle East this year from US bombs were civilian casualties. Children. Women. First response workers. People who rushed in to help people impacted by a first missile strike only to be killed by a second strike on the same area a few minutes later.

These are not narratives the average American believes. That is not who we are. That is not what we stand for, or what we pay our taxes to support. Besides, we know our technology is crazy good!! Our missile systems are too-the-inch accurate. If they are targeting a known terrorist and end up killing civilians around him, how innocent could those people really be?

With unanswered questions like these in our minds, we chock the statistics up to anti-American sentiment and conspiracy theories and move forward.

But for those who dig a bit, moving forward with a blind eye becomes a little bit harder.

On my side, researching missiles was not politically motivated. I’m doing it for a book. And I’m a big believer that when a person picks up one of my books, if they fact check me they should land on a legit trail. It doesn’t matter if I cite a gadget or a study on Magnesium supplements. It should check out. So if I want to write a story about someone surviving a missile attack, I need to know which missile does what and how people have actually survived in real life.

Now all that was the big preamble to the picture I’m going to draw for how that statistic of 98% of undesired casualties does not baffle me, and to illustrate how, I will use the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.


Because serendipitously enough, that explosion matches the description of a Tomahawk missile well enough to illustrate the casualty statistic.

According to my (admittedly limited) research, the impact of a Tomahawk missile is as follows
  • Pinpoint accurate targeting with controlled explosion
  • Absolute kill zone of 50-100 yard/meter radius
  • Anticipated kill zone of up-to 1 mile radius

That one-mile potential-kill radius seems a little unfathomable until you see something like this.

Actually seeing the power of the explosion makes the statistic of civilian casualties a little more fathomable, doesn’t it? The impact of the explosion does not necessarily kill people from its flying debris, although it can. It can be just as common, however, for the shock waves to rupture weak blood cells in the brain or other areas that are not strong enough to withstand such a fierce, sudden percussion. Needless to say, this puts children at high risk.

The other day a reporter finally had the guts to ask the press secretary of the White House if the most recent casualties of civilians due to US bombs counted as terrorism. This is the picture released with the story (click on the image for story, article, and audio):

To all of you who find this picture heartbreaking, trust me, I do, too. It's hard to look at, and even harder to post. But as you can see, none of these children have physical injuries. In fact, most of them look like they are asleep. Such a picture can seem like propaganda until you pair it with the power of the explosions they experience and their probable cause of death.

It is a hard subject to talk about. As Americans we’re taught that we’re the good guys. We help people. We’re the people who run past the finish line at a marathon to give blood to those who might need it. And because that’s who we are, a situation like this can be very easy to dismiss or even rail against.

I understand that. But now maybe you can also understand why some people can’t dismiss it… and why some people think we should be discussing it, at the very least, and stopping it immediately, at best.

On my side, I just wrote this so that people who know me might have a better understanding for why I care. It's because I DO believe in the propaganda of American ideals. I DO believe we are mighty. And I DO believe we have the power to stop this if enough of us dare to actually look at it. Or we can be the other type of Americans many believe us to be... the self-absorbed ones that don't care about anything until it impacts us personally.

Personally, I believe we are all better than that.

Love to all, domestic and abroad.


  1. Thanks for this. Your research is something to be admired- how it infuses not only the credibility of your plots and characters, but how it affects you as a person and gets you clamoring for truth and justice for victims of American bombs abroad (as well as here, if we take the recent 'explosion' in TX as a cue/clue - or even dare to question what 'really' happened in Newtown). My guess is that oddly, the only currently dramatized media directing the bulk of American attention to this issue of hypocrisy and misdirection is found in Showtime's *Homeland*, where the instigating of the hunt for the perpetrators is due to a US bombing of a foreign school where terrorists are also residing. Today's a day in which I feel pretty personally powerless to stand against these acts, real or imagined. If others are experiencing similar feelings I think it explains why America craves, literally craves drama and narrative involving end-of-the-world scenarios such as *Walking Dead*, in which mammalian politics get worked out on a much smaller scale, with no mass media hysteria and echo chambers, with no political double speak. I believe, as you do, in American ideals that can be seen as more solid and up-front in terms of value and behavior. I'd better quit now- someone just told me my phone is tapped and there's a drone overhead right now here in SLC ;)

    1. That is an excellent perspective, Jennifer. I think you're really onto something there! Thanks for the thought. I'm going to have to meditate on that a bit...

  2. Thanks for posting all of these thoughts. For a nation who proclaims to be majority Christian, we must respond in more Christ-like ways than we typically do to violence from those who have marked us as their enemies. If not 'turning the other cheek', at the very least not taking an eye for an eye. To say that little children are "collateral damage" and necessary losses, simply because they're not OUR children, is sick and heartless. If those little children, and the thousands more who have died in drone attacks in the Middle East, if they had been American children, those bombs would have never dropped. I am all for rooting out oppressive, murderous men who hate us for our values, like equal rights for woman, and the idea that a homosexual is a human being who has the right to life and liberty, and force their beliefs on their neighbors, but if we have to mow down innocent women, children, and men in order to take down that enemy, haven't we, in turn, become the enemy to those innocents? Do we think it matters to the mourning mother if the bullet or bomb that kills her baby son or daughter comes from American or Taliban hands? I hope that more articles like this will make their way to bigger audiences, so that the American people will be more often compelled to consider what we mean when we say, "In God We Trust", if we mean anything at all by that phrase anymore.