Gwynne Dyer: Are pressure cookers weapons of mass destruction?

George W. Bush wasn’t lying about Iraq after all, and those of us who said that he was owe him an apology. Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. We just didn’t read the small print.

When President Bush said in a speech: “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud,” we thought that he was talking about nuclear weapons. And many of us didn’t believe him.

When Vice-President Dick Cheney assured us: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends…and against us,” we just assumed he was lying as usual.

And when Colin Powell, the secretary of state, told the UN Security Council that “Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction....We know that Iraqi government officials...have hidden prohibited items in their homes,” we thought he meant nukes and poison gas and nasty biological agents. Poor old Colin, we thought. An innocent soldier, too gullible for his own good.

But we were all wrong. The real threat was pressure cookers, and there were thousands of them in the homes of Iraqi officials.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the Bush gang for not making full disclosure of what they actually meant by “weapons of mass destruction” at the time. Imagine how silly Colin Powell would have looked at the United Nations if he had shown the disbelieving audience not a vial of suspicious-looking liquid (nerve gas? bubonic plague?), but merely a pressure cooker. But there can be no doubt now: there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

These penitential thoughts are inspired by the charge brought against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of the two young Chechen-Americans who detonated two pressure cookers stuffed with explosives and ball-bearings at the Boston Marathon last week, killing three and wounding several hundred. It was a wicked deed that brought great sorrow to many families—but are pressure cookers really “weapons of mass destruction”?

The U.S. Department of Justice certainly thinks so. On April 22 it charged the 19-year-old Tsarnaev with “using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property.” Not a nuclear weapon, or poison gas, or some filthy plague, but a home-made bomb that killed three people.

The U.S. federal government’s definition of a “weapon of mass destruction”, it turns out, is quite different from the one we ordinary mortals use. It covers almost any explosive device, specifically including bombs, grenades, mines, and small rockets and missiles.

The requirement seems to be that the weapon in question has to explode, so assault rifles with large magazines, for example, are exempt, even though they have been used to kill much larger numbers of innocent American civilians on several occasions. (Mustn’t upset the National Rifle Association.)

Of course, American bombs, grenades, mines, and small rockets and missiles are not “weapons of mass destruction.” That would be unthinkable. Otherwise we would have to accept that President Barack Obama signs off on the use of drone-delivered weapons of mass destruction on the guilty and the innocent alike in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen almost every morning.

What’s really going on here is just another manifestation of what Americans themselves call “American exceptionalism”. In this context, it means that killing Americans, especially for political reasons, is a special crime that calls for special terms and special punishment. It’s the same logic that has been used to justify imprisoning people indefinitely without trial and even torturing them in the endless “war on terror”.

Don’t get too excited about it. One of the things that makes Americans completely unexceptional is that they are playing the same games with words and meanings that every great power has used to justify its actions since the dawn of time. Lewis Carroll nailed it a century and a half ago in “Through the Looking-Glass”, the sequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Comments (18) Add New Comment
No dice Gwynne -- you fell for the lie, pushed the bullshit and publicly attack people who had already arrived at this 'truth' back in '02...and when it was proved a bald face indictable LIE, you changed the channel, just like the Bush Gang and the rest of courtesan scribblers, to gin up 'regime change' (a war crime) and how the Iraqis would be much better off.
Rating: -77
ken jeannotte
Andy I guess you missed satire class eh?
Rating: +53

Care to explain just what you're talking about? When exactly did Dyer ever "push the bullshit"?

Here's an article from 2002 when Dyer clearly stated that Iraq propbably DID NOT have WMDs.
Rating: +37
In the beginning was the word, next is rewriting history, as predicted by Eric Blair.
Rating: -12
We have many weapons, you have few, shush.

Or: "Let the Wookie win." is still good advice.
Rating: +4
hellslayerandy, you are living proof that some people shouldn't be allowed to use the Net unless supervised by an adult.

Now a task for you: look up 'irony' in your dictionary. You'll then maybe understand that Dyer was ridiculing US claims (and definitions) of 'weapons of mass destruction'.

Now have your milk and cookies; it's past your bedtime.
Rating: +12
I rarely ever reply to MY comments unless the commenter is worthy of such attention.

You're all idiots...except for Art
The sheer quaintness and creativity of his reply brings out the nostalgia in me.

milk and cookies?
Oh Art Art Art
You're not doing it right.
Let me help.

Art...I do have adult supervision...sorta...I made the comment will mom was out pulling train at the local crack shack to get me more Cheetos, beer and Meth because I can no longer even fit a spatula under my shit-caked diaper.

You're welcome.

Rating: -34

You really don't get much of anything, do you? Sigh
Rating: -1
If Bush SR. would have finished the job ,maybe 9/11 might not have happend .
Rating: -26
Pete, the Al-Qaeda operatives who attacked the World Trade Centre in 2001 were bitter enemies of Baathists like Saddam Hussein. A decent portion of Iraq's prisons and torture chambers were filled with religious fundamentalists like them. "Finishing the job" would not have had any significant effect on them, except maybe to remove one of their local opponents.

Not that Saddam didn't deserve what he got, but politics are never that simple.
Rating: +18
alex simonelis
Biased comparison. When has the US deliberately and specifically targeted civilians?
Rating: -22
The USA specifically targets Civilians every day that it finances and Arms Israel.

Israel's specific targets are ALL AND EVERY PALESTINIAN!!
Rating: +1
Matt D

@alex simonelis

"Biased comparison. When has the US deliberately and specifically targeted civilians?"



The rest of the list is long, but do you really need more ?
Rating: +17
John D
First, I am wondering when Obama, Biden, et al will try to pass legislation requiring a full and complete background check on potential purchasers of pressure cookers.

Second, the first school shooting in the US was on July 26, 1764. It is unknown if the perps had had a background check before building their bows and arrows.

Third, the biggest school killing was on May 18, 1927 when a politician upset at losing an election set off a bomb in Bath Township, Michigan killing 38 kids and 6 adults. We should certainly have a better background check on politicians.
Rating: +6
petr aardvark
given the rarity of both mass shootings
and the even more rare terrorist bombings it is interesting to compare the response. Trillions spent on wars, and homeland security, nationwide manhunt, complete lockdown of a major city.

Not to say they should'nt respond, nor to minimize the atrocity in Boston, a lot of people were terribly maimed. But I wonder what the NRA would do if a couple of radical islamists went on a shooting rampage with AR15 or whatever.
Rating: +1
From the police lockdown of an entire city to capture one suspect,to the ease with which these brothers were caught,and the framing of the IED's as weapons of mass destruction.This whole case was the epitome of excess and overkill.We are already seeing it being used to further political agenda's.Especially in Canada,where the RCMP "miraculously" arrested two terror plotters and the conservatives rammed through a draconian bill that erases more rights in one stroke than Trudeau did after the FLQ kidnapping.Now the American right is blaming Miranda for causing the living suspect to ask for his rights.I guess asking for your rights is some kind of further crime?
Rating: +16
Mark Mosby
As William Blum observed: "A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn't have an air force."

What Dyer says is true: we've been lead to believe that we in the West are always the Good Guys, and "the other side" is the Bad Guys -- unless and until we change our minds (which we reserve the right to do at any time) and then they become the Good Guys like us for as long as we say they are.

Understand that Good and Bad don't have any real meaning; they're just handy terms for indicating whose side you're on at any particular moment.
Rating: +1
Apparently the pressure cooker is the new weapon of the poor and powerless. If these people (presumed guilty by the media) had been professionals they would have detonated the weapons when the first runners crossed the finish line. The next group will, probably, have learned from the event and not need the FBI to sucker them into becoming "terrorists".
Rating: +7
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