Gwynne Dyer: Are pressure cookers weapons of mass destruction?

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      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.”




      Apr 24, 2013 at 10:07am

      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.

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      ken jeannotte

      Apr 24, 2013 at 10:37am

      Andy I guess you missed satire class eh?

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      Apr 24, 2013 at 10:55am


      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.

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      Apr 24, 2013 at 11:51am

      In the beginning was the word, next is rewriting history, as predicted by Eric Blair.


      Apr 24, 2013 at 1:31pm

      We have many weapons, you have few, shush.

      Or: "Let the Wookie win." is still good advice.

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      Apr 24, 2013 at 3:27pm

      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.

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      Apr 24, 2013 at 5:00pm

      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.

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      Apr 24, 2013 at 6:05pm


      You really don't get much of anything, do you? Sigh


      Apr 24, 2013 at 7:16pm

      If Bush SR. would have finished the job ,maybe 9/11 might not have happend .

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      Apr 25, 2013 at 3:34am

      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.