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Pentagon: Electromagnetic pulse bombs from 2012

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

And of course it's taken as a given that the US black-projects empire has a stash of fearful e-bombs and missiles. These rumours came to a head during the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Even the mainstream news services got in on the act, leading normally respectable news outfits to indulge in out-and-out tinfoil hat hysteria.

Guardian scribe and English Lit prof John Sutherland, drawing on the extensive weapons-tech expertise he had developed during many years as, erm, a literary reviewer and authority on Victorian fiction, handled the HPM story particularly entertainingly.

Samurai knights, one is told, were permitted to try the cutting edge of their sword on the neck of any luckless (and soon headless) passing peasant... The battlefield will be the testing ground for the US samurai. No more rhesus monkeys or pigs but real, live Iraqis...

The newer, smarter weapon to be battlefield-tested in Gulf War Two will be that fantasy of every sci-fi writer, a death-ray. The HPM (high-power microwave) bomb... 100 lightning bolts, focused into a single pulse of radiation ... The bomb is... ready to lock and load... it can penetrate underground... cunning radiation will eel its way through ventilation shafts... you can't hide.

Sutherland gave short shrift to the notion of HPM being basically non-lethal to humans.

Those who have been exposed to HPM report that its effect is agonising. The radiation penetrates below the skin, boiling nerve cells. It can blind. It induces uncontrollable panic... Will Iraqi civilians serve as guinea pigs? No one knows what the long-term effect of microwave exposure is... Peasant, bare your neck!

Lawks. Those sinister American military people, with their flimsy lies about attacking enemy electronics rather than people. The Reg coverage was a bit more sceptical, noting that Faraday cages aren't hard to construct.

Meanwhile, inspired no doubt by Dr Kopp, various people in the US were running around tearing their hair at the notion of devastating al Qaeda pulse strikes that would knock America back to the stone age, or at least the 19th century.

In the end, the expected American e-bomb barrage in Iraq didn't happen, though a lot of Iraqis did get killed and wounded by boring old regular bombs. Prof Sutherland's "death ray" did eventually turn up, sort of, in the form of the rather non-deadly crowd-griddling microwave gun.

The Active Denial System has not yet been to Iraq, despite requests from commanders there who think it might allow them to shoot or bomb fewer people. This is partly because its cooling system isn't capable of dealing with Iraqi temperatures, but the thing's negative image is no doubt something of a factor.

Judging by reports this week, it might also be that the microwave gun just doesn't work very well, especially in the rain. (Angry Iraqi mobs may wish to douse their clothing and/or lay in a stock of water balloons. The tinfoil favoured by other opponents of the US military-industrial complex might also be quite effective.)

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