On the Syrian air strike, and Tomahawk missiles

… the most difficult thing about deciding what to write about these days isn’t so much that I’ve run out of ideas, but that the number of ideas are so numerous it’s actually hard to decide.

Just a while ago, on top of the usual computer/math stuff I usually write about, there was another technology that caught my interest, and I thought there was at least something to think about on this.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to news that Donald Trump gave the order to launch some 59 Tomahawk Missiles into an airfield in the west part of Syria. The news reported that this ominous act was a spur of the moment thing, done without congressional approval, but despite the egregious violation of protocol, I’ll try to focus at least somewhat on the technology (although the politics is hard to ignore).

Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile -crop.jpgThe Tomahawk is a missile that was at times manufactured by either General Dynamics, Raytheon, or McDonnell-Douglas, with a history going back to the early 1980s, with many improvements since then. It is essentially a guided missile, capable of flying as far as 2500 kilometres. Its “payload” can come in the form of either conventional or nuclear weapons. They pretty much all contain conventional explosives these days. It flies at about 890 km/h, which is slower than the speed of sound (which is 1,234.8 km/h), but still quite fast, owing to an internal jet engine. Most of these are launched from a ship, but they can also be launched from a submarine.

And oh yeah. Replacing the 59 Tomahawks fired earlier this week into Syria is going to cost 1 million dollars to replace. Each. Future costs are projected at around 1.5 million dollars each. And hardly any of the bombs appeared to hit their intended targets. The intended target, the Shyrat Air Base, was fully operational the next day.

Congress, who pretty much hold the purse strings for the government and must approve all spending, might have some legitimate questions to ask regarding spending up to 90 million dollars without asking. Others may ask even more pressing questions, more pressing than money — about dealing with ISIS/ISIL, or about the appearance (and the actuality) of fighting on both sides of the Syrian conflict, or about contradicting what a Trump spokesman has said this week regarding letting Syria do what it wanted (also a surprise statement). Did the missiles save lives? Did the missiles stop the transport of Sarin nerve gas? Did the missiles bring us closer to ending the conflict?

Here is a quote of the first words Trump made to the press of the April 6 attack:

My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the life of innocent men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many, even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

It is becoming burdensome to use empathy as a scale to judge the mind of Donald Trump. It is becoming more appropriate to judge him on how he appeals to our emotions and plays with them. He does this by communicating in an almost child-like language, but then makes references to “beautiful babies” being “cruelly murdered”, an attempt to wring out as much emotion as possible from the American public in support of the bombing. While propagandistic, it is crude propaganda, which seeks its usual aim of suppressing rational thought.

According to Trump, we must feel for anyone “brutally murdered” on the orders of al-Assad – especially the “beautiful babies” – yet, we also have to be against anyone who attempts to escape such “brutal murder” along with their families and other “children of God”, by emigrating to the United States for sanctuary. Recall that Syria was one of the countries Trump had on his list of banned countries of origin for immigration.

At some point, Congress (and later the taxpayer) will be asked to pay for this ultimately ineffective bombing raid. Wonder how that will play out …?

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I am Paul King, a math and science teacher. I help maintain the MIT FAQ Archive along with Nick Bolach. I am also the maintainer of the FAQ for sci.bio.food-science.

2 thoughts on “On the Syrian air strike, and Tomahawk missiles”

  1. Google Chrome 57.0.2987.133 Google Chrome 57.0.2987.133 Mac OS X  10.9.5 Mac OS X 10.9.5
    Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_9_5) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/57.0.2987.133 Safari/537.36

    Ignore, or ignore not. There is no try.
    :)

    1. Google Chrome 58.0.3029.81 Google Chrome 58.0.3029.81 Windows 10 x64 Edition Windows 10 x64 Edition
      Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/58.0.3029.81 Safari/537.36

      Looks like I definitely “ignored not”. :-)

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