Attrition: Joy Bullets

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July 25, 2007: On July 21st, three civilians were killed, and fifty wounded in Baghdad, by gunfire associated with the Iraqi team winning a game during the Asian Games. This is all about the Arab custom of firingweapons into the air on happy occasions (they are called "joy bullets" in Arabic), often with deadly consequences. When someone is killed or injured by the bullets that, inevitably come back to earth, the injury is shrugged off, or blamed on a handy enemy. Palestinians blame Israelis, some Iraqis blame any armed foreigners in the vicinity, or nearby Iraqis they don't get along with. Otherwise it's just "God's Will.

During World War II, when lots of anti-aircraft guns were used around densely populated urban areas in Europe and Asia, there were thousands of casualties from what were, at first, mysterious metal objects falling silently from the sky. Remember, what goes up, must come down, propelled by gravity. The British later estimated that some 25 percent of civilian casualties from German World War II bombing attacks on their cities, were from friendly fire. That is, British anti-aircraft shells eventually fell to earth and caused property damage and casualties. Most of the civilian casualties from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were from American anti-aircraft shells and bullets falling back to earth. A lot of the anti-aircraft guns used to defend Pearl Harbor were .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine-guns, and these bullets will kill you if they drop on your head, and injure you if they hit any other body part. A .50 caliber bullet weight nearly two ounces. This is four times heavier than rifle bullets, which will also kill or injure you if one drops on your head, and hit the right spot. Kids are more vulnerable to this sort of thing. Shell fragments often weigh several pounds, and have sharp edges as well. In Iraq, during the 1990s, there were instances of anti-aircraft missiles falling back to earth intact. Since these things weigh several tons, they hit like a bomb. Normally, the missiles are supposed to self-destruct (explode) if they don't find a target. But even if they do that, thousands of fragments fall back to earth. Some of these missile pieces weigh ten pounds or more. Get hit by one of these and you are dead. Large objects coming down will damage buildings and vehicles. Most explosions, be they roadside bombs, smart bombs, artillery shells or missiles, toss heavy objects into the air. This stuff comes down somewhere, and if someone is in the way, they become a casualty. Whose casualty is largely a matter of who gets the more convincing press release out.

 


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