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Uncle Sam’s Scuds | Village Voice


Uncle Sam’s Scuds


Nothing gets the juices of enthusiasm for our war on terror flowing better than talk of Iraq’s Scud missiles. If Saddam is caught trying to hide some, it’s a sure ticket to a good Sodom-and-Gomorrah, blast-’em-into-a-pillar-of-salt-style smart-bombing.

Finding Scuds would also mean dollars and jobs for the Yankee defense industry, value far in excess of the missile’s capacity for destruction.

For instance, the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base unveiled its let’s-study-the-Scud program in November by firing two of them — that’s two more than Iraq has fired in over a decade — into the Pacific. The Scuds never had it better than in California, where they were supported by expert rocketeers, cared for by contractors, ogled by journalists, and allowed to fly free of distraction from search-and-destroy missions.

Also on hand were scientists from the Missile Defense Agency, one of whom said the launches will aid in the development of the new advanced Patriot anti-missile missile battery. “Advanced” in this case might mean merely functional, since the Raytheon-built Patriot hasn’t worked well against Scuds. The failures only inspired a self-perpetuating gravy train of contracts aimed at improving the arsenal. In 2002, the MDA received $8.4 billion in funding, up about $4 billion from the previous year. And a whopping 643 vendors benefit from MDA small-business initiatives.

For all the hype, Saddam’s Scud is rather less effective at killing people than your average bad traffic accident. In the Gulf War, Iraq fired about 90 Scuds. One killed 28 soldiers in Saudi Arabia. About 40 landed in Israel, where they killed two troops. That equates to three Scuds to kill one human being — a level of efficiency so absurd it leads one to question the rationality behind defending against the weapon at all.

By contrast, 517 Nazi V-2s hit London in a six-month period straddling 1944-45. An estimated 2700 civilians were killed, making the V-2 a poor performer compared to a standard World War II bloodletter — but still not as feeble as the Saddam-flavored Scud.

Though Iraq might be inept with Scuds, what if it loads them with lethal gas, as it was accused of doing in Gulf War I? Well, Saddam’s old Scuds were loaded, with fuming red nitric acid — a highly caustic chemical used in its fuel system. The Department of Defense’s Gulflink site ( notes the missiles often spurted a yellow-brown cloud of liquid before impact. Iraq’s smoking acid rain turned the troops’ desert T-shirts purple and left personnel with burns and nausea. Years later, some vets continued to suffer ill health.

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