Of course, such a potent weapon would not come without risk—’friendly fire’ would no doubt take on a whole new, deeply disturbing meaning….”
It was just too intriguing for me to pass up: a headline reading “Pentagon Spurned Plan for Enemy Aphrodisiac” stopped me in my tracks as I scanned the CNN website on January 17. I’ve grudgingly given up on subjecting myself to any form of evening television news, be it local or national—the unholy alliance of a battery of doctors and Mrs. Grant having convinced me that I’m one White House report away from exploding upwards like a Texas oil field derrick—but I do allow myself to sneak a quick daily perusal of various news websites.
“Bad breath, stinging bugs also considered as weapons,” read the subtitle. Waaaay too delicious for me to stop reading now. According to the Reuters article that followed, back in 1994 the U.S. military gave the thumbs-down to a $7.5 million funding request from a Wright Patterson Air Force Base lab. Titled “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” the proposal described a plan for developing chemical weapons that would affect human behavior in such a way that “discipline and morale in enemy units is affected.” Neatly tucked under the innocuous term “non-lethal chemical weapons research,” the 1994 paper floated the idea of developing chemicals that could be used to wreak havoc on enemy troops by a variety of less-than-lethal means. One way: by giving them “severe and lasting halitosis”—bad breath—so their offending exhalations would give them away as enemy troops should they try to blend in with the local population. Another bright idea: “Identify and/or develop chemicals that attract annoying or injurious creatures and make them aggressive.” The proposal suggested using a “sting me/attack me” chemical that would cause bees to swarm the hapless enemy—just spray the chemical on infiltration routes, and then position beehives a short way down the trail, maybe whack ‘em a few times with a broom to get the bees good and pissed off. Brilliant!
The paper also suggested using chemical sprays to make the enemy stink to high heaven or just to mark them in some way—presumably by turning them orange or blue or whatever—and then went on to suggest “a more subtle version would be some lasting chemical marker that was not obvious to humans, but would be obvious to trained dogs or special detecting equipment…Marked individuals would not know they were marked, and would not know how the dogs/equipment identified them.”
But the true whopper of them all, the one proposal that set off a short-lived but intense flurry of media attention in mid-January, was this: “Category #3: Chemicals that affect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.”
Now THAT, my friends, was a jaw-dropper even for a cynical, world-weary old malcontent like me. Even in a world where satirists are finding it impossible to come up with any fictional scenario that hasn’t already been eclipsed by cold, hard reality, the idea of U.S. forces lobbing non-lethal “homobombs” at our enemies would have seemed nothing short of mind-blowing lunacy…until now. The mind just reels at the thought of U.S. troops letting loose their secret weapon, waiting until forward observers spot the enemy rendered to a sweaty, squirming mass of helplessly sex-addled Ron Jeremy clones, and then wading into the fray with specially-designed $5,000 Halliburton Homobomb Pry Bars to separate the unfortunate, sexually-confused wretches from one another. Of course, such a potent weapon would not come without risk—“friendly fire” would no doubt take on a whole new, deeply disturbing meaning, as would the threat of “blowback” (yet another unfortunately named phenomenon in this context), which has been the bane of chemical and biological weapons proponents since the Allied and Central Powers slaughtered each other by the acre with mustard gas and anthrax in World War I.
It’s not hard to imagine which of the paper’s insane proposals made it into headlines around the world. The Boston Herald went with “Pentagon Sexes Up The Battle: But ‘Gay Bomb’ Goes Bust In The Lab”; MSNBC’s story was titled “Pentagon Rejected Gay Weapon Proposal”; BBC News delivered “U.S. Military Pondered Love Not War” in side-splitting deadpan. Collisiondetection.net led with “The Bomb That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” joining countless other bloggers and radio personalities who picked up on the story for a time. The frenzy of attention was enough to force the exasperated Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) at the Pentagon to send out their spokesman, Captain Dan McSweeney as point man to field the onslaught of “gay bomb” questions coming in from incredulous, undoubtedly snickering reporters and bloggers around the globe.
“’Gay bomb’ is not our term,” McSweeney said in the Boston Herald. “It was not taken seriously. It was not considered for further development.” He was joined in that view by Lt. Col. Barry Venable with the Department of Defense, who was quoted by Reuters as saying “These suggestions arose essentially from a brainstorming session, and it was rejected out of hand.” End of story, right?
Well, not exactly. McSweeney and Venable were brought out of the confines of their Pentagon offices in the first place thanks to the work of the Sunshine Project , an international watchdog group based in Hamburg, Germany and Austin, Texas. Since 1999 they’ve been pestering the DOD by using the Freedom of Information Act to force them to turn over documents detailing, among other things, research into biological crop eradication, genetically altered bacterial weapons, and yes, for lack of a better term, our “gay bomb.” When the Sunshine Project obtained the “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals” report and posted it on their website in December 2004, it attracted the unwelcome attention I’m writing about now, leading to the DOD’s denials that the report was ever taken seriously.
The Sunshine Project responds to these denials on their website by stating flatly, “these statements are untrue,” citing the 1995 report’s presence on a CD-ROM prepared by the JNLWD to tout its good work to other U.S. military and government agencies in hopes of drumming up support for non-lethal weapons development. They also point to the report’s presence in a packet of information provided by the JNLWD to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. So far I haven’t been able to find any response by the DOD to these allegations, which could mean any number of things—not the least of which is that they are desperately hoping the whole thing will die down, and soon. That’s not really such a desperate wish when you look at the attention span of your typical U.S. boob-tube news junkie—if you’ve managed to read through this last paragraph without your eyes glazing over, you’re probably firmly in the minority.
It’s difficult to know who to believe, really. On the one hand, the whole thing does smack of being an unwittingly hilarious, easily blown-out-of-proportion gaffe on the part of brainstorming weapons engineers. But on the other hand, the very idea of using “the love that dare not speak its name” to break down morale and discipline among enemy troops speaks volumes about the U.S. military’s quasi-hysterical policies and culture when it comes to homosexuality among its ranks. There is no quicker way to get military brass and grunts alike to clam up than to ask about the infamous “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, a lasting gift from Bill Clinton, who in 1993 took the cause of gays in the military as his first opportunity to shaft a group he pledged to support during his first presidential campaign. While the policy allows gays to serve in uniform as long as they don’t “openly discuss their sexual preference or engage in homosexual acts,” it’s a far cry from the outright reversal of the ban on homosexuals in the military promised by candidate Clinton. As president, he found out in a hurry that the top brass considered gays in the ranks to be the most dire threat to American security since Joe McCarthy smoked out the Communist threat in Hollywood in the 1950s.
Seems to me it’s exactly that kind of thinking that would lead one to believe an enemy which somehow stands up to being blasted by 15,000-lb. daisy cutter bombs and shot to pieces in murderous strafing runs by A-10 Warthogs would be brought to its knees and handily defeated when individual soldiers find themselves eyeballing their foxhole mates, scratching their chins and thinking, “By the beard of the prophet, I believe Ateef there has been working out.”