Saturday, May 16, 2015

Concertina Wire

I never really knew barbed wire until my first deployment to Iraq. Then I grew quite intimate with it, came to know that it was not barbed wire, stupid, but concertina wire. This wire wasn’t your great great grandfather’s barbed wire with its weak barb and only two sharp ends—thorns, really—but a winged blade created to splice and stab anything in its vicinity.

We would first unroll these coils out—only with thick gloves, lest your flesh and skin gets ripped to shreds—to corral cars into a makeshift checkpoint. No car, not even a Humvee, could drive through a wall of concertina wire. Not because of any direct stopping power, but rather because once the wire caught up in the wheels, the damage done was almost irreversible, not to mention the damage done by said wire-entanglement.

Nevertheless, I was always impressed by this simple improvement of shape (I’m speaking of the cutting blade on the coil). This improvement was further impressed upon me by not only the needed gloves for handling these coils, but also how it would eat up any part of your uniform unfortunate enough to come close to it. And to think, the barbed wire was an invention meant for cows—in fact it increased the amount of cows one could hold and simultaneously eliminated the need for cowboys—and was only “perfected” in the no man lands of WWI, where it was made infinitely worse for humans.

And as I rolled out coil after coil, I was also impressed by how much of it we had, and how shiny it was. A testament, in my mind, then, to our industrial might and know-how. Meanwhile the richer of the locals had to settle on broken glass to adorn the top of their walls—oh the shame they must have felt. 

Oh the uses of this wire: a stack of three as a fence, on top of fences, rooftops, everywhere humans were not wanted (ostensibly the enemy, but this wire knows no prejudice). But over time, as the concertina wire started to drift and break and rust, one would find pieces all over the streets. Snakes of metal which we would have to avoid or else risk them getting tangled up in the Humvee wheels and destroy one’s day, to say nothing of the movement or mission. 

I realized then that these strands would be one of our three legacies (constructionally speaking). Concertina wire, hesco baskets and concrete barriers. Instead of beautiful things, or even inherently useful things—think Grenada, think aqueducts—we see something where those in charge don’t even attempt to create beauty (the ultimate logic which believes in nothing but the value of resources), but to coral and keep away the people they rule (and I use that term rule loosely, more like the brutalization of the peoples so that the resources they happen to live on can be extracted without their interference) and to separate and better over power them. Open air prisons for all. 

Funny thing was that towards the end of our time in Iraq we started to commission local artists to paint over the concrete barriers. Polish a turd, I suppose. No, I’m being cynical; some color was certainly an improvement, but that this was our multi-trillion dollar legacy (and our embassy in Baghdad only further proves that point) is a statement to the moral bankruptcy of this war (and the war on terror in general) and especially from our fearless leaders who wage it (their puppets, the money made, notwithstanding). It speaks of some odd worship of the technocratic and theocratic kind (as I was guilty of in the beginning): put up barriers and keep out “evil”, most likely backed by some localized and short term drop in attacks. Oh, I'm being cynical. I'm sure if we could have set up beautiful gated communities, we would have. But a sharp mind will see that the wire and walls and baskets will be the only legacy we'll have.

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