Friday, May 27, 2016

"Project Pigeon" - a true story from the Vietnam War

During the Ten Thousand Day War in Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos), the US military maintained the self-named "Jason Group" -- a semi-official think tank comprising top university scientists, Nobel Laureates, technocrats, computer experts and military strategists. By 1967 it had been very much enlarged and secretly ensconced in Washington under the new, innocuous-sounding "Defense Communications Planning Group". It had fiscal carte-blanche and a priority rating which had its members talking in "reverential and enthusiastic terms", according to Paul Dickson, author of The Electronic Battlefield (Indiana University Press, 1976). The author quotes a DCPG member as saying that if the group "needed 10,000 chocolate cream pies from the army by noon the next day, it would get them, and without any questions."

Until the ignominious end of American involvement in the 'Nam, the Jasons kept on thinking of new ways to wage war on the "gooks". Some of their ideas worked. Some were impractical. Some were downright flaky. There was, for instance, the "Lava Plan" -- an unsuccessful search for a chemical formula that could turn the moist forest soil of the Ho Chi Minh Trail into slippery grease. They also came up with a heat and motion sensor in the shape of a dog turd. They called the Seismic Intrusion Detector (SID) a "TURDSID".

And then there was "Project Pigeon", a plan right out of Dr. Strangelove foreseeing limitless flocks of bombers, in the form of homing pigeons. The idea was to strap tiny bomblets to pigeons which would home in on North Vietnamese vehicles, blowing one and all to bits as the metal triggered against the explosives. This brilliant plan was abadoned when the pigeons, tested against American trucks as well as North Vietnamese, proved unable to identify their ideology.

This true story -- you couldn't make this stuff up! -- is taken from The Ten Thousand Day War by Michael Maclear (St. Martin's Press, 1981. The book is a companion piece to the highly recommendable 13-part television series of the same name, which is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch the first episode, which summarizes those that follow. Each part runs about 48 minutes so you won't want to watch them all at once. But you can go through the book, which includes additional material, at your leisure. As you do, consider the lack of clear thinking and misunderstanding of the lessons of history which have characterized the American "interventions" in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria. Vietnam, too, started with the arrival of just a few dozen US "advisors".

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