Bomb Semiotics: The Meaning of MOAB

I have trouble understanding the reality of the MOAB dropped in Afghanistan – why the MOAB is a bigger deal than a carpet bombing using the same volume of explosive material (the combined payload of a B-52 is three times greater than the MOAB), which is something we do with alarming frequency, in more highly-populated areas.

I can’t tell at this point whether I’m missing something obvious, or simply finding human nature messy.

MOAB, the name, captures the imagination. Was that the entire strategic value of using MOAB – to capture imaginations as a deterrent? For a little while, I thought it might be a test run to warn Iran that we could hit its mountain-buried nuclear program…but I think we’d use another bomb for that, the less poetically named MOP.

Is it that Trumpish part of us which finds the largest ball of string more impressive than the same length of string not tied together, set in a few different piles?

It is absurd to compare the MOAB to a nuke; the blast is orders of magnitude smaller, and there is no radiation after the fact, no contamination. But newscasters want to compare MOAB to nukes, reflexively.

I don’t understand:
– why we used the MOAB instead of other bombs
– why we built it in the first place when it seems like it’s not any more destructive than a carpet bombing and is much less flexible
– why we view this particular bombing, which was coordinated with the Afghan government and did not have civilian casualties, as crossing a line, but don’t view other, worse bombings as crossing a line.

For instance, last month’s bombing of Mosul, which had 150 civilian casualties, and which the U.S. military is investigating, and which is causing a reconsideration of how we approve Iraqi strikes. That seems more like important news to me, but I don’t remember it capturing the public imagination in the same way.

Is the MOAB purely more tabloid – the bomb version of JonBenet Ramsey? I hate feeling obtuse.

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