Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bullets on the Brain

When you see a news story about Afghanistan, or some other place where there's a lot of fighting going on, do you ever stop and wonder about the bullets? I do, sometimes. All those little bullets, flying around through the air and tearing things to pieces. I probably wouldn't give them any thought if I had been in the army or something, but I wasn't, so I do, maybe that's why. The "insurgents" who shoot at our soldiers day after day, I'd like to know where they're getting their bullets, and their bombs, and all their other stuff. How are they paying for it? Who are they paying for it? Who gets them their food and clothing, and the gas and oil for their trucks? Once you start asking pesky questions like this, it's hard to stop.

Back to the bullets. You never see much about them in the news, but without them a gun would be useless; you could do more damage with a garden shovel. So small, and nearly invisible when, on a video, they come flying out of the barrel of a gun, but the fear and suffering they cause is tremendous. People in combat are probably afraid every minute of someone shooting at them, but they're also anxious to get off a good shot first if they meet up with an enemy (that is, anyone with a gun who apparently would like to kill them). Believe me, I want our soldiers to have guns that work and plenty of bullets. But then I think, if it weren't for bullets, no one could fight much of a ground war. And as many guns as there are in the world today, there are many, many more bullets. Not only that: they get used up. Soldiers around the world, taken together, must run through thousands of them every day; they always need more. So where do all the bullets come from? How exactly do they get from the assembly line up to the soldiers who need them? Wouldn't you think you'd see something about this online or on TV once in a while?

When we need supplies at the office, UPS makes the delivery. Sometimes the driver stays a minute to talk a little baseball. They always wait for one of us to sign for the shipment, because that's the system. So, I got to thinking, when the bullets get delivered to where the fighting is, it must be something like that.

What do you suppose it takes to provide the bullets, grenades, and other things people need each day where war is happening? So much goes on backstage in any war, without which the whole thing would grind to a halt. Factories, roadways, warehouses, truck stops, landing strips . . . plus pilots, mechanics, workers hanging around loading docks, and places for everyone to eat and sleep. And it all costs money; people expect to be paid. Every time a carton of bullets arrives at its destination, it probably comes with some sort of paperwork, and the driver waits for a signature. Otherwise there would be chaos, which would be unacceptable. The way we get news from "war-torn" regions, the fighting always seems without sense or pattern, but you can be sure that somebody knows when the next carton of bullets is due. The trucks, meanwhile, are on some sort of schedule for servicing; otherwise they would be unreliable, which would also be unacceptable. When the delivery is complete and the paperwork is collected, the manufacturer sends an invoice and awaits payment, and every intermediary along the way gets a cut.

Can you picture it? Rumbling semi-trucks bring crates of bullets up from the docks or the airfields. People in freight sheds break open the crates, remove the smaller cartons inside, and load them into smaller vehicles, which take the bullets out into the field where the soldiers are, running low on ammo. The soldiers break open the cartons, grab packs of bullets, load the bullets into their guns, aim, and fire, immediately creating a need for more bullets. You have to admire a system like that.

All around the world, big boxes full of bullets, stacked high on pallets, are on their merry way by sea or air to wherever guns are being fired. Maybe the bullets our soldiers use are manufactured here in the States, or maybe we buy them cheap from Russia, or Canada, or China. Maybe some are made here in New England. Who knows? Maybe one of your friends from college is now in the arms business, and just bought a lakeside cottage for the family, because it's been such a good year. Well, somebody's making money on all this; maybe it's you.

Of course, the whole process must be going on, after a fashion, among the forces opposed to ours. Their bullets get used up, too, but there always seem to be more where those came from. Yet no one is giving them away. You'd think if the insurgents' bullets and bombs were just magically appearing each day out of the sand at their feet, you'd hear about that.

Somehow, planes and trucks and boats are bringing everything our enemies need right to their back door, by the ton and on time. So the system must be fairly well organized. What are the origins of these supply lines? Do you think we don't know? Couldn't we snuff out a lot of conflict by snuffing out the places where the bullets come from? Or would that, too, be unacceptable?

Tires and oil for the trucks, fuel for the planes, light bulbs for the warehouses, all of these things are needed, and are ordered, delivered, and paid for on a schedule that's agreeable to all the parties. To read the news, you'd think our soldiers (and their soldiers) were out there all by themselves, but of course they're only the very top of the pyramid. Beneath them are the many who make war possible and profitable. Someone makes the uniforms, the boots, the tarps, the portable toilets, the cafeteria equipment, and the food that is served there. Above all, someone makes the bullets, and makes a good living at it. How many makers of bullets are there in this strange society? Who are they? Where are they? Do they meet over drinks at annual conferences in Manila, or New Orleans? Who makes our bullets, and who makes our enemies' bullets? Do they know each other? Are they the same people?

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