Categorized | Book reviews, News

Buda’s Wagon. A Brief History of the Car Bomb

Buda’s Wagon. Mike Davis

The car bomb was invented in the US and was used to devastating effect by Mario Buda, an anarchist who exploded his horse-drawn wagon on Wall Street in 1920, thus prompting the title to Buda’s Wagon, a new book by often controversial and politically radical Mike Davis. Buda was the first car bomber, his progeny are many.

The Zionist Stern Gang used car bombs in the late 1940′s to blow up buildings in Palestine in an attempt to drive out the British and terrorize Palestinians. The Irgun and Haganah, underground Zionist groups labeled as terrorists by the British, quickly followed suit. The use of car bombs by Zionists represented a major step forward both in the lethality of the bombs and their use as political weapons.

However, Palestinians and Arabs soon learned the technology and responded with the same, prompting one of the founders of Israel, Ben-Gurion, to say after the bombing of a Haganah headquarters, “I couldn’t forget that ‘our’ thugs and murderers had blazed this trail.”

Prophetic words indeed. Car bombs don’t care who use them, and Davis details how the technology to create them travels from one hot zone to the next, as their practitioners spread the knowledge worldwide. Instrumental in the spread of car bombing techniques from the 1980′s onward was the lunatic Bill Casey of the CIA and ISI, the shadowy secret police of Pakistan who are considered among the best in the world and are a power unto themselves.

Car bombs are often successfully used by hardliners in a dispute to destroy the possibility of peace talks. Sow enough chaos, terror, and hatred, and peace negotiations often collapse. This has been a precise goal at times by Zionists, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the IRA, and many others. Other times, car bombs can be used to force concessions, like with IRA bombings in London in the 1990′s. The bombs were deliberately targeted to damage the faltering British insurance companies, and it did indeed cost the companies billions of dollars and nearly cratered Lloyds of London.

That blowing up a building in an urban area, killing innocents, will often cause mass reaction against your political aims is something that escapes car bombers. Or maybe, blood-crazed with visions of retribution, they don’t care. Sometimes the car bombers are rival drug cartels or organized crime factions. Then, of course, there is little political motive.

Car bombs can achieve spectacular political results. Witness the Hezbollah bombings in Lebanon in the 80′s that destroyed a US barracks dubbed the “Beirut Hilton” and a French barracks as well. In both cases these large buildings (the French barracks was nine floors) were blown off their foundations, which gives some idea of the immense force of the explosions. These bombings led directly to the immediate US withdrawal from Lebanon.

Davis makes it clear that car bombs, while sometimes achieving short-term gains, generally lead to increased violence from the the other side (or sides) thus creating ever more mayhem and dead innocents. Using Iraq as an example, some car bombs are aimed at US forces, others are specifically used to create Sunni-Shia divisions. Islamic hardliners use car bombs to reinforce sectarian divisions because they do not want nationalism to occur because that would mean they’d then have no power base. Doubtless many other players there don’t want nationalism either.

Davis closes by saying

All sides, moreover, now play by Old Testament rules and every laser-guided missile falling on an apartment house in southern Beirut or a mud-walled compound in Kandahar is a future suicide truck bomb headed for the center of Tel Aviv or perhaps downtown Los Angeles. Buda’s wagon truly has become the hot rod of the apocalypse.

Car bombs are an example of how small groups operating in diffuse networks can produce devastating effects against much larger foes. This is what John Robb talks about in his new book Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, which will be the topic of my next book review. He blogs about this at Global Guerrillas and at his personal blog.

[tags]Buda’s Wagon, Mike Davis, car bombs[/tags]

  • http://www.asymptoticlife.com DJ

    Nice review. I would like to add, though… You wrote, “That blowing up a building in an urban area, killing innocents, will often cause mass reaction against your political aims is something that escapes car bombers.” In some cases, this is exactly the intent. In Sri Lanka, for example, during times of relative peace, the Tamil people wane in their support for the LTTE (which has been less than kind to many). But an attack on the Sinhalese in Colombo is sure to generate a backlash against the Tamill civilians– forcing the Tamils back into the LTTE camp once again. This happened time and time again during the mid-to-late 90s.

    Incidentally, the government side in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere) can and does trigger the same effect by bombing civilian areas, security crackdowns with indefinite detentions, and assassinations and disappearances. When you wrote, “Car bombs are often successfully used by hardliners in a dispute to destroy the possibility of peace talks. Sow enough chaos, terror, and hatred, and peace negotiations often collapse,” it should be pointed out that there are generally hardliners on both sides, all using the same strategies. Only the weapons vary. That’s one thing that makes ending a war so damned difficult: some people don’t want to stop the fighting.

    Still, the car bomb has an undeniable place in history– one which is still being written. Thanks for calling this book to our attention.

  • http://polizeros.com Bob Morris

    A senior Ulster Constabulary Force officer in the book was quoted saying that it wasn’t all the guns and weaponry the IRA had that made them so deadly, it was that two men with shovels in a rural shack could make an ANFO bomb. That it was “minds” that needed to be decommissioned, not weapons.

    What I meant was, the mass reaction against the car bombs sometimes comes from your own side, thus weakening your own cause.

  • http://www.asymptoticlife.com DJ

    That would suggest that violence itself is sometimes the best argument for peace. Gandhi used this against the Brits– when the Brits themselves could not stomach the violence they used to beat (or in some cases shoot) protesters, Gandhi gained the upper hand.

    Those committing violence (on all sides) almost by definition do not have the best interests of the People at heart, hence a peace process generally includes the distribution of power outside the narrow scope of the combatant parties. No wonder the extremists (on all sides) resist!

  • http://www.youtube.com/blogofascist Post American Revolutionary

    You know the US Military stopped counting car bombs as ‘violence’ in the territorial pissings in Iraq. Terror is a tactic. Shock and Awe is a tactic. What did you expect against the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world? Flowers and Candies? C’mon. Smart bombs are just as homicidal as dumb bombs

  • Sanlev

    nice review, take a look at this article on the same topic:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/devon-jackson/suicide-bombers-r-us_b_47304.html

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  • http://homelessonthehighdesert.wordpress.com/ Thomas Ware

    The Zionist Stern Gang used car bombs in the late 1940’s to blow up buildings in Palestine in an attempt to drive out the British and terrorize Palestinians.

    Israel is a terrorist state – the mother of all terrorists.

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