Shock and awe … in Sacramento

It’s so exciting to watch the high-tech pummeling of the bad guys in Baghdad. But what if one of those bombs hit the state Capitol?

Photo Illustration by Andrea Diaz

The massive air assault on Iraq was certainly impressive to the senses. To hear the booming bombardment, to see the night sky lit up in flames was indeed shocking. Those dramatic pictures out of Baghdad, narrated by understandably nervous correspondents, were thrilling to watch. It was hard to look away.

To those boys brought up on video games, this actual war was a more realistic step forward. It was a bit sanitized on television, but the bad guys were getting it good, and we didn’t have to press the real button or see the blood.

The large-screen TV and surround-sound speakers brought the war home to us as never before. Or did they? Can we really visualize the reality of the savagery of those bombs, as though the attacks were happening to us? Let us help you get a better dose of reality.

You only have to imagine that another world power had a president who was fed up with us having weapons of mass destruction and that we were unwilling to allow inspections. The other nation wanted a regime change and chose California as the key to our nation’s economy. The capital, Sacramento, is certainly a place of command and control.

Just as our country’s military chose to decimate the Old Palace in Baghdad because it was a symbol of the Iraqi state, our enemy would target the state Capitol. Both have powerful symbolic meanings, and both have large domes.

The enemy decided that, for shock and awe purposes, it would send a bomb right down on the Capitol dome. For such a target, no ordinary ordnance would do.

The new preferred weapon of the modern military is the 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). Hundreds were dropped on Iraq in the first days of bombing, and the manufacturer, Boeing, will certainly be flooded with requests for purchase from envious countries. It is one scary weapon, according to published reports.

This baby would come flying down quietly from the sky at a speed of 300 mph. If our enemy were media-savvy, it would have gun-turret camera footage trained on the Capitol dome, as the silent, destructive force was diving for its target. These once dumb bombs were made smart by recently attached Global Positioning System guidance systems.

The target would be the gold-colored ball adorning the top of the Capitol dome, which would come into view on the gun-turret camera that would then record the now-familiar bright flash. We’re talking a thousand pounds of TNT here.

The JDAM would send out an almost unbelievably crushing shock wave that would blow apart the ornate rotunda of the Capitol and instantly kill the legislators, aides, lobbyists, clerical employees and security guards working nearby. The shock wave of several thousand pounds per square inch would explode body cavities and rupture blood vessels. For those within 40 meters of the blast, at least it would be an instant death.

The majestic building, with its columns and arches, would be blown outward by the impact, and the sizzling metal fragments of the bomb would travel hundreds of miles an hour and slice up humans inside. Anyone lucky enough to escape that hell would be engulfed in the giant fireball. The spectacular mushroom cloud would ascend.

On the second floor, there would be no need for the offices of majority or minority leaders; there would be no Legislature to lead if the bomb hit during the day or early evening. There would be a smoking crater at least 20 feet wide down in the basement, where the cafeteria had been.

Those humans farther away, say 100 meters, would have their lungs ruptured by the shock wave, their limbs removed by bomb fragments, or perhaps their skulls crushed by falling debris.

Across L Street, at the Hyatt Regency, the attractive turquoise-colored windows would be shattered by the high-pressure shock wave and send splinters flying inward. The shock wave also would send the hotel guests flying, causing further injuries.

Metal fragments from JDAM supposedly can fly up to three-quarters of a mile, which means they could reach surprised pedestrians at the K Street mall.

At older buildings like the Westminster Presbyterian Church on N Street, the walls of the Spanish Mission-style structure would be severely shaken and perhaps collapse from the blast, sending church-service attendees to the hospital with trauma injuries.

Of course, the Department of Defense labels JDAM a precision guided bomb that protects against civilian casualties, but sometimes it is not so precise. In October 2001, a “targeting process error” caused the TNT to hit a residential area near Kabul, Afghanistan, one mile away from its target. Civilians paid the price. Other precision-bombing mistakes killed Americans, anti-Taliban fighters and civilians.

(And just last week in the Iraq war, the $600,000 per-missile Tomahawk missed by a country and hit Iran.)

So, what if our Capitol bomb went only slightly awry and slammed into the Community Center Theater, Memorial Auditorium, Downtown Plaza or the block where your house or apartment sat? The maelstrom would hit home as not one but dozens of JDAMs were dropped on various targets. Some of your loved ones, friends and neighbors could be saved in a hospital trauma unit; some couldn’t.

Imagine the damned JDAMs thundered into Sacramento and had the military’s desired effect. The bombings would go on for days and weeks, as international outrage went nowhere and the enemy was determined to carry on. Sorry about what happened to your bones, organs and blood vessels—you’re collateral damage.

Pretty shocking indeed.

But probably more shocking will be the effects on the world from the pictures of civilian casualties in the real Iraq war, the one started and carried out by our country. Those pitiful pictures of injured Iraqi soldiers, women and children now shown on Al Jazeera go well beyond video games and will be burned into minds in the Muslim world and prove to Muslims that Americans are callous bullies who kill for no good reason. This will increase the number of terrorists determined to hit us in our country, possibly in California.

And so, perhaps a bombing of the Capitol won’t seem like make-believe.