A term coined by feminist Carol Cohn to further back her theory that masculinism is the root of all war. The theory discusses how basic male characteristics - dominance, war, sex are all interconnected with each other. It's some pretty fucked up shit. Supposedly, if we shed our masculinity (biologically there's an obvious need for males, but not their characteristics. It's a rather esoteric theory), there will be no more war. The main support for her theory comes from lectures about war from the males themselves, pointing how "war jargon" could quite easily be confused with something else. Excerpts from an essay by Cohn herself:

Lectures were filled with terms like "vertical erector launchers," "thrust-to-weight ratios," "soft lay-downs," "deep penetration," and the comparative advantages of "protracted" versus "spasm attacks." Another example is the popular and widespread custom of "patting the missiles," an expression of phallic supremacy but also homoerotic tendencies. It clearly is quite appropriate for feminist critics of nuclear policies to refer to "missile envy" and "phallic worship."

American dependence on nuclear weapons was explained as irresistible, because "you get more bang for the buck." A professor’s explanation of why the MX missiles should be placed in the silos of the newest Minuteman missiles instead of replacing the older, less accurate ones was, "You are not going to take the nicest missile you have and put it into a crummy hole." At one point, there was a serious concern that "we have to harden our missiles," because "the Russians are a little harder than we are." One military adviser to the National Security Council referred to "releasing seventy to eighty percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump."
Heh. In fact, Carol Cohn was talking about my graduate program, which was where she spent her observation period. I can testify that, yes, there is an awful lot of double entendres in the jargon used to describe strategic weapons. I would like to point out, however, that one must be careful not to conflate sexual imagery - not phallic imagery alone, although that is predominant - with strategic militarism. In fact, many of the analyses and reports issued by my department spent a great deal of research and time demonstrating that in fact we didn't need to deploy such enormous amounts of stuff, and that some of the stuff we want to deploy is completely &*(@*#Q stupid and unnecessary.

One of the reasons the terminology went this way, I think, is that (initially) it was reflective of the male-only world of defense analysis and practice. It was, in essence, a symptom (not a cause) of the U.S. military's generally misogynistic atmosphere at the time (whether or not it has improved is a question I will strictly avoid). Speaking from experience, one of the purposes of this jargonization is to insulate the analyst from the fundamental horror of the subject matter! Using terms like:

  • Penetrate - defeat defenses
  • Harden - make resistant to damage
  • Erector/Launcher - a truck which lifts missiles vertical for firing, like Iraq's SCUD launchers
  • Hole - silo
  • etc.
...allows the analyst to remain more objective than when using phrases like "defeat the defense and kill 1.2 million people by flash-cooking them and melting their bodies," which is what happens when one of these toys detonates over an inhabited major city.

The question that naturally follows is, why think about this stuff at all, then? Isn't thinking about it just another example of men obsessed with their peepers1?

unless there are people actively involved in working on making it not happen. That's the result of the releasing of the nuclear genie from the bottle. As I believe Oppenheimer once said, "The biggest secret of the Bomb is that it can be done."

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