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The War Nerd October 31, 2002
 
The Big Show
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
 

You Muscovites were the stars for war nerds everywhere this week, with one of the wildest hostage "dramas" (you have to call them "dramas") in history. This was big-time: 50 wild-eyed Chechens boasting about how much they longed for death, holding over 700 musical-comedy fans in a huge auditorium.

The Iranian Embassy in London

The Iranian Embassy in London

There was also at least one big technical innovation: the Russian Special Forces used gas before storming the building. This is an idea lots of armchair strategists yell to the TV every time they see some loudmouth in an Arabic bandana threatening to kill a roomfull of hostages. "Why don't they just pour sleeping gas into the room?" It sounds clever, but I was never much of a fan of that idea myself, because people and drugs mix in some funny ways. Put five people in a room, tell each to down a full glass of vodka, and you'll have five different plots going: two will be dead to the world, another'll be yelling their head off, one'll be sobbing and the fifth -- the really dangerous one -- will be saying, "Didn't do anything for me. You sure that was vodka? Tasted like tap water."

Suppose you've got five armed terrorists, and just one of them turns out to be one of those guys who can really hold his liquor (or sleeping gas); he's gonna notice everybody dropping off around him and, unless he's real stupid, he's gonna realize they're poisoning the room. And he's gonna be real unhappy with that idea...unhappy enough to start setting off the shaped charges and emptying some clips into the hostages.

But you do have to admit that a theater isn't a bad place to try the gas strategy, because those places have really elaborate ventilation systems, so the gas could -- in theory -- spread through the whole room at the same rate. And judging by the pictures I saw of some Chechen terrorist ladies sitting in their chairs stone dead, with their heads back, or leaning on the seat in front of them, it looked like the gas worked, at least on some of them. If you assume the Chechens planned to wipe out everybody, then the fact that they saved around 600 of the 700 hostages might be a pretty good deal.

It all depends on how you rate the group taking the hostages. I've gone back to the records this week, looking at lots of other hostage-takings, and the thing that hit me hardest was how many of the terrorist groups are pretty squeamish folks, who really didn't want to kill anybody and waited way too long to start killing off their hostages, after the troops started blasting their way in.
Russian hostages after being freed in Budyonnovsk

Russian hostages after being freed in Budyonnovsk

The most famous hostage-taking "dramas," the ones everybody remembers, are the two involving Israeli hostages in the 70s. The first was the raid on Entebbe, a classic operation. The PLO hijacked an El Al flight and flew it to Uganda, which was still under the management of one of history's cannibals, Idi Amin. The Israelis somehow managed to fly in a commando team on a disguised cargo flight and bring the hostages out alive, losing only one man: the commander of the operation, Binyamin Netanyahu's older brother. It was a goddamn superhuman operation, and convinced everybody the Israelis were military gods. The other big 70's "drama" was when Black September grabbed a dozen-odd Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in '72. The Israelis wanted to bring their own commando, the Germans refused, and tried it their way, which involved something like a measly three snipers who were supposed to take out the Palestinians. That one ended up with a dozen dead Israelis and a general bummer for the big Olympics crowd.


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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