Unconventional Weapons

"Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye," John Lennon famously wrote one day, whilst out of his freaking head. But what did he mean by this? Well one thing is certain, Lennon is just one of the many dead musicians who will welcome the breakthroughs made in recent arms limitation talks, bringing us all one step closer to world peace.

During the past two decades significant reductions have already been made in the numbers of nuclear weapons the world over. Last November, leaders from some of the world's most powerful nations - and Italy - met in Helsinki for a few rounds of golf and a bit of a chat. There were cakes and biscuits and Tizer, and everybody had a super time - and as a result we are looking at the very real possibility of an agreement to reduce the numbers of conventional weapons held by sovereign nations. This means that over the next five years stockpiles of explosives and ammunition must either be destroyed or downgraded to non-lethal status - for example, substituted for rubber bullets, plastic knives and blancmange-tipped surface-to-air missiles.

Opponents of the accord have expressed great concern, fearing it will seriously undermine national security. However, the treaty does imply that the proliferation of so-called 'unconventional' weapons may continue unhindered. And whilst knowledge of such weaponry is almost universally denied, it is believed that many nations have been carrying out research into the possibilities of this new technology for some time.

Chief amongst them has been the USA, whose activities in this area of research have been the topic of much speculation. Conspiracy theorists maintain that the US military has been experimenting with water pistols since the 1950s, and now has hardware that can fire a column of ice cold water over sixty feet. The US has never admitted to having such a weapon, but there are a number of reliable eyewitness reports that claim it was used to great effect during the Gulf War.

Similarly, there are numerous stories of America employing itching powder in Vietnam. Former Marine Sergeant Brad Flanders is one of many ex-soldiers pursuing a claim against the American Government for Irritable Bush Syndrome - a condition resulting from exposure to itching powder during the war. America has persistently repudiated claims that itching powder was used against the Vietcong, but Flanders says that it was common practice for it to be dropped by helicopter over hostile territory to flush out the enemy. Flanders, it should be pointed out, never actually saw action in Vietnam. In fact, he's never even been there, and it's doubtful that he could even point to it on a map - but he has seen a lot of movies.

Tales like this, and many more besides, are rife. Any search of the Internet will turn up a plethora of sites trading in conspiracies about the USA's involvement in unconventional weapon research. Most of them seem to be centred around the infamous Area 51, a top secret military establishment that for many years has been rumoured to be the home of research into crashed space podules and alien mind-buggering technology. Intriguingly, the conspiracy buffs are now claiming that all the little green man stuff is just a cover story for so called military 'black projects'. Front line technologies such as whoopee cushions, stink bombs and novelty Dracula teeth have all been linked with Area 51, and more and more witnesses are coming forward to support these claims. This is in spite of the efforts of the many agencies whose job it is to keep such information classified - the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, CBS, Fox and more besides. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the more people you employ to keep a secret, the more chance there is of it getting out.

The USA has been considerably more open about its Strategic Defense Initiative - the so-called 'Star Wars' project - which will involve encircling the earth with a network of satellites capable of delivering silly string to any location on Earth at a moment's notice. It is claimed - mostly by the contractors, who are already seriously over budget - that the system will be accurate to within three feet. Critics say these claims are just pie in the sky, which, coincidentally, echoes the project's secondary phase - a giant custard pie in geo-stationery orbit above Michigan, providing an effective counter-measure against intercontinental missile attacks. The pie will be manned 365 days a year by a crew of six, and will also provide facilities for civilian scientists keen to investigate the effects of weightlessness on trifle.

The USA's research may be a matter of common knowledge, but the Chinese have proved to be measurably more adept at keeping their secrets secret. Nevertheless, although their programme of research into unconventional weaponry is not believed to be anywhere near as advanced as the Americans', there is suspicion that they have made considerable advances in the use of helium-filled balloons. According to one source, they currently have the capacity to deliver a specially disguised 'stealth balloon' into an enemy encampment, completely undetected. The balloon then releases a steady stream of helium, which causes senior officers to talk in squeaky voices, resulting in much hilarity and a general breakdown of the command structure.

The Chinese are not the only ones capable of such outlandish techniques. For some years now the South Africans have been using rubber werewolf gloves for crowd control, whilst the Russians have made considerable advances in the field of suction-cup-tipped arrows. And what the Norwegians can do with a comedy plastic dog poo doesn't bear thinking about.

Of course, none of this is really new. Back in the 15th century the Inquisition were employing many of the techniques that we are only just rediscovering today. In the 1978 Magpie Annual, Mick Robertson - considered by many to be an authority on the subject - states that they were well versed in the use of wet towels and false boobies, and even researched the possibilities of X-ray specs, although the technology eluded them.

So what will this mean for the future? Well, whilst a slap around the head with a balloon on a stick might offend one's dignity, it won't result in any lasting damage. Already the SAS are being trained in non-lethal combat techniques, such as Chinese burns, dead legs and tickling. Perhaps one day in the future the activities of terrorists will be confined to prank phone calls and hidden camera stunts? Maybe territorial disputes might be resolved by a game of Monopoly that uses real streets? Perhaps, one day, even full-scale conflicts could be avoided completely and future international disputes ultimately decided by games of Scrabble, Twister or Kerplunk.

Let's hope so. Because if World War Three gets decided by a friendly game of snap, we might all stand a better chance of getting on with our shopping without being blown up.

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