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Baby, You Can Drive My Car Bomb
July 31, 2006 11:36 AM   Subscribe

The Poor Man's Air Force: A History of the Car Bomb Part 1 & Part 2. Written by Mike Davis, the two-part essay argues that the first car bomb was actually a horse-drawn carriage filled with dynamite that Italian anarchists used to blow up Wall Street in 1920. (more inside)
posted by jonp72 (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Davis then traces how variations of the car bomb were used as a weapon by the Zionist Stern Gang, the Viet Cong, and the Sicilian Mafia, but it did not become the technologically viable weapon of fourth-generation warfare that it is today until the Provisional Irish Republican Army accidentally rediscovered the ammonium nitrate/fuel oil combo (in a fatal lab accident that killed its "discoverer," Jack McCabe), originally developed for industrial use by chemist Melvin A. Cook. In 1979, the Mossad used a car bomb in Beirut to assassinate Ali Hassan Salameh for his role in masterminding the Munich Massacre of Israeli Olympiads in 1972. Mossad would use additional car bombs in the hopes of driving the PLO out of Lebanon, but this backfired as Hezbollah soon embraced the same weapon.
posted by jonp72 at 11:37 AM on July 31, 2006

The impact scars from the Wall Street bomb are still visible on the nearby buildings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2006

See also.
posted by xod at 12:33 PM on July 31, 2006

I hope letter bombs is next!!
posted by Megafly at 12:38 PM on July 31, 2006

Pretty interesting and detailed piece. Thanks.
posted by justkevin at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2006

Maybe a longshot, but does anyone know if this is the same Mike Davis as wrote "City of Quartz"?
posted by pompomtom at 4:25 PM on July 31, 2006

Recent pictures of the damage from the 1920 bombing. I've seen it several times myself.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:26 PM on July 31, 2006

Thanks for the links, jonp72. I read the tomdispatch article quite some time ago and bookmarked it. I hadn't done anything with it. Thanks again for your research.
posted by taosbat at 6:43 PM on July 31, 2006

Yeah, I was going to mention that you could see the marks left by the 1920 bomb to this day, but so many beat me to it. It is kind of interesting that the marks are memorialized in the way that they are -- given the pace at which the canvas of NYC changes (certain other unending rebuilding projects in that same area not withstanding). I'm curious as to the fact that those marks, as obscure as they are, are nonetheless well known enough that three of us instantly knew what this post was referring to. They are included on the plaques that make up the walking tour of lower manhattan, but seem to have little historical value in and of themselves. I suppose I'm trying to say that there is perhaps more at work with them than meets the eye...
posted by jrb223 at 7:10 PM on July 31, 2006

...the first car bomb was actually a horse-drawn carriage filled with dynamite that Italian anarchists used to blow up Wall Street in 1920...

Using those criteria, this claim is at least 120 years off the mark.

On December 24, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte survived an assassination attempt by Royalists. Their bomb (the "Infernal Machine") was a horse-drawn wagon loaded with a barrel filled with gunpowder and shrapnel. The blast missed Napoleon, but anywhere from 2 to 50 bystanders were killed in the explosion (more details and another image.)

Considering that gunpowder had been around for perhaps 1000 years before this—and animal-drawn wagons far longer—some medieval anarchist probably tried this lethal combination long before Napoleon.

And depending on how you define "bomb", the Greeks might have been first:
posted by cenoxo at 10:47 PM on July 31, 2006

Interesting info cenexo, but I think part of the point of the car bomb is to have "an inconspicuous vehicle, anonymous in almost any urban setting".

Admittedly, I have no stats on how common large wooden horses were at the time....
posted by pompomtom at 2:49 AM on August 1, 2006

somebody set us up the large wooden horse?
posted by scruss at 4:37 AM on August 1, 2006

Maybe a longshot, but does anyone know if this is the same Mike Davis as wrote "City of Quartz"?

Yup. Same guy. As they say in New England, that Davis guy is wicked smaaht.
posted by jonp72 at 6:52 AM on August 1, 2006

Excellent post.
posted by putzface_dickman at 8:24 AM on August 1, 2006

Pompomtom: True — you probably couldn't just run down to the local WH dealership and pick one up.

As for being inconspicuous, if you can deceive your enemy into welcoming the very weapon that destroys them, that may be the most infernal tactic of all.
posted by cenoxo at 9:07 AM on August 1, 2006

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