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Sympathetic Detonation

When the opportunity arose to attend Explosives Ordinance Disposal classes appeared before me it took no time at all to pursue attending with some enthusiasm. I had already heard that the "disposal" part of the course descriptor meant almost nothing. The classes were all about how to create, arrange, place and ignite all manner of off-the-shelf stuff as well as how to put together junk normally found under the sink to interesting pyrotechnic effect. I had little understanding at the time that the course would have a lot to do with life itself.

Sympathetic detonation is a useful side effect of intense explosive release. The shock wave caused by a powerfully explosive substance is so strong and sharp that the waves of force tend to make any other ignitable or explosive substance nearby go up only a fraction of a second following the initial blast (or charge, as it's properly referred to). Physical explosions of substances aside, I was to learn that sympathetic detonation occurs all the time in society. It also occurs to similar effect as in the ordinance world.

I write this article as the Bundy Ranch out west in Utah has just come out from under federal siege. It would appear that Mr. Bundy violated grazing rules over the course of the last twenty years. His guilt or innocence in feeding his cattle on federally leased land isn't an issue here. What is of issue is what's happened since the government, through the offices of Bureau of Land Management, stepped in and began confiscating his herd (about 500 head) to pay for lease violations. Mr. Bundy shut down his ranch and barricaded himself and some friends inside while militia groups around the United States began to rally to his cause. It would seem that the BLM, like many other governmental agencies, from the IRS, Department of Energy, Fisheries and even the EPA have created, trained and fielded full-blown military-style SWAT teams.

Barricading is prohibited by SWAT law, or at least by a macho male belief system whereby a response to anything in the least resistant shall be met by tactics and procedures honed to perfection by General Sherman during his march to the sea during the Civil War. What can be the result of such policy implementation? Overwhelming force to submission, shock and awe. What else can happen? Sympathetic detonation. Bundy and his small crew are subdued with Tasers, Remington 700s and Barrett .50 sniper rifles. Tanks and recoilless rifles were ready to be employed, as they are readily stocked by these peaceful, public-serving governmental agencies.

One of the fundamental teaching principals put forward and consistently repeated during EOD classes was one of recognition of the things you don't know in any chain of explosive events. In the physical world of explosives, unless you have a one hundred percent certainty of how each element of the explosive chain is set up and will respond to 'stimulation,' you do not pull the fuse igniter and begin the assembled chain of fire. Finally, when a set of explosives is ready for demolition an independent range supervisor is called in for objective analysis, conclusion and approval for ignition.

Was the fuse igniter almost pulled at the Bundy ranch out in Utah, seemingly so distant from the rest of America? Was the massed anger of the extremely polarized American public considered? Our country is quietly seething with grief, anger and outrage over treatment so egregiously unjust as to boggle the minds of every class of society. We've had the banking thefts causing most of the country to descend into a vast unchanging sea of unemployment, home foreclosures and dying middle class. Add the offshore sale and operations of what once were vigorous "made in America" businesses. Include outsourcing to the point where no telephone service of any kind is provided by anyone other than people barely speaking English in countries thousands of miles distant. The final pull on the fuse igniter might simply have occurred because of the public's new understanding that there is no real difference between political parties. It is the independents, libertarians, democrats and republicans arrayed against the true mass of the unassembled and unrepresented public.

In order for sympathetic detonation to take place a fuse must ignite a supplementary charge big enough to create a significant shock wave set close enough to the main charge as to cause it to detonate. Could the Bundy Ranch situation served to be that supplementary charge? Is society tipped far enough to slip over and capsize into total disarray over such an event? If it isn't then when and where will that charge placement occur? For certain, the main 'social' charge simply continues to build in size and potential explosive force. While our government continues to spend time, money and effort in qualitatively honing and shaping the chain of events necessary to cause detonation the main charge continues to grow into nuclear proportions.

Quite possibly it was the mass media reporting on the buildup to go to war with Mr. Bundy and the gathered militia forces that swarmed to his ranch in reaction. In Washington D.C. the leaders of the country might have met to consider the true long term effects caused by previous confrontations (think Branch Dividians in Texas and the Ruby Ridge incident) and ordered the BLM to stand down from this one. Where will the next hot spot make itself felt? Will the massed anger of the country's unrepresented millions of very unhappy citizens detonate because of some future risk of sympathetic detonation?

By JAMES STRAUSS at 3:24PM on April 16, 2014

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