Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Semantics of the bomb

Recently, Russian television showed the testing of a new thermobaric bomb, allegedly four times more effective than the US equivalent MOAB [Nicknamed "Mother of All Bombs"]. But recently the veracity of the Russians' claim has been questioned. Technically it seems that there is something rotten in their claim, namely how it was deployed from a high-speed bomber but clearly is designed to be dropped from a slow-moving cargo plane.

This suspicion is backed by a funny semantic word-play for those who knows Russian (from Wired) and is a good example of how the arms community develops its own genre and discourse that obscures it to outsiders (just like any other trade, be it plumbers or rhetoricians):

The Russian term for the Father of All Bombs, "Kuzkin otets," translates literally as "Kuzkin's father." The phrase itself makes no sense. But to "show you 'Kuzkina mat,'" "to show Kuzkina's mother," is one of the most famous Russian idioms. It equates roughly with the English-language threat "we'll show you." Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev forever cemented "Kuzkina mat" in the Russian lexicon in 1962, during a period of escalating tension that preceded the Cuban missile crisis, and described a reportedly successful test of a 50-megaton H-bomb, the most powerful weapon ever.

The kicker? Khrushchev's H-bomb itself was mostly a demonstration of might rather than a serious attempt at fielding a practical weapon. The H-bomb was too big and unwieldy for day-to-day carriage on Soviet bombers, so only the one test model was ever built.



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