Ben Bova: Crazy? Maybe, but ideas are worth trying

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Time for some crazy ideas.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when all the rational ideas have failed to solve the problem, the only thing left is the crazy idea. It might just work!

How to deal with the Somali pirates? How to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan’s wild and rugged mountains? How to deal with insurgent guerillas in various Latin American nations?

I have a suggestion. Drop money on them.

This idea goes back to the Vietnam War. Back when we were fighting a seemingly endless and fruitless war in southeast Asia, it occurred to me that there was a better way to stop the Viet Cong and even topple Ho Chin Minh’s communist government in North Vietnam.

At the time, we were using B-52s to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong. A single B-52 can carry 35 tons of bombs. Thirty-five tons!

Suppose, I mused, instead of bombs we loaded a squadron of B-52s with $5 bills? I have no idea of how much a $5 bill weighs, but I should think a single B-52 could certainly tote several hundred million dollars worth. Maybe a billion dollars.

Fly over Vietnam, North and South, and drop the money on them. Hostilities would quickly cease as Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers raced across the countryside to pick up the money fluttering down upon them. Of course civilians would, too, villagers and city folk, from Saigon to Hanoi, from the Mekong Delta to the border of China.

Offshore, we’d have prepositioned a fleet of cargo ships carrying electric power generators, refrigerators, television sets — all sorts of consumer goods. Automobiles, too; after all, if Detroit fares well, the U.S. economy booms.

Vietnam would be transformed overnight from a war-torn nation into a people caught up in the frenzy of consumerism. Communism would collapse under the weight of capitalist self-interest.

The beautiful part of my scheme was that it would probably be cheaper than the way we were already fighting that war. Certainly it would mean no more American young men would be killed in battle. And I have a hunch that dropping the money directly on the Vietnamese people, instead of using the money to buy bombs that we’d drop on them, would be cheaper than buying the bombs. We’d eliminate the middleman, so to speak.

Alas, my scheme was never tried. But I still think it might have worked.

So why don’t we try it now? We could use the Somali pirates as a test case.

Apologists claim that the pirates turn to their larcenous (and sometimes murderous) ways because they are desperately poor. Somalia is a shambles, the country split up among various warlords, with no effective national government. People are hungry, starving. So some of them turn to piracy.

OK. Drop money on them. Those magnificent old B-52s are still flying Air Force missions. Stuff them with $5 bills (or bigger denominations, considering inflation) and send them over Somalia. Remember to have the cargo ships filled with goodies for the Somalis to buy from us.

We could do the same in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, or the coca fields of Latin America.

In actuality, such a plan would be sort of like an economic stimulus package. After all, the recipients of our airborne largess would be buying American consumer goods. Everybody benefits and the world becomes a safer, more peaceful place.

It might even work with Cuba!

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Then there’s the issue of gun control.

Again, this idea goes back several decades, to the time when miscreants started hijacking airliners and the airlines began security screenings at airports.

The security screenings were intended to make certain no one smuggled a weapon onto the plane. It occurred to me then that it would be much easier, and more effective, if each and every passenger were issued a loaded pistol as he or she boarded the plane, with instructions to blast away at anyone who made a suspicious move.

Flights would be quiet and calm. The flight attendants wouldn’t have to serve drinks or meals. Everyone would sit in their assigned seats, holding their pistols, ready to fire at the first sign of trouble. No one would dare get out of his or her seat. Trips to the lavatories would be made only when desperate.

Children would not be issued guns, of course. And the guns would be loaded with frangible bullets, which break up when they hit something hard, like the plane’s bulkhead or a window. Such bullets would not puncture the plane’s pressurized cabin, but they’d be perfectly good for knocking a would-be hijacker off his feet.

Now carry that idea a step farther.

We get calls for gun control, especially when some homicidal maniac shoots up a shopping mall or a college campus. But trying to keep citizens from possessing guns merely disarms them and leaves them at the mercy of the criminal few who somehow get their hands on guns.

Turn the question around. Why not insist that all adults be required to own and carry a gun, and take regular practice sessions so they know how to use it? Then when some nutcase starts shooting up the neighborhood he’d be quickly cut down by a fusillade from honest, gun-bearing citizens.

Sure, you’d have some crazies still attacking their neighbors, but they’d be swiftly weeded out of the gene pool.

There is empirical evidence that mandatory gun possession works. What is the safest, most law-abiding nation in Europe? Switzerland. Perhaps the Swiss are the most law-abiding people on Earth.

Every Swiss citizen is required to keep an automatic weapon in his or her home, and to know how to use it. Every Swiss citizen undergoes basic military training. The nation is armed to the teeth — and as safe and peaceful as can be.

Crazy ideas. But as a young astrophysicist once remarked, “Just because an idea is crazy doesn’t mean it’s wrong!”

Naples resident Ben Bova’s latest novel is “The Immortality Factor.” His Web site address is

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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