Buda’s Wagon

Author: 
Davis, Mike

Davis, Mike. Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. London: Verso, 2007.

Buda’s Wagon is a good read. It’s clearly oriented toward a more popular readership and thus is lacking the detail and evidence one might hope for, but the approach is exciting. Davis follows the history of the car bomb, marking significant developments—from the early “wagon bombing” of Wall street in 1920, to the Stern Gang’s deployment of the car bomb as a go-to weapon of choice against the British, to the introduction of ammonium nitrate-fuel oil bombs in Madison, 1970, to the siege of cities like Beirut, Lima and Belfast—in the car bomb's trajectory as part of the “poor man’s air force.” This book is chronological, spanning the entire twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and global in scale. What ties the narrative together is the constant development of evermore-destructive innovations in the car bomb’s implementation.

Two main points stand out. First, Davis demonstrates how those who are often perceived as the “victims”—or at least targets—of car-bombers (Israel, British loyalists in Ulster, Americans, etc.) often played an important role in introducing the car bomb into conflict as a tactic. Second, Davis’ over-arching narrative underlines the detrimental impact of the tit-for-tat mentality that has fed the car bomb’s rise. Indeed, his argument points to the impossibility of cities and nations ever defending themselves from the threat of car bombs and other IEDs. Instead Davis shows how efforts to protect against them, or defeat those who use them, have only fortified and prolonged the technology and tactics of clandestine bombings. In the end, the only defense that Davis sees is political. That is, despite the billions invested in protecting troops from IEDs in Iraq, or in beefing up security around so-called “hard targets,” the only way to avoid the green-zonification of cities (which only protects those deemed worthy of protection and relegates all others to the status of “soft (increasingly easy) targets”) it to change the style of political engagement with enemies, and to question what makes them enemies to begin with. In short the best way to defend troops from IEDs is to get them the hell out of Iraq; the best way to protect cities from “dirty bombs” or plagues of ANFO car bombs is to address the processes of marginalization that radicalize would-be bombers.