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Apr 16, 2017
Hugh Dellar

Phrase of the day: the mother of all

Last week, the US military dropped the largest conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) bomb it has ever used in combat on an area in eastern Afghanistan that contained a complex of tunnels and bunkers used by militants connected to Daesh, the group often referred to in the West as Islamic State or ISIS. After the bombing, US and Afghan forces conducted clearing operations and air strikes in the area and also assessed the damage. The bodies of over 80 militants were found around the blast site and several mid-level Isis commanders are said to be among the dead.

The bomb used was a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (Moab), one of the most powerful conventional weapons in existence. It was 9 metres long, weighed 9,800kg and contained 8,164kg of explosive – and it left a crater more than 980ft wide. Local villagers had their windows blown out, felt their walls shake and even crack, and said they ‘felt like the heavens were falling in‘. In other words, the attack was an extreme example of the shock-and-awe tactic favoured on occasion by American governments and presumably designed to send a message to any other potential enemies around the world. The cynic might also add that the bombing just happened to coincide with President Trump’s historically low approval ratings at home – and that such attacks are guaranteed to generate a positive response in the ultra-patriotic media!

The bomb, which is estimated to have cost around $150 million, has been widely described in the media as the mother of all bombs. This means it’s an extreme example of a bomb; it’s something regarded as the biggest, most impressive or most important of its kind! Indeed, one headline I saw claimed that Trump’s mother of all bombs is the mother of all messages, whilst another felt that the mother of all bombs is actually the mother of all warmongering – it was basically an extreme attempt to start a war!

Perhaps the most disturbing fact about the use of this phrase to describe this horrific weapon of mass destruction is that we often use the mother of all in a humorous way, so you might claim to be suffering from the mother of all hangovers after the party last night or explain that you’re late because you got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams; you might go out for a run and get caught in the mother of all storms and come home soaking wet or during a particularly cold winter, you can have the mother of all snowball fights! That such a comic phrase is being used to normalise mass murder should scare all of us.  

If any of this is making you feel uncomfortable or anxious, you probably won’t want to know that the day after the Afghanistan bombing, the press were busy reporting that the Russians have a bomb four times more powerful, which journalists – in an act of macho sexism – have dubbed the father of all bombs!

Sleep well – and sweet dreams!

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  • Why do you think the shock-and-awe tactic is used? Do you think it’s effective?
  • Can you remember a time when you had the mother of all colds / headaches / hangovers? What happened?
  • Have you ever been stuck in the mother of all traffic jams? Or caught in the mother of all storms?
  • Does the increase in these kinds of attacks around the world make your feel uncomfortable / anxious?
  • Do you have any sympathy with the cynical viewpoint about the timing of this bombing?

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