Weapons that don't kill? Tell it to the marines

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The Independent Online
The US Marines, who have battled their way around the world with bayonets, bullets and true grit, are preparing to defend the free world with the latest in weapons technology - sponges, glue, sticky foam, bean bags and a rather nasty noise.

These "non-lethal weapons" have long been regarded by military experts as virtually useless, but with the Pentagon deciding to increase its spending on them by $5.2m to $37.2m this year, the Marines will work with the other armed services and agencies such as the CIA to make equipment including the "12-gauge bean bag" and the "40mm foam rubber baton" a force to be reckoned with.

The Marine Corps, which fought long and hard for the honour of being chosen to expand "non-lethal warfare", believes that the weapons will be of great value, particularly in peace-keeping operations such as those in Bosnia and Somalia where minimum force has to be used to try to avoid alienating the local population.

And instead of practising their blood-curdling war cries the Marines will be instructed in the use of "bio-acoustic" weapons that cause a "digestive reaction" - in other words, they will be taught how to use machines that make low-frequency sounds which make people feel sick. It is not expected that the Marines will change their training chant from "I love my rifle" to "I love my bean bag".

The United States has already spent $126,000 on a variety of non-lethal weapons which were to be used in Somalia, including a machine that lays down a wall of bubbles laced with tear gas and a cannon that fires a glue- soaked net designed to trap crowds of people. However, only sticky foam which made it difficult for rioters to move forward and pepper sprays were actually used.

The American authorities also spent $283,000 on non-lethal weapons for the invasion of Haiti, including bean bags and rubber balls to trip people up, but did not use them.

There is, of course, another threat to the Marines' future foes: they might die laughing.