Green Bullets (U.S. Military)
From the curators: The so-called “green bullet” was developed as the successor to the older M855 ammunition, hence its extended title: 5.56mm M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round. The bullet was designed over a period of five years by the U.S. military’s Integrated Product Team at the Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey (though not without legal dispute from Florida-based Liberty Ammunition over its patent). The bullet is the same weight and shape as its M855 predecessor, so it fits existing weapons. Importantly, though, it swaps out the traditional lead core for copper, ensuring that bullets do not contaminate the food chain or water supply—just their intended target.
I come late to this party.
Assigned, in the category “Penetrate”(!), Green Bullets—”developed by the U.S. Army [that] are lead-free, [and] good for the environment, but still deadly when used properly” (the terms are the invitation’s, not mine)—I have hesitated to write.
Partly, it was envy of the language of the invitation itself. Who, when you read the text linked with this object [see above] could improve on the sarcasm of the last two phrases? Or at least I assumed it as such since the conjunction of these words could not, surely, be written with a straight face.
But design, we know, is a curious field. Like the Catholic Church of old it encourages, even demands, (a false?) innocence in its participants.
The title of this project does not escape this injunction. It is not, one should note, design as violence. The conjunction “and” carefully preserves the separation, and thus the absolution, of design.
To be sure, the connection is toyed with, there is the tease of slumming it, of playing on the other side. But to take the language of my assigned category, there is no penetration, no real “infiltration” of the boundaries, no “breaching.”
As with speaking about violence itself, decorum is maintained.
Oh, you can look at Wikipedia, and be gratified perhaps that the entry on “bullets” has a section on design.
But we know, do we not, that this is not “real” design.
But to return to my assigned topic: the most provocative aspect is the name. Otherwise, it is simply a bullet—and what is there to say about that? In fact, “green bullets” are the real product, one suspects, of a larger increase in the market price of lead in the last few years relative to that of copper. They are cheaper, in other words.
But they are perhaps also more truly lethal. The use of copper allows for a lighter bullet, hence a larger numerical carrying capacity by the average GI, and thus a faster rate of fire. Firing is, after all, significant. Bullets we could say, wish to be shot. It is what they ask us to do with them.
And the world has many. You and I—meaning the global population at large—pay for something like 14 billion of them to be made each year.
And more of them are getting fired. The rate at which U.S. forces fire rounds of small-bore ammunition has doubled over the last five years.
Yet, one wonders, at what? One astonishing statistic that crops up on the Web is the estimate that since 2002 U.S. forces have fired 250,000 rounds for every insurgent killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But bullets are contagious. Everyone wants one—or rather many.
The Department of Homeland Security is currently hoarding more than 1.6 billion in its arsenal. To put that figure in perspective, during the height of active battle operations in Iraq, U.S. soldiers were using 5.5 million rounds of ammunition each month. Any doubts concerning scenarios for the future for cross-border refugees at the Federal level should therefore be laid to rest.
What is true at the federal level is also true at the popular level. The nation’s gun owners are hunkering down, hoarding. The popular domestic bullet of choice is increasingly what is called “hollow point,” so called because it has a small dip in its tip. As it enters the body, this causes the bullet to open up, umbrella-style, and fragment. This decreases the chance of the bullet “going through the attacker and striking the loved ones you are trying to protect.” It also ensures that almost any shot to the torso will be fatal.
Cavitation, caused by the kinetic force of weapon-grade bullets as they rip through and out of the body when fired by assault rifles, is how the modern bullet destroys the body.
The children murdered in Sandy Hook had appalling internal and exit wounds caused by the force of the bullet hitting their bodies. None of them could have survived the traumatic shock even if their vital organs had not been hit. (As another website puts it, “Ballistic trauma is sometimes fatal for the recipient, or causes long term negative consequences.”)
But this has been the case for more than 150 years. The astonishing casualty rate of the U.S. Civil War—600,000 dead out of a population a little over 30 million—was a direct consequence of the rate of fire that the modern rifle allowed.
Together rifle and bullet offer a temptation that cannot be resisted.
Here is an account from one of Henry Morton Stanley’s peaceful expeditions in Africa around 1887:
“It was most interesting, lying in the bush watching the natives quietly at their daily work. Some women were making banana flour by pounding up dried bananas, men we could see building huts…boys and girls running about, singing…. I opened the game by shooting one chap through the chest. He fell like a stone…. Immediately a volley was poured into the village.”
Is this the product of design? Of course.
No one who has ever fired a rifle (or a pistol) can deny the exquisite pleasure of placing the bullet in the target, live or dead. Here is an instrument perfectly attuned to the desire for effect at a distance—for action that one both is, and is not, responsible for.
We know that killing at distance is essentially irresponsible—that is part of the vestigial horror we feel at mass bombing campaigns, at the use of nuclear weapons, and, today, at the ever-expanding program of drone assassinations. Yet at the same time we can say that it is not only us; the gun “leans towards” being fired; it wishes—this is its affordance, its affect—to prove its capability in the act of having us squeeze the trigger and hit the target, dead or alive.
Bullet and rifle conjoin in perfect partnership.
In that sense, design as violence, and violence by and through design. There is no “and.”