by David Hamling in
Sydney Morning Herald
February 5, 2000
We are in Baghdad in 1991, and something strange is happening. A hush falls
over the city as a huge shimmering face materializes in the sky. Soldiers
and citizens prostrate themselves as each hears the voice of Allah,
commanding them to overthrow the evil and treacherous Saddam Hussein. Within
minutes an angry mob is storming the palace as the guards flee ...
This highly imaginative scenario was proposed by US Air Force (USAF)
planners for a bloodless victory in the Gulf conflict. The idea of putting
words in God's mouth is not new. In the second century AD Lucian described a
statue of the god Aesculapius that spoke to believers, aided by a hidden
priest with a speaking tube.
The Baghdad plan involved projecting a giant hologram over
Iraq. This kind
of projection requires a mirror behind it. The scale of the project dictated
a mirror several kilometers across up in space. So far the largest mirror
developed has been 30 meters wide and present versions are too small to
produce a convincing image at ground level.
Another approach would be to make a mirror out of thin air. When warm air
lies on top of cold air, the difference in density is enough to bend light.
At higher altitudes, a mirage can make whole landscapes appear in the sky.
An artificial mirage could in theory be made by heating the atmosphere with
radio waves or microwaves.
The military certainly appears to believe in the potential use of holograms.
A USAF think-tank has devised uses ranging from deceptive holographic
imaging to the Star Trek-sounding distortion field projector. These are
described as useful for strategic deception purposes, particularly against
an unsophisticated adversary. They would be projected by a special aircraft,
an airborne hologram projector.
Perhaps the nearest current equivalent is the Commando Solo, a modified
Hercules festooned with aerials and antennae and carrying pods of classified
electronics. It can transmit across the electromagnetic spectrum, including
radio and television signals.
The face of God needs a voice. A new technique using microwaves could
produce this. When a high-power microwave pulse strikes the human body, a
small temperature disturbance occurs, causing an expansion of tissue that
can create an acoustic wave. A report from the USAF scientific advisory
"With a pulse stream, an internal acoustic field of 5-15KHz can
be created which is audible. Thus it may be possible to 'talk' to
adversaries in a way which would be most disturbing to them."
The practical difficulties in microwave transmission are formidable. The
exact sound perceived depends on the size and shape of the hearer's skull
and orientation to the source. Microwaves can be reflected or dampened by
solid objects, so God's voice could have the underwater quality of poor
radio reception. And would you believe in a God whose voice drops off when
you walk behind a lamp-post?
But there were other problems with the plan. Images of Allah are forbidden
in Islam. How can you project an image of God when nobody knows what
supposed to look like?
And the citizens of Baghdad are not superstitious savages, prone to fleeing
at the sound of a disembodied voice from a gramophone. They have been
exposed to years of computer-generated imagery and flashy special effects.
If God's image did appear in the heavens, someone would be bound to suggest
it was all done with mirrors.