Review: Buda’s Wagon, A Brief History of the Car Bomb by Mike Davis

In his latest book on the social effects of urbanisation, Mike Davis gives a chilling and comprehensive account of the car bomb as a weapon of urban warfare. Inspired perhaps by the infamous horse-cart device that almost killed Napoleon in 1800, the modern car bomb has evolved swiftly and lethally, becoming a semi-strategic weapon that under certain circumstances is as deadly as airpower in its capacity to decimate urban headquarters, destroy political and cultural symbols, and terrorise populations.

The ‘Buda’ of the title refers to an event on Wall Street in 1920 when Mario Buda, an anarchist immigrant, took his inconspicuous horse-cart laden with dynamite to the front of the treasury building and tipped his hat to pedestrians as he ambled away. Moments later the cart exploded killing 40, wounding 200, and creating a crater in the very neighbourhood the World Trade Center would later occupy and collapse in.

Davis sheds light on incidents in Algeria, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Peru, Oklahoma City, Sicily, Chechnya, New York, Iraq, Indonesia and many others. Although generally associated with terrorists and radical groups, Davis also exposes the role of state intelligence agencies in the conceptualisation of the car bomb as a strategic method. He traces this evolution, underscoring the imaginative and adaptive capacity of terrorists (and governments) to borrow from one another, build on new technologies, carry terror ever further.

Dubbed by journalists as “the nuclear weapon of guerrilla warfare” and “the poor man’s air force”, no modern conflict has been exempt, all citizens and all nations are equally vulnerable. What is most frightening perhaps is the ease with which anyone with a car and a little know-how (downloadable, of course) can undertake terror. Buda’s Wagon is fascinating and very, very disturbing.

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