The canister of tear gas skipped once along the pavement before clanging against the steel walls of Jeffrey Jones Waterson’s wheelchair.
It wasn’t the first time in his life that he’d received such a warning: Waterson, who served three tours in the Pan-Pacific Conflict, led an elite unit of breach-and-clear ground forces and has seen the full gamut of entry deterrents.
But as the canister hissed and plumes of o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile filled his lungs and burned his corneas, he felt an unfamiliar and traumatic sting.
When Waterson and a crowd of 8,200 protestors were suppressed by non-lethal means during a protest of weaponized particle neutralizer technology earlier this morning, it felt to the disabled veteran as if his country were turning its back on his service – and his sacrifice.
"It’s like me being alive doesn’t matter to them," Waterson told Mashable in an exclusive interview following the altercation. "I gave one of my legs for this country, and the only reason I’m still breathing is because a bullet got me, not some Hollywood laser beam. Now I’m here, exercising the rights that I fought for, and I get the gas."
Waterson’s description of a particle neutralizer may be a bit dramatic, but it does capture the essence of the conflict in Washington: Is it humane to increase the killing efficiency of weapons?
Image: Visualhunt/ Martin Ouellet
A matter of life and death
Particle neutralizer technology started making headlines about 14 months ago when advanced weapons manufacturer, SuperSoldier, received patent protection and a contract from the Department of Defense within the span of a week.
Codenamed, "Project Tiberius," the company’s high-tech weapons system transmits an intense electric shock that causes a destructive chain reaction at the atomic level of a target. As the reaction spreads, billions of tightly woven atoms are heated to the point of spontaneous combustion. What’s more, the entire process – initial contact to target neutralization – takes less that one second.
In other words, a direct hit from Tiberius can instantly reduce a target to dust.
The military benefits are obvious; a more efficient battlefield can end conflicts quickly and spare unnecessary casualties.
But human interest groups find the idea of particle neutralization deeply troubling.
"Congress needs to remember that people like Jeffrey Waterson are not disposable, they deserve a life after the front lines," says lobbyist Jill Taft of Humanized Weapons League. "While the particle neutralizer weapon makes it easier to vanquish enemies, it also creates a gruesome dichotomy – kill or be killed. There’s no in-between."
The space between life and death was where Waterson found himself after being shot in the thigh during a skirmish in Korea. The wound severed his femoral artery and inflicted irreparable nerve damage that ultimately led to the amputation of the limb.
"There are no absolutes"
Waterson has been confined to a wheelchair ever since, but says he’s thankful every day that the wound didn’t end his life.
"I could’ve been a lot worse off," says Waterson. "Two feet higher, and that bullet pieces my heart. Then imagine what would’ve happened to me if other guy was carrying a Tiberius rifle."
Waterson and those opposed to the use of particle neutralizer technology believe that there’s room for middle ground on the battlefield – that wounds speak just as loudly as deaths in the minds of our enemies.
As the haze of tear gas lifted over Capitol Hill and crowds dispersed at the behest of SWAT teams, Waterson remained, resolute and tear-stricken, boldly raising a sign above his head.
It’s message: "There are no absolutes."