5 Huge Problems Solved by Doing the Worst Thing Possible
Fighting fire with fire sounds awesome, like some incredible underground mixed martial arts tournament where fire-horned demons battle that weird kid with the Zippo who sat at the back of English class.
"Zane, could you stop whatever it is you're plotting and come underline all the verbs on the board?"
In reality, fighting fire is a little less awesome than that, though only a little. The term actually describes a fire-fighting technique where a small, controlled fire is lit to consume various combustible materials, forming a firebreak that a larger fire will be unable to cross.
Zane finally finds his calling in life.
But more than a way to put pyromaniacs to work, "fighting fire with fire" has served as a useful brainstorming idea in many other fields where something needs to be fought. Here, then, are the coolest examples of fire (figuratively) being fought (figuratively) with fire (figuratively).
Fighting Water With Water
In 1993, after drinking way too much, the Mississippi River lashed out at the people who loved it most, flooding communities throughout the Midwest.
For those not familiar with the Midwest: it's a part of the United States famed for not normally being underwater.
The twin forces of engineers and dirt were mobilized to do something about this, but in many places this was a losing fight, and numerous communities were heavily damaged by flooding. And then one day, because the engineers doing all this work weren't getting much sleep, someone came up with the bright idea of fighting a flood with a flood.
"Or fire. Let's try fighting it with fire aga- ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."
Normally you fight a flood by building a levee as high as possible along the banks of a river to keep the river where it belongs. Sort of like racism, just for water. But if one of those levees starts to break, forming a new lake behind it, all the old rules get thrown out. Which is exactly what happened in 1993, when a set of levees broke, forming a new lake that began to spread out, threatening the community of Prairie du Rocher. One side of this new lake was formed by the very levees along the Mississippi meant to do the exact opposite of allowing lakes to form. The engineers reasoned that blowing a hole in these main levees would cause a "backflood," which would first stop this stupid new lake from slamming into Prairie du Rocher and the two small levees protecting it and, secondly, allow the lake to drain back into the Mississippi.
"Probably." *20-second yawn*
It took them a couple tries to do it, because they could find absolutely no one who knew how to blow up a levee, because that's the last thing you should fucking do to a levee. But it worked. Water was literally fought with water, and fans of idioms everywhere rejoiced.
Fighting Bombs With Bombs
Contrary to every movie you've ever seen, bombs rarely come with brightly colored wires that need to be cut in the right order to be defused. It's a ludicrous idea, really, imagining all the terrorists in the world assembling their weapons with some kind of standardized manual.
"Hey, do you think we should maybe make these harder to defuse?"
"And lose our ISO 9001 certification? Are you insane?"
On top of that, there's the small matter that bomb disposal technicians don't want to get anywhere near bombs, because they're fucking bombs. Their preferred technique involves using a robot and a shotgun to shoot the thing from a safe distance.
And in circumstances that don't allow that, like if the robot has the shakes real bad, bomb disposal experts either relocate a suspicious package to a safe place, or opt to just fuck up that existing place, putting their own bomb beside it and blowing them both to bits. Because of the way bombs work, it's even possible to do this without detonating the main explosive, which is handy if you're trying to preserve evidence, would rather not rain car parts over half the city, or your boss specifically asked you to stop doing that.
"Sarge, do you want to see my notebook full of ideas for using bombs to fight other types of crime?"
"We've got a job to do right now, Kenny, but maybe later."
Fighting Wars With Wars
Using military examples in a list like this is kind of cheating. There's nothing unusual or exotic about fighting tanks with tanks. That's kind of the textbook way to do it, actually. You generally don't send boats after tanks. Or fire for that matter.
Ninjas could fight tanks, but, again, they'd be more effective if armed with tanks themselves.
But one specific case deserves to be mentioned, namely The Great War, World War I, "The War to End All Wars." That last term was actually used by people at the time, with some evidence suggesting it was coined by H.G. Wells. Americans will probably be more familiar with its usage by Woodrow Wilson, who famously used the term when justifying the need for U.S. involvement in the war. The thinking behind it was that once this war was won and the Central Powers (Germany and friends) were defeated, there would be no more potential causes for war left in the world. All the remaining nations would be friendly democracies, with interlinked economies, who'd have no benefit from conflict. This one last war would be it.
"So let's make it count."
That didn't turn out to be the case, because duh, and in the decades since the phrase has mainly been used sarcastically. But the exact same principle is used to justify "preemptive wars." All. The. Freaking. Time.
"Yeah, but none of those had cool catchphrases."
"Wars fought to fight wars," is the most nonsensical sentence I've ever seen, and yet not only is it grammatically accurate, it's apparently the main way of doing things.
Fighting Explosions With Explosions
Covering a tank with plastic explosives sounds like a horrible mistake, like something the MythBusters would do on their very last episode ever. Shouldn't all the explodey bits of a tank be on the inside? The whole point of the outer surface of a tank is to stop explosions, isn't it?
But no, this Wile E. Coyote idea actually exists.
Also, that gun is installed backwards and is itself made of explosives.
And not only does it exist, it's more or less on the cutting edge of current armoring technology. Technically called explosive reactive armor, it consists of explosives sandwiched between two metal plates. When impacted, the explosive detonates, forcing the plates outward to either dull or deflect incoming projectiles or explosive charges. Lots of military vehicles use it, and, like, continue existing after using it.
It's not without its downsides. It can't handle taking multiple hits in the same location very well (although that's a problem lots of armor has), and I'm just going to guess that it makes parking a lot more nerve-racking. But still. Explosions fighting explosions. Maybe that coyote was on to something after all.
"We're finally going to get that road runner this time."
Fighting Disease With Disease
Depending on how close together your eyes are, you might have your own unique opinions on the effectiveness of or danger posed by vaccines. For the purpose of this article, though, let's just all agree that they work and are safe and holy shit, people, come on.
Now that that's settled, here's a brief recap of how vaccines work. Vaccines expose the body's immune system to the exact same virus they're meant to be fighting, only instead of a full-strength sample of the virus, it's either dead, inert, or severely weakened. This gives the body's immune system a chance to practice on something that can't fight back, sort of like how boxers used to practice on the corpses of dead criminals. I think.
I don't have time to research every little thing.
"Fighting fire with fire" turns out to be a pretty common tactic in medicine. Here's a group experimenting with using cancer to fight cancer. Their work involves inserting specific forms of encapsulated cancer cells into an existing tumor, which then emit proteins that convince the tumor to stop spreading. Here's someone else using AIDS to fight AIDS. Using AIDS to fight cancer? Yup. Using measles to fight cancer? Why the fuck not? Obviously that's dumbing down some fairly complicated scientific work into a single, headline-ready phrase, but the central concept is there. So, you know, wait for a doctor to treat your cancer. Don't go around trying to catch AIDS or measles or licking anything you wouldn't normally lick.
"In general, don't take any medical advice from anywhere on the Internet, or really any advice at all."
For more from Bucholz, check out 5 Reasons I'm Not Sorry for Burning Down Your Walmart and 4 Reasons We've Stopped Trusting the Media.
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