Battlepanda: It burns


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It burns

Funnily enough, I actually agree that the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah should not be described as using chemical weapons. From what I can gather, it is used rather like napalm -- it burns. The term 'chemical weapon' is grouped with nuclear and biological weapons into the umbrella term 'weapons of mass destruction', meaning that a relatively small amount of agent can wreck destruction on a massive scale. Being an incendiary with localized effectiveness, white phosphorus does not qualify.

But we should not let the fact that WP is not a chemical weapon per se blind us from the fact that it is a wicked weapon. Sure, a bullet in the head gets you just as dead, but when I sees pictures of Iraqis with their skin melted off, I cannot help but feel an additional measure of horror. If they did not die immediately, the pain they suffered in their last moments from the phosphorus burning their skin must have been unimaginable. I don't think inflicting a death that cruel is acceptable even when directed against enemy fighters.

The below is taken from a Christian Science Monitor article. The attitude contained within seems to be the latest official line on the WP use in Fallujah -- what can no longer be dismissed must be minimized. I find the bland denials and excuse making pretty repulsive. The documentary they are talking about can be found here. I watched it, and yes, it is pretty anti-American. But the images contained within spoke louder than the narrative or the editing. Since white phosphorous often burn skin while leaving clothing curiously intact, it is obvious that many, many civilians died along with the fighters. Collateral damage.
"If white phosphorous [is to be] used as an incendiary, the military has to do so in a manner consistent with our obligations to not unnecessarily harm civilians," says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association here. "The evidence available suggests that that may not have been done."

Pentagon officials insist that the weapon was not used against civilians. If civilians were indeed killed, as the Italian report alleges, the military will have to determine if the appropriate precautions were taken.

To determine the facts, some observers have called for an investigation, and the Iraqi Health Ministry has already started one of its own.

Yet regardless of what lies ahead, the report has the possibility of becoming to the Iraq war what the famous picture by Nick Ut was to the Vietnam War. In that black-and-white photograph, a young girl runs naked from a napalm attack in Vietnam.

"Obviously, napalm was not [intended] to bomb little girls," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "But war is a chaotic affair."

Some experts find it curious that white phosphorous should be so demonized. While it can have terrible effects, it is not seen within the military world as more dangerous or cruel than any other weapon. "Every military uses white phosphorous," says Dr. Oelrich.

If it can be proved that a member of the US military knowingly used it against civilians, it would be a clear violation of international standards. But cries that equate America's use of white phosphorous with Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons strikes some as inappropriate.

"It's clear that the European media want to have a fight," says Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution here. "The instinct for America-bashing is not helpful."