Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Illuminating" the WP discussion

I'm glad to see people are talking about the white phosphorus matter. Chuy has a good post on it, for instance, and I want to continue this conversation.

There are some issues in the conversation that everyone seems to be harping on, but that I don't think are particularly relevant here. The first is the semantic argument over whether WP qualifies as a "chemical weapon." I don't find this enlightening or relevant because, though the use of chemical weapons is illegal, the use of incendiaries against people is arguably unethical for the exact same reasons: namely the gruesomeness of the injuries and the lack of precision targetting.

Same thing with the use of WP against civilians. As odd as that sounds, my point is that the use of any weapon against civilians is a big no-no, so if civilians were attacked then the fact that it was WP is immaterial. It would be just as bad if it were conventional bullets and bombs.

The civilians angle is only relevant (and even then, obliquely so) in the matter of the use of WP against personnel, which I think is really the crux of the WP issue. In a quasi-guerilla war such as this, where insurgents are often mixed among the populace, using a weapon that ignites everything within a certain radius is likely to hit some civilians. This is a concern, for sure, but bombs have the same drawback, and few people cry foul in that case.

The issue is whether or not WP was used against insurgents as more than solely "illumination" (which the military admits it was), and the ethics of that decision. As I said earlier, it seems that incendiary weapons have similar drawbacks to chemical weapons, which are illegal to use against personnel. I also understand that army artillerymen are taught not to use it except for purposes of illumination, so apparently the army normally considers the use of WP against personnel to be a bad idea.

I imagine one of the reasons, which we are now experiencing firsthand, is the potentially catastrophic effect on PR caused by pictures of corpses partially melted by WP. And in the new age of warfare, where the war of ideas and reputation is considered by military experts to be equally important to the actual physical combat, PR is a very serious matter.

1 comment:

TioChuy said...

Now we are down to the heart of the matter. As I have said before I don't know what happened there so I can't discredit the story. What I can tell you is that if something like that happened on purpose it was not a matter of doctrine. From basic every soldier is taught the Geneva Convention, oh I remember the day, a million degrees in a poorly air conditioned room in Georgia watching a poorly made video all about it. And from there it is drilled in, for the same reasons many (my self included) object to prisoner abuse and many other illegalities (it doesn't help us in any way, but that is for another post.) I think what makes this such a big deal is that obviously there are not to many people (or countries) that really like the idea of this war, another is for the anti-war activists who see Lt. Calley ( The point I wish to make is that if civilians were targeted it was either a mistake or some idiot was in charge and it probably didn't come from any higher than a Colonel (and I doubt that high) No career office could weather the shit storm that would be brought upon them by the media or the military if there name was put anywhere clse to an order to kill or injure civilians as we have seen in the case of Gen. Karpinski ( whom I doubt had as much to do with the torture as she was charged.
I can't refute what may or may not be fact I can only say that that type of thing is not taught in any military school I have ever heard of.