Friday, November 18, 2005

more like “shame & blame”

White phosphorus being used over Fallujah. Though its illuminatory function cannot be questioned, I don’t get how the lighted area can be guaranteed not to also affect civilians [source - BBC.com]

When you take into account the fact I am a self-confessed pacifist, you will understand I barely have to open my mouth on the recent “white phosphorus” debate and you would pretty much have an idea where my views would lie.

In fact, before I utter a word I can hear the resonance of terms like “pinko” being flung in my direction. To those who are forming this opinion, I refer you all to my recently posted essay on such terms.

Now, to the issue at hand. I always find Wikipedia to be a great source for the lowdown on things in the news you need catching up on. Here’s how they explain the substances effects on humans.

Effects of exposure to WP weapons

Incandescent particles of WP cast off by a WP weapon's initial explosion can produce extensive, deep (second and third degree), painful burns. These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed personnel because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it disappears, in some cases burning right down to the bone. Burns usually are limited to areas of exposed skin because only the larger WP particles can burn through personal clothing.

Exposure and inhalation of smoke

Burning WP produces a hot, dense white smoke composed of particles of phosphorus pentoxide, which are converted by moist air into phosphoric acid.

Most forms of smoke are not hazardous in the kinds of concentrations produced by a battlefield smoke shell. However, exposure to heavy smoke concentrations of any kind for an extended period (particularly if near the source of emission) does have the potential to cause illness or even death.

WP smoke irritates the eyes and nose in moderate concentrations. With intense exposures, a very explosive cough may occur. However, no recorded casualties from the effects of WP smoke alone have occurred in combat operations and to date there are no confirmed deaths resulting from exposure to phosphorus smokes.


As you can see, while actual contact with your skin can be torturous, the effects of inhilation are not so bad. OK, that’s fine.

However, although I’m not a scientist or a military man, I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can give a cast-iron guarantee that a weapon that contains this substance will only serve it’s purpose as an agent to both illuminate an area and flush out enemy soldiers without affecting civilians. Such a guarantee cannot be made.

And no matter how much you try and convince me it does not count as a “chemical weapon”, the fact that it is a weapon that utilises chemicals and their effects leaves you on very shallow ground.

Let’s face it – the crux behind this argument is the fact that though very few people will publicly endorse the use of such weapons in battle, there are many out there who harbour the opinion, albeit behind closed doors, that such tactics are “necessary in battle”, particularly in the “war on terror”.

I just cannot subscribe to this. Although I would have I lot to say about the irony of coming up with rules and regulations for how to conduct warfare, if the International Community gets together to agree on such legislation, the United States should sign up to it if she really wants to view herself to be any kind of authorative presence on the planet.

As for the use of the flippant term “shake and bake”, I would much rather be called a bleeding heart liberal than be someone who was able to distance themselves from the devastating effects of a weapon by giving it such a name.

For me, it only goes to prove my assertion in the essay I mentioned earlier that “army generals [are] little more than overgrown boys with oversized toys which they are dying to take out of their wrappers and use”.
Finally, while it is good to hear that it was pressure from bloggers that helped bring this story to light [pardon the pun], let us all hope there are no repercussions, particularly with control of the internet currently soon to be in contention.

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