Rob over at Say Anything (a former GuestBanger around these parts) has an article up that got me thinking about a larger issue. In that piece, Rob skillfully dismantles a load of tripe that the United States used “chemical weapons” and “weapons of mass destruction” in the Battle of Fallujah.
This dreadful, terrifying, horrible weapon? White phosphorus.
Now, white phosphorus has been used by the military since Viet Nam, and almost never as a direct weapon. It’s used for lighting and smoke generation — paradoxically, to make things visible and invisible. It’s rarely used as a direct weapon against people or targets because we, quite simply, have stuff that’s far more efficient — like thermite or napalm.
And it’s not really a great innovation. The idea of having something that will generate great amounts of light on a battlefield, or spew out concealing smoke, goes back a very long time. Just in the 20th Century flares and flare shells (fired by large guns) were used in both World Wars, “smoke screens” date back centuries, and “tracer rounds” (glowing rounds of ammunition that allow the shooter to see where their fire is ending up) were introduced in World War I. The appeal of white phosphorus (or “Willy Pete,” as the users often shorten it) is that it both illuminates and conceals, and does both exceptionally well. But to call it a “weapon of mass destruction” is like putting a machine gun on a bulldozer and calling it a “tank.”
So, what’s the point of doing so, other than demonstrating the observer’s rank ignorance? I think it could be a smidgen more insidious than that.
The current theme of most political discussions around the world is “just how bad the US is.” That we’re the bad guys is a given; it’s only a question of how bad we are. And in that context, there is a definite bias and trend towards hyping anything we do as the epitome of evil.
We use white phosphorus in Fallujah, to illuminate the enemy and make them easier to kill. If some happens to directly hit one, then it’s “chemical warfare” and “using a weapon of mass destruction.” But if the other side finds one of Saddam’s supposedly-nonexistent poison-gas artillery shells and uses it to fashion an IED against our forces, that’s an “aberration” and a “fluke.”
Our enemies include a regime that used rape as a weapon of oppression, that executed its enemies by feeding them into shredders and throwing them off buildings. They punished “criminals” by amputation and execution, including such notable techniques as stoning and smothering. Yet we are accused of “torture” when we inflict such horrid fates as loud music, overly warm or cool temperatures, and assaults on their dignity (not health, but dignity and pride).
The other side routinely targets civilians for slaughter, often singling out for attack the most innocent and vulnerable populations they can find (witness the Beslan school massacre). Our side goes out of its way to avoid or minimize civilian casualties, to the point where Israel actually reduces the explosives in its missiles to reduce their effectiveness when hunting terrorists who deliberately surround themselves with civilians, yet we are the perpetrators of massacres and wholesale butchery.
Paradoxically, I find myself agreeing with the critics, in general principle. We ARE better than those we fight, and we OUGHT to hold ourselves to a much higher standard than we expect from them. Hell, that difference is one of the key moral reasons we ought to fight.
But to carry it to the extremes they are using, by raising the bar to impossible levels for us while utterly ignoring the routine obscenities practiced by the other side, isn’t fair or just or right. It’s simple propagandizing against us, and it needs to be recognized as such — and its practitioners need and deserve our scorn, our sanction, our refusal to accept it passively.
Maybe we’re not the perfect good guys, the proverbial “white hats” all filled with virtue and kindness and goodness in this fight. But dammit, we’re a hell of a lot better than the black hats, and that fact needs to be reinforced again and again and again in the face of such people as Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Ramsey Clark, and their ilk.