Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Melting the Skin Off of Children

In a documentary to be broadcast by RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, this morning, a former American soldier who fought at Fallujah says: "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it's known as Willy Pete.

"Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for."

-- The Independent, US forces 'used chemical weapons' during assault on city of Fallujah

"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

-- Field Artillery Magazine, via Steven D

I think we need to take a step back from the newest Fallujah revelations. There's been a lot of confusion over what is or isn't a "chemical weapon" vs. an "incendiary"; what aspects of the Geneva conventions the United States is or is not signatory to; and whether or not the United States is still bound by rules of warfare that they are not direct signatories to.

Allow me to try to clear things up, if I can.

First, I think it should be a stated goal of United States policy to not melt the skin off of children.

As a natural corollary to this goal, I think the United States should avoid dropping munitions on civilian neighborhoods which, as a side effect, melt the skin off of children. You can call them "chemical weapons" if you must, or far more preferably by the more proper name of "incendiaries". The munitions may or may not precisely melt the skin off of children by setting them on fire; they do melt the skin off of children, however, through robust oxidation of said skin on said children, which is indeed colloquially known as "burning". But let's try to avoid, for now, the debate over the scientific phenomenon of exactly how the skin is melted, burned, or caramelized off of the aforementioned children. I feel quite confident that others have put more thought into the matter of how to melt the skin off of children than I have, and will trust their judgment on the matter.

Now, I know that we may be melting the skin off of children in order to give them freedom, or to prevent Saddam Hussein from possibly melting the skins off of those children at some future date. These are good and noble things to bring children, especially the ones who have not been killed by melting their skin.

I know, as well, that we do not drop "chemical weapons" on Iraq. We may, in the course of fighting insurgents in civilian neighborhoods, drop "incendiaries" or other airborne weaponry which may melt the skins off of children as an accidental side effect of illuminating their neighborhoods or melting the skins off their neighbors. In that this still can be classified as melting the skins off of children, I feel comfortable in stating that the United States should not condone the practice. (This may mean, when fighting in civilian neighborhoods, we take nuanced steps to avoid melting the skin off of children, such as not dropping munitions that melt the skin off of children.)

And I know it is true, there is some confusion over whether the United States was a signatory to the Do Not Melt The Skin Off Of Children part of the Geneva conventions, and whether or not that means we are permitted to melt the skin off of children, or merely are silent on the whole issue of melting the skin off of children.

But all that aside, there are very good reasons, even in a time of war, not to melt the skin off of children.

And, unless Saddam Hussein had a brigade or two consisting of six year olds, we can presume that children, like perhaps nine tenths or more of their immediate families, are civilians.

These are, admittedly, nuanced points. "But Hunter", I can hear many Americans say, "isn't it a natural byproduct of a war of preemption, er, I mean liberation, to melt the skin off of children?"

Why yes, yes it is. Melting the skin off of children is an inevitable part of urban warfare, which is one of the reasons that most military planners and foreign policy leaders prefer to avoid putting themselves in positions where melting the skin off of children comes into play. George Herbert Walker Bush, when contemplating whether or not to engage in the urban warfare that would, in all likelihood, melt the skin off of children by exposing United States forces to a situation where city defenders would be interspersed with those said civilians, choose the course of not putting his forces in a position where melting the skin off of children would prove necessary.

In any event, street fighting in neighborhoods where there are, indeed, children -- as is evidenced by their skin, lying over there -- may or may not be a wise military decision. But it is certainly true that the whole child-melting decision, pro or con, should be treated with some gravity, and perhaps methods of combat which do not melt the skin off of children should be considered.

Because melting the skin off of children, as it turns out, is a very good way to turn the opinion of the American population against a war in general:

So in conclusion, I am going to come out, to the continuing consternation of Rush Limbaugh and pro-war supporters everywhere, as being anti-children-melting, as a matter of general policy.

Furthermore, I would suggest to the President of the United States that if you find yourself in the position where your on-the-ground forces find melting the skin off of children to be the preferable of all available options, your military outlook is well and truly fucked, and you might perhaps start considering alternative means of stabilizing the country.

Thank you for your time.

The full Italian report can be seen in English here, and in both Italian and English versions here. (Warning, very large files.)

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?