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T he U.S. is again using white phosphorus, a chemical munition known more commonly in the military as Willy Peter.
White phosphorus is a chemical weapon with two different uses. In its “conventional” use as a tool of war, white phosphorus provides illumination and smoke cover for soldiers in combat. During the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, the United States used white phosphorus in “shake and bake” missions to flush out insurgent positions. Such use potentially violates the Geneva Convention on Biological and Chemical Weapons of 1980 banning the use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas. (The U.S. has yet to sign this part of the Convention.)
While the Pentagon initially denied using white phosphorus in any capacity other than as an illumination round, reports from embedded U.S. journalists and a March 2005 Field Artillery magazine article published by the U.S. military said just the opposite. These two sources, coupled with Italian media and eyewitness accounts of civilians in Fallujah burned to the bone, forced the Pentagon to change from suggesting purity of motive (“we don’t use napalm or chemical weapons”) to a more nuanced and legalistic terminology. Now, it seems, white phosphorus was “used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.”
Because the U.S. is not a signatory to the 1980 Geneva Convention and has challenged the legal definition of chemical weapons, the Pentagon now claims that white phosphorus is “not a chemical weapon” and therefore “not outlawed or illegal.”
For the Pentagon, at least, the “shake and bake” missions are a “potent psychological weapon” that will drive the enemy “out of their holes.” The use of white phosphorus has a particularly brutal history. During the war in Vietnam, the U.S. used white phosphorous as an improved form of napalm, terrorizing enemies. Then, as now, it was touted as a psychological tool of warfare necessary to subdue enemy hamlets.
Unlike napalm, which in Vietnam left villagers and enemies alike with massive burns all over their bodies, white phosphorus burns down to the bone.
Le The Thrung, a Vietnamese doctor studying white phosphorus burns in 1969, describes its effects on the skin: “[b]urning phosphorus produces 800-1,000 degrees centigrade heat. Scattered phosphorus particles go on consuming themselves and deepen burn wounds.” Next, chemical compounds “create a chemical burn, like an acid, drawing water from the cells. This process generates great pain in the nervous system.” Finally, white phosphorus compounds oxygenate and penetrate “the blood stream and white blood cells in the dermis, subdermis, and deeper skin layers.” This creates what he calls an “organic toxicity [that] blocks off all blood circulation with the burn area.”
This is what our military and political leaders currently define as a “potent psychological weapon?” These are the actions that citizens of empire are to support and legitimize, even if tacitly, in the name of spreading democracy and securing our own nebulous borders?
No, this is not about our national feelings of moral fortitude. This is about civilians and “enemies” alike having chemicals dropped on them like rain and their skin bubbling, melting, wasting away with no way to scrape off the pain of oxidizing phosphorus and no way to cauterize the slow, painful melting into the nervous system and bloodstream. No, for those getting “smoked out of their holes,” there is very little, if anything, psychological about Willy Peter.
Danny Mayer is a PhD student at the University of Kentucky.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.