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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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.