A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mean Old Willy Pete

It’s a testament to the intelligence level of pacifists and other assorted anti-victory simpletons: They’re now trying to pass off white phosphorus (termed “WP” or “Willy Pete” in military jargon) as a chemical weapon. And they’re trying to say we used it intentionally against civilians. It’s the ultimate charge the insurgents and their sympathizers could ever make, because it makes President Bush out to be every bit as evil as Saddam.

All the better to slander America with, my dear.

White phosphorus is not a chemical weapon (Wikipedia article here). It is an incendiary, and it has been used in conventional warfare since before WW II, most prevalently during the Viet Nam conflict. The United States of America is a signatory to no treaties banning its use – and never has been – but our military uses it primarily for smoke screens and target-marking, anyway. When it is used against enemy combatants, it is almost always to flush them out of a fortified position that normal high-explosive (HE) rounds are unable to penetrate.

The charge that chemical weapons were used in the battle of Fallujah is as opportunistic as it is ludicrous. It’s a propaganda attack by the insurgents, and a political one by the pacifist left here at home. If WP is a chemical weapon, so is gunpowder (sulphur + carbon + potassium nitrate), my pocket knife (iron + carbon + zinc), and the water balloon I hit my mother with when I was eight (hydrogen + oxygen). Everything in the universe is made of chemicals; when Sister Suzanne smacked my knuckles with a ruler in the second grade, one could say that she attacked me with a complicated arrangement of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen (plus some trace elements). Shall we charge her with war crimes, too?

Chemical weapons are not simply “weapons with chemicals in them”. They are a specific classification of device that kills indiscriminately over a wide area, almost always by poisoning on contact (sarin gas) or upon inhalation (mustard gas). Had we really wanted to use chemical agents in Fallujah, we could have air-bursted a couple canisters of sarin over the city and then walked in the following week without loosing a single soldier. But we didn’t. Those brave Marines fought the insurgents house to house, precisely to spare the civilian population as much harm as possible. If and when WP was used, it was used because our troops determined that a particular entrenched target wasn’t worth losing two dozen Marines over. I support such tactics completely.

But do you want to know how all the death in Fallujah could have been completely avoided? How 50 American soldiers, 1,200 Islamist insurgents, and an unknown number of Iraqi civilians could have been saved?

By the terrorists putting down their guns and picking up their voter IDs.

The Sunni and Islamist insurgents want to stop getting killed by American AR-15s, laser-guided bombs, and yes, white phosphorus shells? Fine. Great. Awesome. We want to stop killing them. All they need to do is disarm and join the political process (or, in the case of foreign fighters, go home). The war would be over tomorrow and American troops would begin leaving next year.

Democracy is coming to the Middle East. They’ve made huge leaps and bounds forward over there. But there will be bloodshed for as long as al-Zarqwai and his terrorists continue to wage their war on a democratic Iraq. And we’ll continue to use WP (and other) weapons on them when necessary. Not because we want to, but because they’ve chosen to fight a dirty and unnecessary war.

This war, like every other war, absolutely sucks. I hate it. But there it is anyway, like reality television, AIDS, and Dennis Rader. I wish there was a way to end it that brought democracy to Iraq without anyone else getting hurt … and as I’ve already mentioned, there actually is. But doing it is up to the insurgents, not to me.