Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Burning issues

The Pentagon, after first denying that the U.S. used white phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah, was finally forced to admit the truth. But, they claim, it is not a chemical weapon and anyway they only used it against enemy combatants (a newly discovered class of non-human beings). Italian journalists revealed this particular truth, of course, as the U.S. corporate media covers the war largely by channeling Central Command press briefings.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, there is no meaningful distinction between burning people and blowing them up or shooting them. In the process of attacking people with explosives, you often end up burning them anyway. White phosphorus is obviously a chemical, but then again so is TNT. So what?

But most people perceive something uniquely horrific in white phosphorus, which clings to the body and burns its way in, sometimes killing people just from the unendurable pain. In the Vietnam war, the U.S. used napalm, which is jellied gasoline, to burn huts and whole villages, just as it uses white phosphorus today to burn people out of urban dwellings in Iraq. Then as now, they claimed to be targeting only enemy combatants, and not civilians, but apart from the fundamental difficulty of making that distinction at all in a guerilla warfare context, you obviously don't know who is inside a building until after you burn the people out.

What you may not know is that the igniting agent in napalm was nothing other than white phosphorus, and it burned its way into Vietnamese flesh just as it burns into Iraqi flesh. One of the most powerful reasons that Americans finally turned against the war in Vietnam was that the corporate media back then chose to show us the pictures. I'm not going to put this one on the front page, even though it was on the front page of the New York Times, but I'm sure you have already seen it. The little girl, named Kim Phuc, was hiding in a pagoda with other children when the Americans dropped napalm on them. The photographer who took the picture took her to a hospital, where she spent months in a coma. You'll be glad to know that she survived and now works for the United Nations. Most napalmed Vietnamese weren't as lucky.

Maybe if the corporate media would show us the pictures of the real war in Iraq, we'd leave.

Addendum: Here is a link to Dahr Jamail's Fallujah photo album, which I just found out about.

And here is The Independent's story about the white phosphorus issue, which is approximately 20 times more informative than the 2 paragraphs in the NYWT.

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