Tuesday, 22 November 2005

White Phosphorus and the Western Media

There is currently controversy about the US Army's use of White Phosphorus in combat. "Chemical weapon" bleat the anti-war whingers for whom a pointy stick is too aggressive for our servicemen to wave at their enemies. White phosphorus is used to create smoke screens and is very useful in flushing insurgents out of holes so they can be shot at. White Phosphorus is not a war crime, it's a weapon. A nasty one, but a legitimate one. There is no prohibition agaist military use of incendiaries that either the US or the UK have signed up to. Landmines, rarely a problem when used by western forces (we keep records of where mines are) have been banned. The ban won't stop them blowing children up in the third world because third world armies don't care about international law of armed conflict, but it may cost the life of a British Soldier somewhere, because he's inadequately defended. Clusterbombs are likewise controversial, probably because they go "bang" and hurt people.

These people who campaign against these weapons won't be happy until Western soldiers are so constrained by law and regulation that some pathetic, rag-bag army beats us, and thousands of the good people who defend with their lives the campaigners' right to whinge get killed. Maybe thats what these "campaigners" want.

The attitude that leads to this kind of excessive reporting of non-atrocities also leads to allegations of war crimes and torture. More often than not, allegations of war-crimes and torture made by western commentators turn out to be utterly untrue. The problem is that Al Jazeera reports the "torture" or the "war crime" as fact and fails to mention the fact that key prosecution witnesses made up allegations in order to secure payment. This is filtered by the Arab Street into the Idea that the occupying forces are as bad as Saddam Husein, fuels the insurgency and encourages Muslims worldwide to hate the US.

When not utterly untrue, there is a great deal of exaggeration. Blaming the US for casualties inflicted by insurgents is a cheap trick. What went on in Abu Ghraib was not torture as I or Saddam Hussein understand it. It was a gross example of humiliating mistreatment of prisoners and should be condemned, but "torture" is a bit strong. Torture is when you smash someone's teeth with a hammer and use a pin to poke the nerves. When you strap someone to a bench and beat the soles of their feet with electrical flex whilst electrocuting them. These were Uday Hussein's rewards for a lost football match*. Mock executions, beatings and starvation are torture, which was the fate of captured Alllied soldiers in the first gulf war. Being stripped naked and having Lindsay England laugh at your willy is not very nice, but let's face it, he'll live, and she's still ugly.

We can draw parallels with Vietnam here. The My Lai massacre was widely reported and the officer in charge was court martialled and rightly so. It was American servicemen, not jounalists who brought the story to light, despite there being journalists all over the country, itching to find something with which to discredit the US. Once brought to light, My Lai was widely reported, commented on and led to the collapse in support for the war that led to the US's eventual defeat. My Lai was presented as representative of the war, when it was not. Some Corageous American servicemen interposed themselves between the perpetrators and the surviving villagers, and pointed their guns at their fellow Americans as they did so. Honest American servicemen reported the incident and the officer in charge was court martialled (though I accept Lt. Calley got off more or less scott-free). It was a terrible, exceptional event that cannot, unfortunately, be avoided in war. All countries have their dark moments of shame.

Hue was the site of another, far worse massacre. This was well known to journalists at the time but was systematically ignored by the media. In history class I was only ever taught abou My Lai.


Hue was perpetrated by the enemy and that story did not and does not fit the anti US, anti western bias of the left liberal commetariat and the pinkos who run education.

Likewise, the Iraqi insurgency does not have the support of the people of Iraq, but you wouldn't think so if you read the BBC. Where are the demonstrations demanding withdrawl of British and American forces? Compare the demonstrations in Aman this week (against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) to the pathetic turnouts for anti US demonstrations in Baghdad. But a demonstration of 100,000 people in Aman isn't reported if it doesn't fit the international anti-war lobby's desired story. The insurgency in Iraq will not win on the streets of downtown Alamara, but in the opinion pages of the New York Times and the Guardian and in the campus newsletters and Junior Common Room meetings of American Universities. This is where America lost Vietnam and the self-loathing, nihilistic anti-war crowd know that they have the wherewithall to beat the superpower and its allies. All we have to do is blink.

They'll condemn Iraq to torment for decades if they suceed, which is why Britain and America and the Dozen or so other countries who have offered symbolic support must hold their nerve until the Job is done, until Iraq can look after its own security.

*Which rather puts Sir Alex Ferguson's reputation as a fearsome manager into perspective

1 comment:

Momentary Academic said...

I know that you're probably right that all forces should stay until Iraq is more stable, but it's awful that our armed forces are there at all.

But I couldn't help to but be a bit swayed by your comparison of the torture experienced by people living under the Hussein regime and the humiliation that immature American soldiers inflicted on their prisoners.

What the American soldiers did was stupid and childish; I don't know what the punishment for that behavior should have been, but it was an embarrassment.

I liked this post. Stop being so clever...

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