White Light / White Heat

by Quinn

Chemical weapons is yet another subject on which I have little knowledge. I know they are bad things, and illegal, but that is about it. As a result I have kept out of the debate over the use of white phosphorus in Iraq. If more knowledgeable people (not difficult) defend it’s use by saying that it is an incendiary rather than a chemical weapon, and that its use can be legal, then I have to take that on trust.

What doesn’t seem to be in doubt however is just what an unpleasant substance it is, and what a hideous effect it can have when it comes in contact with skin. For me it seems strange that when pro-war bloggers have defended its use (Scott Burgess at The Daily Ablution in particular has gone into great detail, and has summarised his views at Tech Central Station) there doesn’t appear to have been any disquiet at all in doing so. Rather than tackle the morality of using the ammunition in the way the Pentagon has now admitted, the pro-war commentator have instead picked holes in the opposing arguments. That is fine as far as it goes – to correct errors and deceits, to tackle the moral equivalence of comparing the use of WP with the chemical attack at Halabja – but it doesn’t deal with the principal concern that “our side” has used a weapon that burns the flesh off peoples’ bodies. Just saying that we are not as bad as Saddam doesn’t really cut it with me; it’s not a great defence.

In a strange inversion, and in contrast to the pro-war arguments made in the run up to the war, there has been no plea to the moral high ground on this one; those arguments have been sidelined. Rather we have heard plenty about technical definitions, and a detailed insistence on the weapons legality as enshrined in international conventions. Ironic, really, to compare then with now. Ah well, any port in a storm.