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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Little white [phosphorus] lies

Lies, eh? How the Orwell-quoting ‘decent-left’ love them. Have they misunderstood the point of Orwell, his place in our intellectual heritage? When we say that something is ‘Orwellian’, we are not commending it for truthfulness. But, all the while people are killed and tortured at the command of men who have no interest in democracy (as anything other than a veneer of justification rather than a radical empowerment of the populace), the ‘decent left’ appropriate Orwell’s name to legitimate their position as cheerleaders for muscular capitalism. And not just in Iraq, but also in South America and, even, here at home.

So it makes you laugh, with tears in your eyes, when, on the same day that the Independent publishes a letter from the American ambassador to Britain stating, categorically, that the US does not use white phosphorus as a weapon, the US military are forced to admit that it does. This, after a determined process of vigorously rejecting any claims that they have done so. Now, no doubt, the PRopaganda tack will switch to arguing that there is nothing wrong in using white phosphorus as a weapon. But that no longer matters, at least, even if the US successfully defends its use of white phosphorus there is another non-trivial matter. This being that, once again, the cabal of security, military and industrial interests involved in prosecuting and profiting from the ‘War on Terror’ (now that is Orwellian) have lied. Lies damage democracy, they poison it. Yet lies, the most anti-democratic of crimes, seem to carry no consequences, at least for the teller. Regardless of the justice of any of these actions; the war, the carve up of Iraq’s (or Britain’s) national wealth, detention, torture, the use of white phosphorus, the operation of a shoot-to-kill policy; every democrat should be horrified at the interplay of secrets, misinformation and lies that have been used to justify these actions and absolve those responsible, and, under the cover of defending democracy, poison its very lifeblood – an informed decision-making polis.

Perhaps the ‘decent left’ can take on one aspect of Orwell’s intellectual programme, rather than simply wrap themselves, and hide themselves, in the cloak offered by an emotive name. Mind you, this will not stop the ‘decent left’; war for peace my boys, capitalism for equality. Hurrah!

DoD Has not denied using WP.

The UN Convention bans the use of incendiary weapons against civilans, not against humans.
See for yourself:

Of course any deliberate engagement or targeting of civilians is already a war crime. so that the US has not signed this one is not of especial import except to say that we aren't bound by it expressly.

White Phosphorus is not banned.

It also isn't a chemical weapon.
We are signtory to the Chemical Weapons Convention which defines chemical weapons. See here:

So it isn't a chemical weapon and it isn't banned.

Indiscriminate use is. The stories circulating do not support that contention. See here:

Bogert received the coordinates for the targets and recorded them on a map. This is proper procedure. He's receiving coordinates from a Forward Observer, indirect fire weapons never see their targets, the FOs do. The coordinates are plotted so that it is known what was ordered where. There is also a verification that takes place in the call for indirect fire to avoid problems with numrical transposition or other mistakes.
Did you not understand the post? Even if I accept that WP is a perfectly acceptable weapon and was used in a perfectly acceptable weapon, there IS still the problem of the lies.

And there were lies. British parlimentarians have asked direct questions regarding the use of WP. They received assurances from the US government via British ministers that WP had not been used as a weapon. This, quite clearly is an untruth. As late as Monday the US ambassador to the Britain published a letter in the Independent expressly refuting allegations that the US military has used WP as a weapon. As we know now, this was an untruth.

The best we could say is that the US ambassador did not know the truth. But if the US ambassador is in the habit of writing public letters expressly stating a 'fact' that he had not examined in the slightest then he is an utter incompetent. More than that, the reckless spreading of convenient 'facts' does perform the same role as a lie; it deceives.

Perhaps he did investigate, and was lied to by the DoD. In which case; lies, and there ought the abassador ought be pressing for the people he trusted to tell him the truth, for the purposes of democracy, be sacked.

Or perhaps he knew the truth and lied.

Again, you missed the point of my post. But you did do exactly what I predicted the PR machine to begin to do; to move from denying to excusing. But even if the excusal is successful, there is still the question of how the public has been mislead. If you cannot see how this poisons democracy, then I wonder what kind of American you are.
Good post Andrew. Hmm, I can't find the letter on-line. The Indy has a story here

Typing from my paper copy, Robert Tuttle said:

"US Forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons".

He then goes on to make exactly sure we know what this means: it is absolutely clear that me is stating that WP was not used as a weapon against *any* human target, military or otherwise.

Seems pretty clear-cut to me! Rto trainer should get a lesson is comprehension me thinks.
The sad truth is that lies are now so ubiquitous amongst our political class that no-one even seems to notice very much. Which they should, because as you say it all rather defeats the point of democracy.
Hi Andrew

Do you think it is possible the Ambassador or his PR flunky did not think to ask the military attaché for some facts rather than he lied outright?

Back when I was concerned with such things, WP was issued for marking positions and creating smoke screens. Far more often than not any time you wanted to use it as a weapon good old fashioned high explosive rounds would be more effective. This is the probable source of the Ambassadors confusion, WP is not normally used as a weapon, but if meets the general rules for weapon use in a specific situation there is no reason it can’t be.

The Geneva Convention defines chemical weapons as killing because they are toxic. WP burns. However the Soviets, and others, administratively classified WP and similar things as chemical weapons, since their classification system is used widely, the confusion in the original articles is understandable.

I have found that one is more likely to be right, if one first assumes stupidity, ignorance, or myopia before making an assumption that the person knows what they are talking about and is thus lying.

You're not worried then that the US ambassador to London, writing in his official capacity, to a national newspaper, can't get his facts correct. That suggests that either he's incompetant, or that he was lied to by someone above him. Similar remarks apply to ministers answering questions in parliment: the technical nature of what a "question" is in this context means that they had plenty of time to check facts. Again, either they are lying, are incompetant, or someone above them is lying.

The rest of your post is irrelevant, as Andrew has repeatedly stressed that he's not interested in whether WP is banned, or is a chemical weapon or so forth. Some people in our democracies were asked straight questions, and gave incorrect answers. Someone, somewhere, lied.
"Some people in our democracies were asked straight questions, and gave incorrect answers. Someone, somewhere, lied."

Quite so, but try not to faint with shock, it is part of the human condition, everyone, everywhere, in politics tells lies on a fairly constant basis. Just remember they were also found out and embarrassed and shamed, precisely because we do live in democracies, so perhaps our 'way of life' is worth defending after all. Of course, I realise that come the great leap forward of a socialist revolution, human nature will be changed for ever and lying will cease to occur. In the meantime, I'm sure you won't mind if we don't hold our breath waiting!
No one makes that claim, David. The point of socialist democracy would be to put in place structures - primarily through the democratisation of the power of the economy - the are designed to catch people when they lie and ensure that their lies would detrimentally effect them, rather than harm (directly) Iraqis and (indirectly) the people of the UK and US.

The whole point of this story is that the liars are not being punished. They are not being removed from power. And the reason that I wrote this post is that the subsequent spin, excusing rather than denying the use of WP as a weapon, has the effect of protecting these liars.

Democracy, is after all, an informational method of governance - the people, informed, exercise power. Having an uninformed polis allows their manipulation by the small group of people who shape the informational and educational (in the widest sense) state.
Oh God! The usual old twaddle, to wit:
"Having an uninformed polis allows their manipulation by the small group of people who shape the informational and educational (in the widest sense) state."

For which read, 'if only the pig-ignorant people were as clever and smart and as involved in politics as me and my comrades, all would be well with the world.

What you and your comraders fail to realise is that the vast majority of people have virtually no interest in politics, and it would be an unbearably tedious life if they were.

These 'people' have the good taste and sense to recognise that the tiny minority of those obsessives and fanatics (of Right or Left) who spend their every waking hour worrying about politics, are deeply peculiar, and probably psychotic, and are definitely to be avoided for as long as possible, whicn in our system , means every 4-5 years.

Your ludicrous implication that in the 21st century we, the people, LACK information suggest to me that you are somewhat removed from the People about whom you claim to care so much. Let me tell you, we are RUNNING from the information that is bombarded at us from every bloody direction!

Having taken a gulp of Laphroaig and calmed myself, let me finish by agreeing with you, you are right in saying "The whole point of this story is that the liars are not being punished." It was a stupid lie because it was an unnecessary lie. There is nothing illegal in using phosphorus, except if you aim it deliberately at civilians - and that applies to *every* weapon from a pistol upwards. My guess is that the first lie was told by a US army public relations officer who wouldn't know the difference between a 9mm Browning and a 150mm howitzer. No-one higher up the chain could bring themselves to deny the lie. Perhaps it proves what 'New' Labour has found out the hard way, using PR people is the quickest way to lose the trust of the people.
It is not that people LACK information, as you type it, but that the people able to shape what is accepted as true lie and get away with even those lies proven to be so.

And it is not twaddle. Who benefits from a mislead polis? Are you saying that there were not attempts to mislead? Are you saying that these kinds of attempts to mislead are not successful.

If you regard these questions are unimportant, then I must take it, Duff, that you are an anti-democrat? That you take delight in most people's aliention from the political process in particular and the operation of power more generally. That's 'fine', you just ought to admit it.

Furthermore, I could get into the issues surrounding the use of WP as a weapon, but I'll settle for discussing the unambigously anti-democratic determined misinformation peddling.

I note with interest your attempt ot attack me by suggesting that lampooning my non-existent claim to somehow have a hotline to the opinions and attitudes of 'the people'. I found it funny because you followed that by saying "Let me tell you, we are RUNNING from the information that is bombarded at us from every bloody direction!" It is the use of 'we', the ease with which you assumed the mantle of speaking for the people, a rhetorical position that you would lambast in anyone else, that I find amusing.
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