November 16, 2005

Up is downism writ large

Do the collective geniuses of "Open Source Media" not even know what "open source" means?

Obviously not.

Posted by BruceR at 07:37 PM

That was fast

Wow, it's only been a day since the Liberals launched their election pre-campaign, and they've already permanently lost my vote.

Posted by BruceR at 04:59 PM

White Phosphorus and the Medal of Honor

I love this story.

It's not just the consistent misspelling of "phosphorus" throughout, it's the complete ignorance of what WP (white phosphorus) shells are and do on all sides of the issue.

On the anti- side, of course, you have accusations that WP is a "chemical" weapon or an "illegal" one. It's not.* WP was heavily used in the Second World War by the Allies, including Canada, against both Germany and Japan**, for exactly the same reasons and missions it's being used now. But yes, a WP artillery shell is a bad thing to have land near you... not nearly as bad as a regular high-explosive artillery shell of the same size, but certainly the next worst thing.

The job of those opposed would be much harder, of course, if the pro- side had any more of a clue what they were talking about. The State Department's retracted statement, that WP was "fired into the air at night," is classic. It should go without saying that using a smoke shell to try to light up a dark sky would be a failure... I guess only the State Department could confuse phosphorus with magnesium, which is what real illuminating rounds are made of.

*I've seen a lot of people claiming that the 1980 Incendiary Weapons protocol of Geneva forbids the use of white phosphorus against civilians. It does not. It forbids the use of "incendiaries," and specifically excludes weapons like WP where the incendiary effect is a secondary effect of smoke production (incendiary weapons by definition are those weapons designed to create fires... WP occasionally will start fires, but it's not very reliable in that role... generally it just creates a lot of smoke). Whether the U.S. has signed it or not is irrelevant.

**From the Medal of Honor citations pages:


First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 339th Infantry, 85th Infantry Division... For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy. In the course of an attack upon an enemy-held hill on 11 May, 1st Lt. Waugh personally reconnoitered a heavily mined area before entering it with his platoon. Directing his men to deliver fire on 6 bunkers guarding this hill, 1st Lt. Waugh advanced alone against them, reached the first bunker, threw phosphorus grenades into it and as the defenders emerged, killed them with a burst from his tommygun. He repeated this process on the 5 remaining bunkers, killing or capturing the occupants...


Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 362d Infantry, 91st Infantry Division... Sgt. Harmon ordered his squad to hold their position and voluntarily began a 1-man assault. Carrying white phosphorus grenades and a submachine gun, he skillfully took advantage of what little cover the terrain afforded and crept to within 25 yards of the first position. He set the haystack afire with a grenade, and when 2 of the enemy attempted to flee from the inferno, he killed them with his submachine gun...


Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division... Boldly taking the initiative when his platoon's left flank advance was held up by the fire of Japanese troops concealed in strongly fortified positions, Pfc. Jackson unhesitatingly proceeded forward of our lines and, courageously defying the heavy barrages, charged a large pillbox housing approximately 35 enemy soldiers. Pouring his automatic fire into the opening of the fixed installation to trap the occupying troops, he hurled white phosphorus grenades and explosive charges brought up by a fellow marine, demolishing the pillbox and killing all of the enemy. Advancing alone under the continuous fire from other hostile emplacements, he employed similar means to smash 2 smaller positions in the immediate vicinity...


Platoon Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve... Determined to force a breakthrough when Japanese troops occupying trenches and fortified positions on the left front laid down a terrific machinegun and mortar barrage in a desperate effort to halt his company's advance, P/Sgt. Julian quickly established his platoon's guns in strategic supporting positions, and then, acting on his own initiative, fearlessly moved forward to execute a 1-man assault on the nearest pillbox. Advancing alone, he hurled deadly demolition and white phosphorus grenades into the emplacement, killing 2 of the enemy and driving the remaining 5 out into the adjoining trench system. Seizing a discarded rifle, he jumped into the trench and dispatched the 5 before they could make an escape...


Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company E, 20th Infantry, 6th Infantry Division. ... when his platoon was attacked by an enemy tank, he advanced under covering fire, climbed to the top of the tank and dropped a white phosphorus grenade through the turret, destroying the crew...



The Band of Brothers and WP: According to this page, one in five of the 81mm mortar rounds U.S. airborne troops jumped into Normandy with were WP.


Previous uses in city-shelling: In the battle shortly after D-Day to liberate Cherbourg, the 4.2 inch mortars of the 87th Chemical Battalion fired 19,129 rounds of HE and 11,899 rounds of white phosphorus, in at least one case in an deliberate antipersonnel role.


Finally, from an 1945 U.S. army pamphlet on pillbox clearing:

"After an embrasure has been blown out, the Germans often will remain in the pillbox until they have been persuaded to leave by a flame thrower or by hand grenades. A hand grenade in the ventilator of a pillbox sometimes stuns the Boche, but a white-phosphorus grenade in the same air shaft is likely to prove a great little reviver."

NOTE: For the record, the case that WP is a "chemical weapon" under the terms of the 1993 UN Chemical Weapons Convention is probably stronger than arguing it is an "incendiary weapon" under the terms of Geneva. WP is a lousy way to start a fire in anything less flammable than a dry haystack. It does, however, easily cause burns to its victims, due what is essentially a violent chemical reaction between the phosphorus and the surrounding air, and the CWC defines prohibited chemicals in weapons as "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals." That clearly excludes explosive effects (sorry, Colby) but it is inclusive of caustics and chemical burning agents, which WP could reasonably be compared to.

Posted by BruceR at 04:56 PM