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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

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Mark Forman

Yes indeed, "what happened." Could it be our national conscience has been "Bush-whacked""Cheney-ed up" and fallen drunk on "Rumsy"?

Tim

Dan,

Since I can't bring myself to question the failing memory of a middle-aged former tread-head about events more than 20 years ago, or remind him that his experience is a generation out of date, I'll just link.

Please take the time to follow the related links at the bottom of the post.

Janet Edens

Yikes. How about a little respect for wisdom and experience? It'd be really cool if the stuff that happened 20 years ago was irrelevant.

But it isn't.

Daniel

Here's what I posted at Tim's site, Sisyphean Musings, in response to his comment above:

Tim:

OK, having now read your links, too, here goes: How does what you've posted here answer what I posted at my site? You've argued effectively against the legalistic arguments (of others, not me). You've argued against the claims that WP is somehow equivalent with traditionally accepted chemical weapons (which was never my claim). You've made the finely tuned point about the symbolic language of combat between professional warfighters.

Now address my point: I was trained to use WP to mark and mask and specifically trained not to use WP as an anti-personnel weapon. What changed? You politely question whether my memory is reliable from the 1980s, but it is. Not only was I a trainee -- I later became a trainer.

I'm not arguing the legalistic point. I'm not equating WP with VX. I am asking why we changed our doctrine to the point that mortarmen now write routine articles about fixing enemy positions with HE and WP.

The responses here only leave me more confused. As enlisted guys, we all had the impression that WP would burn the hell out of you (right or wrong -- I claim no expertise) -- but here it says it's just an irritant. No big deal. But if it's just an irritant, why bother to use it in a tactical situation?

And you're an intelligent man: Surely you grasp that modern warfare is as much a battle for symbols and standing as it is for this or that piece of ground. My more pointed question is, what have we gained tactically and strategically and psychologically by adopting the position that shooting WP against human targets is more or less OK... sorta? Unless you can make a convincing argument to me that the use of this marking and masking tool as a weapon improves the chances of bringing home more American soldiers alive and intact, then I call it a bad bargain.

And I understand that an irritant can have a degrading effect. I understand that causing the enemy to fight in a caustic cloud could produce advantages. So let's please not argue this point unless someone takes into account that using the weapon gives our enemies a psychological weapons to use against our troops. For while professional warfighters may understand precise symbols and respond accordingly, you can't expect this level of precision on "the Arab Street," not to mention Main Street. Is hurting our image abroad and rallying people to the cause of our enemies worth whatever advantages we gain by shooting WP at enemy positions?

Please don't get me wrong here. In my post I mentioned that Willy Pete made an interesting barracks debate -- but what I didn't say was that I had concluded in those debates that under certain circumstances, I'd be willing to load it and fire it against enemy troops. But that's a personal, moral decision, based on scenarios in which your unit is outnumbered. Because the real context of that debate was, would you use it even if you might be courts martialed for the decision? I'm talking about doctrine now, not desperate individual choices.

Rather than circling the wagons, why not question the wisdom of this doctrine? Because I find it, at a minimum, highly questionable.

And I disagree strongly with your sweeping assessment of stories on this subject as propaganda. I am also befuddled by the argument that dissent on military topics amounts to an anti-American, anti-troop attitude. A good soldier follows lawful orders. That's his duty. But my duty as a citizen is to think about the quality and wisdom of those orders, and to speak about it if I feel compelled to do so -- because that soldier cannot (and, quite frankly, should not).

I believe in listening to the professionals, but I also know that there's a reason the Founding Fathers put civilians over the military professionals, even in time of war and crisis. Most of those men were soldiers, or had been, but they took the longer view.

Knowing what we know now about Cuba in the fall of 1962, where would be if Kennedy had listened to LeMay? Damn right civilians have a right to be in these conversations.

One last note... yes, I am middle-aged, but while the term "treadhead" is acceptable, the preferred term, at least in the Cav, was DAT, or "dumb-ass tanker." An Abrams crewmen, such as myself, would more accurately go by the name "C-DAT," or "computerized dumbass tanker."

Anyway, good to hear from you again.

Anna Haynes

TPM Cafe thread on White Phosphorus. Excerpts from lead post, on legality of using it against people:
------
by not ratifying the relevant protocol in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the United States has preserved its legal right (not necessarily a moral right) to use WP.
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The United States has not signed protocol III on the argument that we must retain our ability to employ incendiaries "to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law."
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our own doctrine (not law, but Army doctrine) prohibits using WP against people.
------

I'm not trying to make any point here, just giving the link if others are interested.

Sisyphus

"Now address my point: I was trained to use WP to mark and mask and specifically trained not to use WP as an anti-personnel weapon. What changed?"

My point is nothing has changed. WP has always been used by infantry and FA against enemy personnel and material for incendiary, marking, and obscuring as well as for screening friendly forces. Always.

During the same period you are talking about (80s), I was being trained to call for fire using HE/WP against observers and to prep an objective prior to an assault. I was trained on how to use WP grenades prior to assaulting the objective (definitely something you want to train on beforehand) and how to use WP and frag grenades against hardened/dug in infantry.

"I am asking why we changed our doctrine to the point that mortarmen now write routine articles about fixing enemy positions with HE and WP."

You knew doctrine for mortor fires? You knew doctrine for FA fires? And you knew doctrine for armor/mech?

"Is hurting our image abroad and rallying people to the cause of our enemies worth whatever advantages we gain by shooting WP at enemy positions?"

There are efforts to ban DU, cluster bombs, mines, MK-77 inendiary bombs and we can add WP to the list if you like. However, I've never seen any of these munitions rally people. In this specific case about WP, it is the false and misleading information being used by propagandists to rally people.

"And I disagree strongly with your sweeping assessment of stories on this subject as propaganda."

Go back and read what I wrote. When did some journalists and partisans become a "sweeping assessment"?

I have no problem with an informed debate about how, when and where any munition can, or should be used. I consider anyone who calls WP a chemical weapon a propagandist because of the connotation and illegality of chemical weapons. I consider anyone showing pictures, with no provenance, of decomposed corpses and claiming they are the burned victims of WP (with their clothing still intact as proof no less) a propagandist. I consider anyone calling our soldiers war criminals based on these specious WP claims a propagandist.

When did I call you a propagandist?

"I am also befuddled by the argument that dissent on military topics amounts to an anti-American, anti-troop attitude."

Again, you erect a straw man.

Have fun with that.

It's good to be able to debate with you again. I'll try to remember next time to use your preferred perjorative (C/DAT).

[I added two more links to the post at my site ...]

FM 3-21.21

High explosive (HE) rounds are used to suppress or destroy enemy dismounted infantry, mortars, and other supporting weapons and to interdict the movement of men, vehicles, and supplies in the enemy's forward area. Bursting white phosphorus (WP) rounds are often mixed with HE rounds to enhance their suppressive and destructive effects.
RED THRUST STAR
Blinding smoke screens are part of the artillery preparation for the attack (Phase II) and the fires in support of the attack (Phase III). Likely targets are enemy defensive positions, counterattacking forces, fire support locations or positions, and subsequent mission lines. The screening properties of a blinding smoke screen can couple with dust, high explosive (HE) combustion effects, and incendiary effect of phosphorus. This can create an environment in which fear and confusion add to the measure effectiveness of the smoke. Often multiple strikes of non-persistent agents will be interspersed with conventional fires and smoke to further disrupt the enemy trying to determine the presence of chemical agents.

Sisyphus

Anna Hayes,

Thanks for the link. I've added another link from TPMC's comments to my post.

Daniel

Let's just say that from my end it's always challenging to debate you, Tim. I can't honestly cite an instance in which I think I've gotten the better of you in any serious debate, so I'd be happy to reach a gentleman's draw.

To be clear: I can only speak about Cav doctrine as taught to those of us with direct-fire weapons (the tankers, not the scouts, who had no WP). But all ACRs in the 1980s had dedicated 11C mortar squads down to the Troop level.

Propaganda: I never felt like you called me a propagandist. No worries.

Sweeping Assessment (from your conclusion): So, on this Thanksgiving day, I am thankful that we have a military willing to serve and protect a country that is home to such a media and such partisans. I read that as statement about the media in general.

The key point, I think: I've never seen any of these munitions rally people. In this specific case about WP, it is the false and misleading information being used by propagandists to rally people.

Let's talk about CS for a moment -- run-of-the-mill tear gas. I got hit by some when I was 6 years old and police started throwing cannisters into a crowd. Highly effective and perfectly acceptable in crowd control, but you don't lob it at enemy troops.

Why? Because it blurs a line you want to keep bright, and it does so for little tactical advantage.

So, back to WP: Why use it? It's false equivalence to compare it to persistant nerve agents, etc., but it opens the door to anyone who wants to make the case that you're using chemical weapons.

Think back to the sites you linked to: One of them included images of someone who had been burned with WP. His point was that the burns weren't fatal and didn't look like the ones being cited from Fallujah. Point taken.

But then again, you're looking at pictures of someone with chemical burns. In the public relations war, both at home and overseas, how is that a good thing?

So the information doesn't even have to be false per se for it to be damaging to our cause. And because the legalistic dividing line on appropriate and inappropriate uses of WP is so finely drawn, having to defend WP puts us in the position of Clinton and his infamous "depends on the definition of 'is'" defense. Right or wrong in court, it was a loser in the political sense.

I think it would be appropriate for our leadership to come out and state that it our troops have done nothing inappropriate, but that our standards for the use of WP are being reviewed to make sure they are in accordance with the highest traditions of the United States military. And then put them away, to the extent that such an act is possible.

Sisyphus

"But then again, you're looking at pictures of someone with chemical burns."

Dan, if you believe that then there is no difference between incendiaries and chemical weapons. Is that your position?

I don't equate Clinton's "is" with this debate (although I've seen that accusation before). In fact, I see this more like the debate over the word niggardly.

Do you disagree?

Daniel

interesting then, since I've not seen anyone else make the "what is is" connection. must be one of those spontaneous memes.

and I couldn't disagree more strongly about the comparison to the stupid niggardly debate. WP is a caustic chemical compound, and the best we can do in its defense as an anti-personnel weapon is to parse it so carefully, so finely, that we lose the global political argument while trying to win on non-existent debate points.

"niggardly" was about people who wanted to be offended and self-righteously indignant about something that only appeared to be a racial slur at the most superficial level. meanwhile, this debate is over a substance that military professionals have -- let us be kind here -- treated gingerly for decades. Niggardly meant one thing and sounded like another. White phosphorous is a substance that causes chemical burns, and then we have to argue to the world why it isn't technically a chemical weapon. Not a great comparison.

Don't get too attached to this fight, Tim. It's the wrong ground, methinks, for you to contend your best points.

--c/dat.

Daniel

and sorry: I didn't address your specific point about incendiaries and chemical weapons. In the first place, I'm not the guy you need to convince. in the second, even if you're "right," it's a basically untenable position.

my basic military philosophy applies to other aspects of life: avoid pyrrhic victories. Using WP in Iraq against guerillas in asymmetric combat where the significant objectives are political and symbolic is another example of senior US leadership fighting the wrong war with the wrong philosophy. "Staying the course" and other memes of civilian political unity and national fortitude just aren't compelling or valid arguments in this particular case, says me.

Maybe they were once, but they're losing their power. And choices like this one contribute to that erosion.

Sisyphus

"In the first place, I'm not the guy you need to convince. in the second, even if you're "right," it's a basically untenable position."

That's an amazing statement for someone with your journalistic conscience.

Sisyphus

my basic military philosophy applies to other aspects of life: avoid pyrrhic victories. Using WP in Iraq against guerillas in asymmetric combat where the significant objectives are political and symbolic is another example of senior US leadership fighting the wrong war with the wrong philosophy.

The "guerillas", as you call them, attempt political and symbolic gains through false propaganda and by choosing tactics that violate the laws of armed conflict.

You can choose to counter their false propaganda or lend it your credibility. You can choose to argue against their tactics - that intentionally endanger civilians, that actually target civilians, that attempt to "win" by violating the laws of armed conflict - or choose to make strained arguments that even if what I'm saying is "right" (with weasily quotes), I'm in an "untenable position".

IMHO, the more we do to increase the effectiveness of terrorism and guerilla warfare (on the battlefield, politically and symbolically - especially via the media), the more of it we'll see. We should hold our military to the standards of lawful warfare, but in doing so, give no quarter to the "guerillas", their false and misleading propaganda or their illegal tactics (including the absence of condemnation and any attempts at moral equivalence).

I certainly understand that the structural biases of news makes it easier to call my position "Pyrrhic". I understand it makes it easier to call our soldiers the bad guys - even when they're not - than it is to defend them, point out the dog-bites-man stories of the good they do or the dog-bites-man stories of false propaganda and tactics by the "guerillas".

I am troubled that you think pointing out the false propaganda about Fallujah will only result in a Pyrrhic victory. I'm especially troubled by the prospect that you might be right.

FWIW, the NYT, RAI and John Pike have more on this debate.

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