-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

The spirit of flesh burning

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, December 1, 2005

While we in America have a white Christmas (and Hanukkah, etc.) to look forward to, some people are just trying to stay away from white phosphorus.

White phosphorus? It’s a good thing you’ve never heard of it, but there’s a first time for everything.

White phosphorus is a manufactured, wax-like solid used in the process of creating some fertilizers, food additives, and cleaning compounds. In the past, it was used in fireworks and pesticides. It is also sometimes used in military maneuvers to make smoke screens to move troops in secrecy.

The form used by the military ignites when it is exposed to oxygen, creating a dense cloud of smoke. It can cause painful burn injuries to exposed human flesh.

Two weeks ago yesterday, in response to allegations by Italian journalists, U.S. military officials admitted to having used white phosphorus to clear out insurgents in Fallujah. Spirit of giving, right?

Pentagon officials have said white phosphorous is a conventional weapon that can be used against enemy combatants (this time the term is more relevant than the detainees at Guantanamo), and have denied allegations that it was used against civilians.

Technically, the weapon is not illegal for the U.S., since we have not signed any international agreements that ban it (they exist, we just haven’t signed on to them).

The Environmental Protection Agency lists white phosphorus as a Hazardous Air Pollutant, and it is also listed in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The military had previously denied having used white phosphorus against enemy combatants, but are now telling the truth (read: stopped lying). One wonders though, why they would have denied it in the first place if they are so confident that it is conventional. Would the military deny using guns to shoot insurgents?

What’s my point, you ask? I fear the downright cruelty that the so-called “war on terrorism” has unleashed into the world (supposedly for the better?). Not only that, but the secrecy with which the administration has conducted itself.

In response to allegations of American Soviet-style secret prisons in Europe, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said, “[The U.S. will] endeavor to respond to this letter to the best of our ability, in a timely and forthright manner.” The administration refuses to confirm or deny the allegations. We shouldn’t be in a situation where we can’t (truthfully) outright deny such claims!

Call me naive, stupid, a hippie, out of my mind, whatever – but all I truly wish to get for Christmas is world peace. Christ probably wouldn’t mind if we tidied up a little before his birthday.