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Radley Balko needs a White Phosphorous clue

Posted By Uncle Jimbo • [November 12, 2005]

Update: Radley took care of business the next day and restored his status as a trusted source.

In the interest of clarity, this is Uncle Jimbo, not Matty O' Blackfive sending.

One of the best writers and analysts on the web and now the MSM has lost his way and needs some help. Radley Balko writes as The Agitator, works at the libertarian Cato Institute, writes columns and appears on many news shows. I have been reading him since he was just a puppy, web geek for Cato and seen him carve out an impressive soap box which he has used admirably. I consider him as close to an honest broker as you will run across, but he now needs assistance  finding the clue bag regarding our use of White Phosphorous in Fallujah.

Once again the press has manufactured an atrocity to pin on the evil Americans, and we are forced to confront misrepresentation, misunderstanding and in a number of cases outright lies. Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette has a comprehensive view of the entire media circus, and shows how much of a contrived farce this actually is. I will stick with the very simple fact that WP is not a chemical weapon, or even similar, and our use of it was more humane than using high explosives or other munitions. Unlike the vast majority of people flapping their gums on this issue, I actually know WTF I am talking about. My bona fides, Special Forces Weapons Sergeant, which means I have trained on and used all US and many foreign weapons from the leatherman pocket tool up to the 120 mm mortar, this includes all munitions used including WP mortar rounds and grenades. I trained with them, used them and have taught many US and allied troops their employment and effects.

Calling them chemical weapons is not only incorrect but foolishly harmful to our troops and our reputation overseas and at home. The only people rolling this ball of dung along are established anti-war media outlets and groups looking for anything to smear the American imperialists with. What hurts is the ignorance or inability to understand simple concepts that has infected otherwise thoughtful people, like the usually on track Mr. Balko. But somehow Radley has managed to open the screen door on his submarine, step out wearing bowling cleats, swinging a football bat, and get into his chicken wire canoe, to go pick up a soup sandwich. Now he's not that lost, I just wanted to bust out that old "so clueless you'd" rip. But he managed to add a voice better used exposing charlatans like Morgan Spurlock, the Super-size me clown, to the side of the charlatans by accepting too much of their BS as reasonable.

He had the option to sit this one out, having no personal knowledge of the subject, but instead chose to parse his emails for the truth and either has far too many anti-war types writing or too few knowledgeable military folks but he chose to post a list of things that seem clear to him. Unfortunately if this serves as clarity, we have a problem. So I will post a clarification to his points of clarity under the fold and hope that this was simply an aberration. Too many people, like me, trust him as a reasonable commentator to allow his acceptance and partial upholding of these falsehoods and smears to stand.

I will post his and my contact emails at the end and if you think he ought to rethink his position please send a thoughtful message. If you have additional cites debunking this charge, please comment or send them on to me.

Here are the five points he thinks seem to be clear:

1) White phosphorus (WP) isn't on any banned weapons list, nor is it widely considered to be a "chemical weapon".

Correct but incomplete, a better statement would end "nor is it considered a chemical weapon by any group not actively anti-war, it is properly classified as an incendiary or obscurant device"

2) But that's because it's largely used as a diversion, to light up battlefields, or for other purposes not directly related to killing people.

No, that is because it is an incendiary rather than a chemical weapon. Neither it's composition, employment or effects would qualify it as a chemical weapon. The statement is correct in characterizing it's use however.

3) If it is used for killing people, it's some pretty nasty stuff. It burns straight through anything it touches, and once lit, it's nearly immpossible to extinguish. In that sense, it's indiscriminate, making it more similar to a chemical weapon like Napalm than to conventional weapons.

Anything that kills people qualifies as pretty nasty stuff. Traumatic amputation of a limb, or disembowelment by a high explosive (HE) or chunk of shrapnel would make it quite nasty in my mind and certainly indiscriminate as I am aware of no guided shrapnel. Since our WP rounds are not designed or useful as chemical weapons, the burst and initial explosion rapidly vaporizes into a cloud of irritating, but non-fatal smoke. Someone within a few yards of impact might be killed but the deadly blast radius is minimal compared to an HE round. The particles that didn't immediately vaporize can land on bystanders and cause burns, but once again much less lethal than the rain of shrapnel in a large area around an HE impact. As I mentioned the smoke produced is an irritant, but so is all smoke and it could only kill if a round impacted an enclosed space which contained the smoke causing suffocation, not chemical death.

4) Given number three, raining white phosphorus down over a city may not violate the letter of chemical weapons treaties, but it certainly appears to be morally questionable, particularly if used by a country that cited the immoral, indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by Iraq as one reason for going to war in the first place.

No again, since we have determined that it doesn't rain down and kill as a poison gas or bathe anyone not very near in flesh sizzling chunks, your entire grandiose moral equivalence is pointless. We did not and don't use it indiscriminately. We use it in situations where the Rules of Engagement allow the use of far more deadly munitions to accomplish the objective. We do so to minimize casualties, not fry civilians. This constitutes a miniscule percentage of the times the munition is employed, as the vast majority are illumination missions where the round explodes high in the sky and floats peacefully to the ground under a parachute, extinguished or barely burning when it reaches the ground.

When we did use it to flush bad guys out of trenches or other hiding spots, the smoke disoriented and confused them, it did not kill them via chemical means. We could have simply destroyed their hideouts and greatly increased the possibility of civilian casualties, instead we throttled back and now we are catching truly undeserved crap about it.

5) The U.S. military is using white phosphorus as a weapon. Whether we've careful to use it only against clusters of enemy solidiers (as I believe we've generally been careful to do throughout the war with other weapons, despite my objections to it) or more broadly against targets like Fallujah, where insurgents are more interspersed with civilians, seems to be the source of contention.

No for the last time. The source of contention begins with whether we should even have had to listen to this flagrantly false defamation repeated by any credible source. It is so easily debunked and yet, news outlets have mouthed the anti-war propaganda and once again created damage to our reputation out of whole cloth. Maybe we even strapped Korans to these rounds so the poison gas would be sacrilegious too.

Where is any credible evidence we even used it more broadly in Fallujah than anywhere else? We acted under more stringent rules than any Army in history and now we face unfounded accusations that actions taken to safeguard civilians constitute chemical warfare.

I expect this kind of dung to be flung by the usual suspects, but Radley you have shown too much gumption in everything else I have seen you tackle to put you stamp of clarity on something you were certainly obscured from seeing clearly. If for some reason you have questions regarding these issues I will certainly help satisfy them as there is just no there, there in this sordid calumny. We have done damage to our reputation without doubt, but allowing false defamation to stand and even vouchsafing parts of it is wrong. You are a more informed writer than this, so do the right thing and fix it. If you would like I can verify my bona fides and point you to a number of other professionals able to speak decisively regarding this.

His contact email is radley.responses-at-gmail.com, if you would like to nudge him back on the path of truth send him a thoughtful message asking him to rethink his semi-acceptance of something easily more foolish than Mr. Spurlock. Please remember he is one of the best and brightest, he just did too little diligence on this one, so be polite, although a little sass is also enjoyable if light-hearted.

My email is jimbo-at-unclejimbo.com for anyone wanting to rattle my cage and my blog is here where I write when not giving Matt some well-earned slack time here.


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