Most wars are fought for profit, though most war propagandists say they are fought for humanitarian reasons. U.S.-led wars profit the military industry, including weapons manufacturers, and give wealthy corporations control of more territory and money, but they cause unspeakable pain to innocent civilians. The reality of war is different from the fantasy version our political leaders sell to the public, and it is long past time both politicians and the general public speak truthfully about war.
Leaders dismiss war victims’ unnecessary suffering, calling civilian casualties “collateral damage” and saying all war is hell, as if no one is responsible for instigating the damage and hell in the first place. We need to speak about war in the active voice, using concrete descriptions. Such truth and clarity were missing in recent government and corporate media claims about Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The U.S. claimed its recent airstrikes in Syria were motivated by the belief that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people However, the U.S. has repeatedly used similar weapons on people around the world. We used napalm in Vietnam. In his 2001 book entitled On War, the late author and historian Howard Zinn quotes a report by four American physicians: “Napalm is a highly sticky inflammable jelly which clings to anything it touches and burns with such heat that all oxygen in the area is exhausted within moments. Death is either by roasting or by suffocation. Napalm wounds are often fatal . . . The victims are frequently children.”
According to an article in the Independent, “U.S. admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq,” the UN banned the use of napalm, but the US didn’t sign the treaty and continued to use the weapon during the Iraq War. The US used a new version of the weapon, but it was still napalm.
An article published in Salon, White Phosphorus: the new napalm?, reported “The New York Times has documented that, as recently as October 2011, U.S. and other international forces in Afghanistan were using white phosphorus. The article also says, “White phosphorus munitions cause particularly severe injuries, including chemical burns down to the bone.”
A 2017 New York Times article, U.S.-Led Forces Said to Have Used White Phosphorus in Syria, notes the weapon has been used recently. A 2017 Human Rights Watch article, Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context, says, “In recent years, white phosphorus munitions have become a regular feature of armed conflict . . . Unlike napalm, white phosphorus munitions fall outside Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons since they are not ‘primarily designed’ for incendiary purposes. Their cruel effects, however, must be addressed because they endanger civilians, no matter the weapon’s intended purpose.”
A June 2017 Human Rights Watch article, “Iraq/Syria: Danger from US White Phosphorus, says, “The use of artillery-delivered white phosphorus by the United States-led coalition fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) forces in Syria and Iraq raises serious questions about the protection of civilians . . . No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul . . . US forces are using white phosphorus in both Mosul, in Iraq, and in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, in Syria.”
A March 30, 2018 Alternet article, “Is Trump Trying to Go to War,” mentions Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ using white phosphorus in the firebombing of Fallujah. It says, “During those sieges, American forces sealed that Iraqi city off so no one could leave, attacked marked ambulances and aid workers, shot women, children, and an ambulance driver, killed almost 6,000 civilians outright, displaced 200,000 more, and destroyed 75% of the city with bombs and other munitions. The civilian toll was vastly disproportionate to any possible military objective—itself the definition of a war crime.”
When government officials and their corporate media spokespeople tell the public the U.S. is the world’s moral arbiter and is dropping bombs for humanitarian reasons, they are misleading their own people—lying to us about their motives and aims. The nation and the world ought to examine the way we’ve spoken about and conducted war throughout our history. It’s pragmatic for us to consider that it’s possible to create a way to live in the modern world without war.
Carla Binion is an Intrepid Report contributing writer.