[lit-ideas] Re: Willie Pete, well, okay, a little bit

  • From: John Wager <johnwager@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 15:09:15 -0600

Eric Yost wrote:

John: It was used against Germany and Japan in WWII

Eric: One of the more deadly recapitulations I've read -- this one versus Japan in WW 2 and versus Iraqis in Gulf War I -- was the use of bulldozers to bury entrenched positions.

When no white phosphorus was immediately available, for whatever reason, and faced with an entrenched enemy that refused to surrender, bulldozers were called in, and under suppressing fire, the bulldozers simply buried the troops alive in their redoubts.
Bulldozers were used a lot against the Japanese in the later island campaigns and against the Iraqi sand fortifications in Gulf War I.

We worked with "Rome Plows" in Vietnam. They were used to clear jungle, but they were also used to plow under VC bunkers. Where we were, there weren't any VC inside the bunkers at the time, but if they had been there, it would have been their choice to stay underground or to come up and surrender.

A "War Crime" is very slippery. I'm tempted to say a war crime is something the loser does that the winner doesn't like, but there is much more to it than that. We define war crimes in times of peace, in the hope that all nations will see the benefit of limiting combat. For example: WWI saw the "outlawing" (by treaty) of "dum-dum" bullets. These are hollow-point bullets that expand on impact, doing much more damage to the body than a regular bullet. If you ask most soldiers, they would probably not say there is a lot of difference between being shot by a "dum-dum" round and a .50 cal machine gun round, or being shot full of a dozen rounds from a machine gun, but we have outlawed dum-dum bullets but not machine gun bullets. And we've outlawed poison gas, but not naphalm, even though the person on the receiving end would probably not have much preference for one over the other.

The American philosophy Phillip Hallie wrote about the village of Le Chambon in France durring WWII in the book LEST INNOCENT BLOOD BE SHED. He admired the pacifist village for saving not only thousands of innocent children, but for wanting to save the German "boys" stationed there from becoming child murderers. Yet his own experience in WWII was with an artillery batallion that fired WP into Germany, and he describes seeing German soldiers running with chunks of phosphorus embedded in their bodies. Yet WP is not outlawed.

As far as Hussein's use of his own people as "shields," I think the reason that's not considered a war crime is that they are HIS people. Using someone else's civilians as a shield would certainly break the Geneva conventions, but using your OWN citizens in that way is not seen by international treaties as a violation of any law, because we are VERY reluctant to step into what a country does internally with its own citizens, even when that's horrible, unless it rises to the level of "genocide," defined as the attempt to exterminate a whole group, not just use members of that group as expedient shields.

Of course once a war starts, it's almost impossible for the side that's losing to avoid bringing up "military necessity" as a justification for doing "war crimes."

One thing that makes the current U.S. position on torture and prisoner detention so disturbing is that the U.S. is NOT really in a position comparable to other countries who do similar things pleading "military necessity," unless Bush really thinks we are losing this war.

The latter use is particularly brutal, given Saddam's strategy of using his raw conscripts (children, the elderly) as human shields for the Republican Guard. Saddam used the same strategy against the Iranians: send the infirm and untrained to the front lines and use them as fodder to drain the enemy's firepower, then call in the Republican Guard to counterattack. In Gulf War II of course, we just kept advancing.

However I wonder if strategies like Saddam's shouldn't be labeled as war crimes in themselves? It's a particularly cruel way of throwing away the lives of raw recruits.

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager johnwager@xxxxxxxxxxx
Forest Park, IL, USA

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