How war brutalizes all of us – 3: The horror of Fallujah

A video has emerged of the battle of Fallujah, initiated just after the US elections in 2004, showing the destruction that was wreaked there. This documentary, which lasts about 30 minutes, is in English and was produced by a major Italian broadcasting network called RAI. It interviews former US soldiers who had been involved in the battle, journalists, people in and from Fallujah, and a British parliamentarian who quit in disgust at the British government’s complicity in the Iraq war.

The video begins with scenes showing how napalm was used in Vietnam thirty years ago. There are images (taken by the bombing crews themselves and found in the military archives) that show line after line of peasant huts being incinerated, presumably with everyone inside, by these powerful bombs. The villages are destroyed to the rousing sounds of The Mamas and the Papas singing their hit song California Dreaming, which was what was being played over the speakers of the bomber planes as they made this run. The disconcerting juxtapositioning of massive death and jaunty pop music reminds you how modern warfare, by making killing possible at much longer ranges, has enabled those who unleash these lethal weapons to feel disengaged from the people at the receiving end of their actions.

It reminded me of an old Doonesbury cartoon drawn during the Vietnam war where a Vietnamese survivor of a bombing, emerges from the rubble and shakes his fists at the departing planes, yelling “You heartless air pirates! I hope you can live with it! I hope you can live with all the destruction and carnage you’ve brought to my little country!!” The next panel of the strip switches to the cockpit of the bomber and shows the two pilots of the high altitude B-52. One says “Didja hear the Knicks took two?” and his partner laughingly replies “Heey, that’s great!”

After the napalm sequence, the RAI documentary then segues to Iraq now, and the video alleges that another chemical, this time white phosphorus, was dropped on the city of Fallujah. White phosphorus is a chemical that penetrates clothing and eats away at flesh all the way to the bone, so that what remains looks like that of a burned skeleton covered by a thin layer of skin and, adding to the grotesqueness, with the clothes still intact. [UPDATE: It appears that the above statement is not completely correct. Apparently white phosphorus also burns clothes so those images of seemingly clothed burned skeletons may be due to other causes.] The documentary (warning: extremely disturbing images) shows the bodies of men, women, and children who it alleges were the victims of white phosphorus and quotes one former US soldier involved in that operation as saying:

“I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it’s known as Willy Pete. Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone … I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for.”

The British newspaper The Independent also reports on the use of such chemical weapons in Iraq.

So did the US actually use this appalling chemical in the battle of Fallujah? On November 9, the US State Department initially carefully denied using it as a weapon on their website saying: “Finally, some news accounts have claimed that U.S. forces have used “outlawed” phosphorous shells in Fallujah. Phosphorous shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.”

But it then appeared that this story was contradicted by an article in another official US magazine, Field Artillery, so a correction was added on November 10:

November 10, 2005 note: We have learned that some of the information we were provided in the above paragraph is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, i.e., obscuring troop movements and, according to an article, The Fight for Fallujah [(note: .pdf file)] in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine, “as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes….” The article states that U.S. forces used white phosphorous rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.

The note raises more questions than it answers. How was white phosphorus used as a “potent psychological weapon”? How was it used to “flush out enemy fighters”? Remember that Fallujah is a city full of civilians. In a guerilla war, which is what is currently happening in Iraq, the guerillas move among the civilian population. How could white phosphorus be used for these purposes without affecting the civilian population?

The fact that white phosphorus is not outlawed seems beside the point. What it does to people is appalling and to use it in a battle in a city where there are a large number of civilians is to invite a catastrophe. If the facts of the documentary are upheld, then a catastrophe is exactly what occurred.


  1. says

    Behold the Geneva Convention.

    Please pass the preceding link around to all antiwar blogs you frequent. The relevant excerpt is as follows:

    “Protocol III -- Geneva Conventions

    Article 2.

    2. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.”

    The “White Phosphorous is not a banned munition” meme is already taking root in the print media. We must shame them into telling the truth about this.

    The Ape Man

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *