View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Friday, April 04, 2003

I'm happy to announce that I'm joining a new web ring called Conscience, begun by Joel Sax. He wrote:

Too many people were saying "I feel alone". Good people who do not wish to see the wanton destruction of human life for the sake of a few dollars.

I started a new webring called Conscience after reading the responses to my Open Letter to Jeanne d'Arc. Elsewhere I saw Donna post a song by Tori Amos which spoke to the feeling of being "crucified". I replied:

Donna, I have to tell you a grim truth: the reason why you suffer so badly isn't that you're cynical: deep down you believe that human beings can behave better than they do, reach for higher stars, and you're FUCKING PISSED OFF that they won't.

Me, too, friend.

Mere words weren't enough. So last night, after speaking with Lynn, we started a web ring for those who felt alone because they believed so deeply in the worth and dignity of other human beings that they would not add their endorsement of wars, environmental destruction, torture, and other affronts to human dignity and worth:
Conscience is expressly for people who ~know~ deep in their hearts that war, environmental destruction, and torture are affronts to human dignity. Your views may be founded on simple compassion for other people or a belief in God or a higher power of another sort. This rings welcomes all religions and philosophies which cherish human existence as a thing not to be senselessly squandered. We do not tolerate hatred for reasons of national origin, race, creed, or sexuality. We especially welcome weblogs. This is for individuals, not organizations.

This ring is not for the uncertain or the undecided. You must be ready to affirm that people -- all people -- matter.

It's important to have a community at such a time, when it sometimes seems like all of America is furiously waving the flag and justifying the violence our government has perpetrated upon the Iraqi people. Really, it's important to have a community of like-minded people any time. It can get damned lonely and damned frustrating to fight the tide of public opinion. It helps to have friends.


What happens now?

According to David Corn and Mark Perry, last summer (yes, last summer--so much for "give peace a chance") a secret Power Point presentation prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff outlined seven possible scenarios for Baghdad: "isolation siege," "rubblizing," "ground assault, frontal," "nodal isolation," "nodal capture," "segment and capture," and "softpoint capture and expansion."

It appears that "isolation siege" has won out, or at least some form of it, despite the contention of Gen. Richard Myers that no siege is planned. How can one speak of the city being isolated, yet say there is to be no siege? Perhaps what Myers means is that there is no attack planned, but the city will essentially be in a state of siege if it is effectively cut off from the rest of the country. Here is the nutshell version of what the Power Point presentation calls "isolation siege":

"U.S. and coalition forces would cut Baghdad off from the rest of Iraq and slowly degrade its communications and military infrastructure with airstrikes and limited ground-level assaults. Success would depend on the demoralization of those holding the city. It was apparently the least costly option for U.S. forces but very costly for the civilian population. The scenario would 'definitely include turning off the lights, according to a note attached to the presentation."

Of course, any plan for Baghdad will have been worked out in detail (right? right?) and almost certainly have undergone numerous changes and refinements. But I don't like the sound of it: isolation.

Once again, the military is counting on the cooperation, or at least the non-resistance, of a good part of the population. That would have a better chance of working if Saddam Hussein were dead. Even so, I'm still remembering where counting on the cheering crowds got us last time. And I'm wondering how the citizens of the city will feel toward the United States if it isolates them after having seen to it that sanctions were imposed on them for the past twelve years. What about food, water, electricity, medicines? One hopes that the military has plans to see to it that such things are taken care of. (Why do I have a sinking feeling here?)

Myers maintains that an isolated Baghdad will soon become "irrelevant." Irrelevant? The largest city in the country? Apparently, the interim government will be set up elsewhere in Iraq.

That idea fits in well with the new concept of the "rolling victory", a strategy that will allow the administration to call itself victorious "even if Saddam Hussein or key lieutenants remain at large and fighting continues in parts of the country." It could be tricky to decide when to announce victory, since "the administration is set on intimidating Iraqi leaders and seizing power, yet it would risk its credibility by declaring itself in charge while significant resistance remains."

This sounds like one big mess to me. I'm still expecting civil war to break out at some point around the time victory is declared. Remember, Iraq is an artificially created nation, cobbled together from three distinctly ethnic areas. I also just can't see how victory can be declared without the U.S. having control of Baghdad. And I'm very, very fearful that this will place terrible hardships on the Iraqi people of Baghdad.

Still, it probably beats the "ground assault, frontal": "Ground combat," says a Pentagon study, Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations, ”is the most difficult and costly type of military urban operation. All those aspects of urban ground combat that have historically extracted a terrible price on attacker, defender, and noncombatant alike remain present today, multiplied by the increased size and complexity of urban areas and increase in the number of inhabitants." Read a summary of the document and find out just how brutal and bloody urban warfare is, and then hope and pray (if you're the praying kind) that it doesn't come to this.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Need a Laugh?

I know I did when I sat down at the keyboard this morning. Luckily, someone at The Agonist put up a link to "The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld."

Check out Judy Keen's nauseating piece in USA Today about how "the strain of Iraq is showing on Bush." I think it's designed to make us see the "human" side of the pRes, or something like that. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with the sacrifices he's made: "He's being hard on himself; he gave up sweets just before the war began." Wow. And all those Marines did was give up two meals a day!

Objecting to the War

A member of the British Parliament is urging British troops to disobey "illegal orders," reasoning that the war itself is illegal. MP Galloway has since said that he supports "the three British soldiers on their way back home to Britain who are facing a court martial for refusing to carry out illegal orders."

So far the numbers of conscientious objectors is small, but is reported to be growing. And so far, the military hasn't placed too many obstacles in their way.

Here's the experience of one conscientious objector.

Speaking of conscientious objectors, you can learn more about what a CO is, as well as find resources about conscientious objection, at the website of the American Friends Service Committee. This Quaker organization was of tremendous help during the Vietnam War to draft resisters and members of the armed services who became COs while in the service. I know: they provided legal help and moral support to my husband during his struggle.

You might also want to visit the Center on Conscience and War.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Weapons of War

How much do you know about the weapons being used by the United States in this attack on Iraq?

You might think that weaponry is something too specialized or too militaristic to concern yourself with. But read on, and you'll find out why you, and everyone who worries about the fate of our troops and the Iraqis, needs to be concerned.

One place to start is Global Security. The site offers background on military resources, including weapons. If you have questions about a specific weapon--JDAMs, Cruise missiles, whatever--this might be the site to visit. Click on "Military" and then on "Systems." You can also learn about WMD--weapons of mass destruction. (The site also has up-to-date news on the war.)

There are four kinds of weapons that particularly worry me: depleted uranium munitions, land mines, cluster bombs, and certain chemical weapons. All these, mind you, are in use or may be in use soon by U.S. forces. They worry me because a case either has been made or could be made against all of them based on existing treaties under which they could be seen as illegal. A convention against land mines has been signed by 146 of the world's nations--not including the U.S.--while even the U.S. has signed the convention against chemical weapons. We are truly a violent nation, one whose leaders care neither about proliferation nor about civilian deaths arising from such weapons.

Depleted Uranium

Depleted uranium is used because it has the ability to penetrate like no other metal (or so they say). DU was used in the Gulf War, and many Gulf War vets believe it is one of the causes of their illnesses (there are 159,238 Gulf War veterans who are considered by the Veterans Administration to be disabled). DU, left behind in the massive bombing of the Gulf War, has also been blamed for the increased numbers and types of birth defects in Iraq. Something like 900,000 DU projectiles were fired during the Gulf War; upon hitting the target, about half the uranium in the weapons is released as tiny particles. These particles can be breathed in, not only by soldiers, but by civilians miles from the battlefield.

DU is cheap: it's made from the unwanted waste created in the production of atomic energy. Over 500 million pounds of it are available at government repositories around the country.

The Pentagon says that DU is not a hazard. I haven't been able to find a good, reliable study of depleted uranium, but a lot of people are worried about it. Researcher Dai Williams is worried about the effects of DU and about the proliferation of DU weapons. And he should worry: the British are using DU-tipped munitions for the first time in the war on Iraq.

The Pentagon thus far has not confirmed the use of bigger and more potent DU weapons, but all indications are that such weapons are in use.

DU is 40% as radioactive as pure uranium, with a half-life of 4.5 billion years. According to physicist Doug Rokke, 40% of the initial mass of the uranium penetrators used in the Gulf War was converted to radioactive oxide, while the other 60% was left at or near the targeted area in solid form. "Who," he asks, "would want thousands of solid uranium penetrators or pencils of masses between 180 and 4,500 grams lying in your backyard? Who would want any uranium contamination of any type lying in your backyard?"

Land Mines

The United States, unlike the majority of the world, has not signed the treaty against antipersonnel land mines, which claim a number of lives every week in areas of the world where they've been placed during previous wars. In Iraq alone, land mines from the Iraq-Iran war and the Gulf War kill or wound up to 30 Iraqis each month. These mines are indiscriminate killers of thousands of innocent civilians each year, one-third of which are children.

Land mines also endanger our own troops. The General Accounting Office concluded that the mines did nothing to impair Iraqi forces, but impeded our own troops. Neither international opinion nor the GAO study has deterred the Pentagon, which went ahead and stored land mines throughout the Gulf area.

According to one source, the U.S. has deployed at least 90,000 antipersonnel land mines to Iraq. How many more maimed and dead children and other civilians will this add up to? How many troops will be blown apart by these devices?

Cluster Bombs

The Pentagon has finally confirmed that it has used cluster bombs in Iraq, but Human Rights Watch had already reported their use, based on television images and stories from reporters. Yesterday's bombing of Hilla, which killed 11 civilians, nine of them children, dropped cluster bombs. Video footage shot by reporters is said to be horrific, "terrifying" and gruesome.

Which is only to be expected. I don't know what kind of cluster bombs are being used in Iraq, but the ones they dropped on Laos were made up of a canister that held 670 tennis ball-sized bomblets, each bomblet containing 300 metal fragments. These bombs were meant to do tremendous damage to the human body, and they did. According to eyewitnesses, children suffered amputations and were even "cut in half" by the bomb dropped on Hilla.

In the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, the CBU-87 was widely used. It has three kill mechanisms: antipersonnel, anti-armor, and incendiary. Cluster bombs that don't detonate pose the same problem as land mines. Human Rights Watch has this to say: "Cluster munitions cannot be targeted with precision. They cause damage over a very large and imprecise area, and, due to the numbers used and high failure rate, leave behind a great many unexploded 'dud' submunitions that become de facto antipersonnel landmines. ...Environmental factors in parts of Iraq such as sand, wind, and marshes would likely contribute to producing even higher dud rates for submunitions."

The Pentagon claims that it has solved some of these problems and has made the bombs "smarter." But no matter how "precise" a weapon is, some go astray. In the Gulf War, over 30 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Kuwait and Iraq and, in the following months, unexploded bombs killed 1,600 civilians and injured another 2,500.

Chemical Weapons

With all the talk about the threat of Saddam using chemical weapons, you might not be aware that the United States wants to be able to use chemicals. On February 5, Rumsfeld and Richard Myers (head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) testified to the House Armed Services Committee that, although the U.S. did sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the military was planning to use "non-lethal" chemical weapons.

According to Edward Hammond, director of the Sunshine Project, Rumsfeld stated that "plans [were] being made for multiple applications, including use of gas or aerosols on unarmed Iraqi civilians, in caves, and on prisoners." Rumsfeld and others defend such use of chemicals as being "nonlethal," and say that it would save civilian lives to use riot control agents (RCA) in cases where civilians and troops were mingled, or where civilians were being used as shields.

But Council for a Livable World points out that not only does the CWC specifically prohibit the use of RCAs, but such use is more likely to affect civilians than Iraqi troops. "Iraqi military forces, which used chemical weapons repeatedly in their war with Iran and against their own Kurdish population in the 1980s, have been trained to survive the use of chemicals on the battlefield and carry gas masks as part of their standard kit," Elisa Harris points out. If such chemicals were used in confined spaces, a scenario outlined by Rumsfeld, they could be lethal to the very young, the elderly, or those with respiratory problems (just ask the Israelis).

British troops would not be able to take part in any application of RCAs, as they signed the CWC and are bound by it.

The biggest problem I see with any use of these chemicals is that it will simply open the door for other nations to do so as well. Then the use of chemicals will escalate into more and deadlier, as we've seen so often. This administration's disdain for international treaties and conventions is alarming and makes the world a much more dangerous place.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Once again, a big gap between blog updates. Sorry.

Joel Sax has a great blog, Pax Nortona. Joel recently wrote to question my inclusion of the "hanged woman" story on my blog--as he said, we need to be very careful about repeating what we don't know for a fact to be true--and on balance, I have to agree with him. We have to expect propaganda, and we're going to read reams of it (already have). So I'm sorry I've included that incident and the story about the executed POW's. Even though I saw the stories on separate days in several sources, it's not helpful to fan the flames that are already raging. I wish now that I hadn't been so hasty. I wonder if I was trying too hard to be seen as "fair." "Impartial" is out of the question. As an antiwar person, my loyalties are first to the people who will be the casualties of this unjust war, not to their governments. Is "fair" possible? I don't know. I do know that when I read the American press and compare it with European or British sources, not to mention Asian or Arabic sources, I see great discrepancies.

The cruelties I included in my last blog may have happened. But they may not have. An "anonymous [U.S.] Marine general" can't be considered an impartial source any more than "an anonymous Iraqi general." I think Joel was right.

Anyway, on his site, Joel posted some ways to help victims of the war, and he has graciously allowed me to print them on my site:

See United for Peace and Justice for the latest on peace actions--everything from direct action to armbands and candles in the window.

Add your name to the "We Stand for Peace and Justice" letter.

Arabic and Islamic nations call for a UN General Assembly resolution against the war.

If you haven't seen Ann Lamott's piece in Salon, you should. Via Body and Soul.

A Guardian writer turns the "But is it really Saddam?" question on its head. Is it really George Bush, or just a stand-in?

Here's a powerful account of what it's like to be an ordinary Iraqi in Baghdad these days. You can read the transcript or listen to it.

Read Scott Ritter's pessimistic appraisal of our chances of "winning" in Iraq. I hope he's wrong, but after reading Sy Hersh's piece in the New Yorker, I'm getting nervous. It's not that I'm worried about losing (although in the long run, I don't see how the U.S. can win--not if we're talking about establishing a democracy and all that camouflage for a much more cynical undertaking). It's that I fear the loss of life that might occur.

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