Situational Ethics Quiz: Why are cluster weapons okay for the US, not okay for Hezzbollah, and okay for Israel, as long as they are "careful"?
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It's positively touching and heartwarming to read that the U.S. State Department is trying to put a hold of sorts on delivery to Israel of already approved M-26 artillery rockets tipped with cluster weapons designed for wide-area mass killing.
The Israeli government had asked the U.S. for quick delivery of these grotesque weapons of mass destruction for use against Hezzbollah rocket sites in southern Lebanon, and the Pentagon was ready to do so, but then the State Department, concerned about the probability of massive civilian casualties, got in the way.
This might sound like an outbreak of humanitarianism and respect for the international rules of war, which prohibit cluster weapons, except for the fact that the U.S. has made extensive use of this same weapon in Iraq, and no doubt in Afghanistan too. In fact, the high civilian death and casualty rate in the Iraq invasion and occupation can in good part be attributed to U.S. use of cluster weapons, which include not just this particular missile, but large bombs dropped by plane, and cannon shells, too.
So why the sudden concern by the U.S.--or at least elements of the U.S. government--with a weapon that is an integral and popular part of the Pentagon arsenal, and that has seen considerable use in ongoing U.S. wars?
The answer, I believe, is that unlike in Iraq, where the results of U.S. butchery and war crimes are largely blacked out because of a combination of strict Pentagon controls over what embedded reporters get to see and a security situation that keeps non-embedded reporters confined to the Green Zone in Baghdad, in Lebanon, reporters have a largely free run of the battle zone, and are seeing and reporting on the results of Israeli attacks, and of the IDF's US-supplied munitions.
That kind of thing makes for nasty PR in the Arab and Islamic world, and also here at home in the U.S.
Not that the U.S. media has been doing much of a job of reporting on this stuff (did anyone hear any mention of the M-26 rocket during three years of the Iraq War?). We've heard plenty about how those missiles that Hezzbollah has been lobbing into Israel have warheads stuffed with ball bearings, the better to kill people with. But we haven't been told that many of Israel's munitions, courtesy of its U.S. armory, are loaded with things that are much more scientifically designed to kill and maim--little flechettes that spin and slash as they spray out from an exploding warhead or bomb or shell, tearing their way through soft tissue in a way meant to cause maximum damage.
Way back in the 1960s and 1970s, clever American scientists working on defense contracts were busy devising ways not just to make napalm stickier, but to make anti-personnel weapons much more gruesome. And they succeeded.
The trouble is, no one has figured out how to make such anti-personnel weapons work just against enemy troops. That would be bad enough, given rules of war that say maiming should not be a goal of warfare (hence the ban on such things as flechettes, white phosphorus and gas as weapons). But anti-personnel weapons also actually tend to do more harm to civilians than to soldiers. Why? Well, soldiers have head protection where civilians generally don't. Soldiers may even have body armor, which civilians don't. And soldiers are often protected in bunkers, while civilians may just be walking around when a bomb or shell hits.
To make things worse, the little bomblets that are packed into such warheads often don't go off right away. Many just sit around on the ground--often bright-colored and certainly strange looking--where they prove to be irresistable curiosities for inquisitive children. There are plenty of young kids today in Laos with missing arms, legs and eyes who are testimony to the long-lasting damage that such weapons can do (that war ended in 1975, more than three decades ago, and continues to kill and maim).
The U.S. should not provide Israel with this dreadful rocket. Asking the IDF to "be careful" when it uses it, as the State Department is proposing, is a sick joke. The U.S. should stop providing the other cluster weapons it has already been shipping for Israeli planes to drop and for Israeli cannons to fire.
Those weapons should be removed from the U.S. arsenal altogether. Their production should be halted for all time.
And they should be added to a growing list of impeachable war crimes charges that should be levelled at the Bush administration, which has overseen the slaughter of well over 100,000 innocent men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan--many of them victims of outlawed weapons like the M-26.
Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy" and "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, May 2006).