White Phosphorus is one of the more versatile and devastating type of munitions that has even been used in war. It burns hot and bright. Military uses range from the creation of smoke screens and tracer rounds to anti-personnel weapons. Due to the heat it gives off it can burn and ignite cloth, ammunition, fuel. Basically anything that is combustible. Once it starts burning it will continue to burn until it has used up all the air or all the available fuel.
The use of the compound can be traced back to WWI. The picture above was taken in a field hospital during the Vietnam War and shows the effect it can have on the human body. it is deployed through either aircraft bombings or artillery shells. Back in the day those delivery methods were not as accurate as they are now. Sometimes accidents happened, as is the case for the poor soul above.
Once the shell or bomb explodes the burning phosphorous “splashes” causing white-hot pieces of shrapnel to cover the immediate area. The shrapnel then ignites whatever it touches. In this case it ignited the uniform and burned to the skin in a matter of seconds. The most effective way to deal with these kinds of wounds is to remove the burning material from the skin. That usually means removing the skin that it was attached to. Doing so quickly could prevent more serious and life threatening damage. Failing to do so would lead to an agonizing death.
Known by the slang term “Willie Pete” or sometimes just WP, it has been as controversial as it has been effective. Currently the use of the compound in war is heavily regulated by international treaty. And we all know how that usually works out…
This schedule is posted at the National Infantry Museum and is there to show what a typical day in boot cam would look for a member of the US Army. Nowadays though it is called Basic Combat Training. A ten week course that is designed to take men and women that walk in off the street and turn them into soldiers.
Over the course of the training the individual learns how to work like a team and think like a soldier, which sometimes requires a lot of adjustments on their part. Not everyone is cut out for it, but those that succeed embark on a career that is frankly thankless and dangerous.
The ten weeks are divided up into three phases.
Red Phase: The focus is on learning teamwork. This phase comes after their initial reception and starts teaching them the basics of training and field work.
White Phase: Among other skills marksmanship and rappelling are taught in this phase. Recruits are exposed to many new skills and abilities that will serve them during their career.
Blue Phase: Building on everything that has come before the recruits are exposed to more advanced weapons and push themselves to their physical limits.
Passing through all these phases and they have learned the skills needed to be effective in and out of combat. With such a harrowing schedule as laid out above it is amazing that anyone makes it out. But with almost 1.5 million men and women serving in the US military, at least that many have found a way. Just for fun one day why don’t you try to follow the schedule and see how you do?
Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War written by Rick Atkinson details the campaign from the start of Desert Shield to the final hours of Desert Storm and the war against Saddam Hussein. Two things continuously went through my mind as I read this book. First was the fact that it was written several years after the war and knowing how the story continued in the time since leaves one shaking their head. The other was the fact that this was the first war that I had personally lived through. Comparing the events of the book to my own recollections of the events as they happened was fascinating and as any good history should do allowed me to learn something about what I thought I already knew. There were three aspects to the narrative that I found the most fascinating, the politics of the war, the personalities of the war and the execution of the war.
In writing about the politics involved in the war the author delves into the building of the Multinational Coalition that executed the war. Each member nation of the coalition had to be handled in different ways, balancing the various sensibilities of the Muslim nations with the political expediency of the Western nations is covered with apt skill. Even more fascinating is the dealings with nations that were not a part of the coalition, especially Israel. From my own perspective I knew that one of the major efforts undertaken by the US Government was to try to keep the Israelis from overt participation in the conflict. What this book showed however was the depth of the maneuvering that kept that from happening and the various personalities involved. Besides the Israelis and the Iraqis themselves, the Soviet Union was also a major player, trying to keep their fingers in the Middle Eastern pie. The author handles all sides with a deft understanding of the critical balance that had to be maintained during the fighting.
From the perspective of watching the war on the television we saw a never-ending parade of personalities from Powell to Schwarzkopf, Cheney to Arens. We had one view of these people, especially Schwarzkopf. This book provides valuable insights into these people and shows things that are not part of general knowledge. Schwarzkopf’s temper, something whispered about in rumors, is on full display in this book. Powell’s handling of Schwarzkopf, something we knew was critical, but here we are shown why. Far from a book of psychological examinations, what the author does is plainly put out there who these people are and how they effected the war in general. This helps the reader make their own judgments as to each individuals effectiveness.
Truly the most fascinating portion of the book was the way it laid out the execution of the war. From the first days of the air campaign to the closing moments of the ground campaign, every aspect is examined. The overwhelming theme in this part of the book is the desire to finally have US Military move out from under the shadow of Vietnam. That was what the war was really about to the commanders who were looking for a second chance. That is never portrayed as a bad thing in this book. From the couch the war was fought almost perfectly and where this book really makes its impact is in looking at this belief and explaining the reality. Precision bombing was more precise, but not as much as the nightly news would have us believe. The vaunted Patriot missile did not have the perfect record in defending against the SCUDS that we were told. The most tragic failure of the war was the fact that we lost more troops to friendly fire, then to the enemy. The reasons for these failures are explained in detail as a balance to the things that did work.
Rick Atkinson spent the war as a reporter for The Washington Post, providing an interesting prospective that he put to use in completing this novel. Since the publication he has gone on to finish several histories revolving around WWII and has received the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing.
People, Places and Things from US Military History