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The brilliant Simon Jenkins writes of bombing and indiscrimate weaponry in today's London Times (attached). To quantify the essay's relevance to Iraq, there's this: "A Human Rights Watch report says that of an estimated 24 to 30 million bomblets dropped during the Gulf War, between 1.2 and 1.5 million did not explode, leading to 1,220 Kuwaiti and 400 Iraqi civilian deaths." <http://www.cdi.org/weekly/1999/issue30.html> By the way, Jenkins was among those appalled by Sandhurst historian John Keegan's remark in yesterday's Telegraph, "air power and international morality now march in step." God help us. Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA === <http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,248-69202,00.html> The Times of London January 17 2001 Bombs that turn our leaders into butchers by Simon Jenkins Still the war continues, killing and maiming hundreds. Every other day, someone treads on a bomb, plays with it or hits it with a hoe or a fishing line. Instantly the years roll back and blood and guts are everywhere. There are far too many bombs ever to be cleared. When they are discovered and made safe, their relics are built into fences, roofs and table legs, or act as baths, water troughs and even keyrings. The rest form a landscape of fear from which the enemy will never be driven, a killing field that will never see peace. With the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War bombing campaign, and the second anniversary of the Yugoslav one looming, I last week visited the greatest bomb-site in history. It is the forgotten Plain of Jars, surely the world's most unobtrusive battlefield. For nine years, from 1964 to 1973, the tiny nation of Laos was bombed more ferociously than anywhere before or since. The bombing failed. Laos was not "bombed back to the Stone Age", as promised by US generals. It was merely bombed into communism. Communist it remains to this day. The beautiful plain, in reality a long valley flanked by high karst mountains, is still a morass of craters, each containing unknown horrors. Its settlements were more blasted than the Somme, more flattened than Dresden. The 500-year-old provincial capital of Xiang Khouang saw its temples reduced to dustclouds by B52s, described afterwards as "looking like Hiroshima". Nobody knows how many people died. The only memorial I saw was to the 320 villagers of Tham Piu, forced from their homes into a cave, where a direct hit from a T28 rocket incinerated them. When the regimes of South-East Asia are told to hand over their "war criminals", they ask in sincere naivety: "Will Americans be there too?" I am not much given to battlefield tourism. I have never been a soldier, and find the silent detritus of war impossible to relate to history's grand logic. We are told that central Laos has always been contested land, and that Hmong tribesmen used as mercenaries by the Americans were always foes of the Vietnamese. If half their menfolk died and two thirds became refugees to keep Laos "safe from communism", such are the cruelties of history. Laos was proof only that the weak get hurt when the strong go to war. The Laos war was kept secret for six years, as the CIA and its special air force units supported local troops against the communist Pathet Lao and Vietcong. Though devoid of legal or moral justification, it was an efficient war. Commanders freed of bureaucracy and political scrutiny fought well. Strike aircraft were effective in close support of the Hmong ground troops. Laos was probably the last war in which airmen took greater risks than ground troops, notably the forward fire control Cessna pilots. Christopher Robbins's account of their war, The Ravens, is one of the best battlefield books I know. Robbins's book is a textbook on what air superiority can achieve, and what it cannot. Its villain is the US Air Force, whose incompetence in South-East Asia was of Crimean dimensions. By the time Nixon and Kissinger sent the Air Force's "strategic" B52s to the Plain of Jars in 1970 - against the pleading of local commanders - the Vietnam War was lost. But punitive bombing exacted a terrible revenge on Laos, as on Cambodia to the south. Laos suffered a monsoon of destruction, with a peak of 500 sorties a day. The B52s used napalm, defoliants and weapons which, on any definition, were "chemical". They bombed the plain's neolithic jars, like bombing Stonehenge. At night they hosed anything that moved with cannon. Yet the enemy calmly went on building roads and moving troops and supplies. The bombs were ineffective. America is still "in denial" over Laos, where its chief concern is to search for the bodies of missing American pilots. It cares less for the Laotian bodies still to come. There are estimated to be some nine million unexploded bombs and bomblets (or "bombies" the size of tennis balls) littering the country. They constitute a gigantic, unmapped minefield. The BLU and CBU canister weapons contained hundreds of delayed action bomblets, each with timers and 250 ball bearings. They were and are wholly unreliable, a quarter to a third not exploding as intended. Today's mutilated victims fill the hospitals and beg in the streets. A quarter of the casualties are small boys. No remotely civilised state should use such weapons. Britain uses them. The RAF dropped them on Iraq in 1991 and on Yugoslavia in 1999. I have no doubt they are being dropped on Iraq this very day. They are no more accurate or sophisticated than those used in Laos 30 years ago, more than a quarter reportedly failing to explode in Yugoslavia. Indeed rules requiring pilots to fly above missile range make them even more dangerous. No modern air force would dare risk a Cessna for precision fire control, as in Laos. Missed targets are not "accidents". They are the calculable risk of using specific weapons from specific heights on specific targets. A Cessna Raven would have prevented the disastrous bombing of the Kosovan refugee column or the Serbian commuter train. Cluster bombs are disproportionately horrific weapons. Dud cluster bombs are random landmines. The British Government supposedly signed the 1997 Landmine Convention and its Mines Advisory Group is even active in the Plain of Jars. The International Development Secretary, Clare Short, likes to be photographed in "Diana-style" mine-clearing garb. Yet Ms Short sat in the Cabinet that approved the cluster bombing of Yugoslavia, including the daylight massacre in Nis marketplace. I recall her on Any Questions? as a vociferous champion of the bombing. The estimated 14,000 unexploded bombs with which her Government "seeded" the (mostly Kosovan) landscape are far more dangerous than landmines. Minefields are usually mapped and may blow off a leg. A bombie may lurk anywhere and its makers promise death over 1,000 square metres. How Ms Short finds bombies acceptable and mines not is a mystery. Laos is a land of grim lessons for the bombing lobby. It showed the worth of close air support in the heat of battle. But this required pilots brave enough to engage the enemy with precision at close quarters. The politics of virtual war make this no longer an option. Pilots must fly high and safe. Smart missiles may nowadays compensate for the "lack of eyeball", but they require static targets, and the RAF is too poor to afford many Tomahawks. Three quarters of its Yugoslavia bombs were "dumb" and their accuracy is now accepted as poor to dreadful. The military case for Nato's bombing strategy has been reduced in most debates to: "Well, we won in the end". The contribution of bombing to the conflicts in Iraq and Yugoslavia has been heralded as a new era of risk-free, airborne coercion. So said The Economist last week. The historian John Keegan claimed in yesterday's Daily Telegraph that "air power, technology and international morality now march in step", making the global triumph of democracy unstoppable. This is surely mad. Strategic bombing did not oust the Iraqis from Kuwait or the Serbs from Kosovo. This needed an actual or threatened ground assault. So-called strategic bombing of non-military targets in Serbia and Iraq did nothing to topple their respective regimes. Slobodan Milosevic went only when voted from power and deserted by his army. Saddam Hussein is still there. Close air support has a role in any war. But the photogenic nature of strategic bombing makes it no more effective today than it was in Europe in 1945 or South-East Asia in 1970. The bombing of Laos ranks among the most obscene acts of war. It was wanton destruction, power without restraint divorced from the purpose of battle, which is to take and hold territory. Laos, thank God, is recovering. But each week the echoes of that power still explode across its landscape, as they do across the plains of Iraq and Yugoslavia. Like medieval armies salting fields and poisoning wells, modern air forces leave behind them weapons which they know will sprout death for decades to come. I am told that not a single Cabinet minister protested against their use. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk