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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

During the second Gulf War, hundred of Iraqi soldiers surrendered by waving white flags, the international symbol of capitulation.

How did this tradition originate?

Ancient historians from both China and Rome noted the sue of white flags to signal surrender. In the former empire, the tradition is believed to have originated with the reign of the Eastern Han dynasty ( AD 25-220), though it may be somewhat older. The Roman writer Cornelius mentions a white flag of surrender in his Histories, first published in A.D. 109. His reference concerns the Second Battle of Cremona, fought between the Vitellians and the Vespasians in A.D. 69; at the time, the more common Roman token of surrender was for soldiers to hold their shileds above their heads. It is believed that the tradition developed independently in the East and West.

As for the selection of such a bland color, it was likely just a matter of convenience in the ancient world. Aritificial colors were still centuries away, so white clothes were always handy -- not to mention highly visible against most natural backgrounds. Vexillologist (those who study flags) also opine that plain white provided an obvious contrast to the colorful banners that armies often carried into battle.

The peacemaking symbolism of the white flag is now enshrined in teh Geneva Convention, thoguh it's rarely mentioned in national flag codes. Italy is perhaps the only country whose flag guidelines specifically mention the white flag as an indication that a fighting force wants to call for a parley or surrender negotiations.

Iraqi soldiers were well aware that simply waving a white handkerchief could save their necks. So, too, were their commanders. In the first Gulf War, many Iraqi army officers forced their conscripts to hand over any and all articles of white clothing, including undershirts and socks, lest they be tempted to surrender to American forces. Fortunately for the troops, putting one's hands above one's head is often an equally effective way to cry uncle.

In the latter part of the Civil War, the Confederacy adopted a new national flag known as the Stainless Banner. The flag was predominatly white , with the familiar stars-and-bars design tucked into the upper left-hand corner. Confederate naval commanders detested the flag, as it was often mistaken as a sign of surrender when flying their masts. About a month before Appomattox, the Confederate Congress added a red bar to the banner's right hand side, to reduce the confusion.


During the second Gulf War, cable news viewers grew accustomed to the grisly sight of dead Iraqi Troops.

Do passing U.S. forces stop to bury the enemy's dead, or do they leave the remains alone?

Military regulations stipulate that "Army units will be required to bury enemy soldiers as time permits." Given the hast with which frontline troops must move, however, the somber task is often left up to support units, who sweep in after the heaviest combat has died down. The chief mission for so-called graves-registration units is to collect the American dead so the remains can be shipped back to the United States for proper burial. Their secondary duty is to see that the enemy casualties are buried with respect, in accordance with the Geneva Convention's protocols on the handling of remains. Since the Iraqie military apparently had scant resources available to dedicate to the undertaking, the job was mostly left up to the United States.

American soldiers charged with burying Iraqis would first search the bodies for dangerous items, such as greandes or other explosive ordinance. If the deceased was carrying any sort of personal identification, such as a dog tag or an ID card, the information was recorded and relayed back to mortuary affairs staff in Kuwait. When the war ended, these people were able to locate and notify the next of kin, or at least answer questions if a girving relative required. The remains were then placed in black body bags, and laid to rest in simple graves dug out with the backhoes. Metal posts were used in lieu of headstones.

On occasion, wheh they have a respite frok battle, frontline units will take on burials themselves, provided they have the heavy equipmenmt necessary to dig sufficiently deep tranches. These troops may lack body bags, in which case the enemies are buried without. Still, markers are always left, and identification details are recorded. The idea is that rapid burial, however unadorned, is preferable to letting the remains be picked apart by wild dogs and other scavengers.

American troops did their best to bury Iraqie troops in accordance with Muslim tradition -- with bodies interred to point toward Mecca, for example -- but the rituals can't be perfect. Graves registration untis often feature female soldiers, and Muslim custom forbids women from handling male remains.


Despite the desert conditions of the recent Iraqi campaing, many American soldiers sported deep green comabt fatigues.

Why did troops don woodland camouflage?

Acoording to published reports, the Pentagon simply goofed by not anticipating the demand for sand colored desert fatigues, formally known as battle dress uniforms (BDUs. When Army and Marine untis were prepairing for deployment, several discovered that they lacked enough desert BDUs to outfit each soldier with the requisite three otufits. The UPI reported that the Army's Fourth Infantry Divsion, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas, chose to dress all its troops in the more traditional green fatigues -- commonly referred to as woodlands BDUs -- rather than have only some don desert dress. Homogeneity is generally preferred among military commanders.

Untis that departed for the Middle East in early 2003 were promised fresh BDUs upon arrival, but shipments were slow to arrive, support commanders reported in March that they had already run out of desert fatigues. The Pentagon's Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia ordered manufacturers to increase production of desert camouflage at the expense of woodland BDUs.

A dearth of appropriately stealthy uniforms was also a problem during the first Gulf War, as many U.S. tropps were forced to were dark green. The Pentagon learned at least one lesson from the 1991 conflict, however: The Marines' anti-chemical-weapons suits, known as mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP) clothing used to be available only in woodland patterns. The latest MOPP gear features a three color desert design.

Military leaders insisted that the shortage of desert BDUs would not affect the safety of American soldiers. They pointed out that the Iraqs' terrain is not entirely Sahara like, and that green camouflage may have actually been ideal near the banks of the Euphrates River, where vegetation and mud are present.

The Pentagon is not alone in its camouflage foibles. The Canadian miliary was heavily criticized for dispatching troops to Afghanistan in woodland dress during Operation Endurin Freedom. In March 2003, Canada red faced Defense Department officially put a rush on an order for desert BDUs which wre to be sent ot the 2,000 peacekeepers the country had committed to Afghanistan.


In a New York Times article about a deadly raid he led while in Vietnam, former Senator Kerry said that during a visit to West Point in 2001, he read the rules of war for the first time.

What are the rules of war?

U.S. military personnel are governed by two sets of guidelines on how to behave during war or lesser conflicts. One is codified in the Army field manual "The Law of Land Warfare", first published in 1956, whcih draws on internationala law, such as the Geneva Conventions. The manuals' basic principle is that military personnel shouild "refrain from employing any kind or degree of violence which is not actually necessary for military purposes and that they conduct hostiliies with regard for the principles of humanity and chivalry". More specifically, it describes such things as the protection of civilians and the sick and the wounded from combat, the proper treatment of prisoners of war, and restrictions on certain types of weapons.

The second set of guidelines, subsidiary to the first, is know as the Rules of Engagement. The Rukles of Engagement are specific to each military situation and can be modified as circumstances change. For example, the Rules of Engagement might state that soldiers cannot fire on suspected enemy positions without positive identification of the enemy (being fired upon is always considered positiive indentification). Or that a U.S. airplane cannot fire on another aircraft because the other craft buzzed it but must wait for a more overty hostile action. Of course, none of the laws and rules is meant to undermine the ultimate right of self defense.

During Vietnam military personnel were given at best cursory leassons about the laws of warfare; today everyone in the armed forces is required to attend a yearly class on the subject. And the whole notion of rules of engagement was far more lax during Vietname that it is now. Today, for example, soldiers get more than just verbal instructions, they might also be issued cards with written instructions on the current Rules of Engagement of their particular missions.

(abstrated from the book: THE EXPLAINER by Slate Magazine)
posted by infraternam meam @ 12:57 AM  
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