"'Well, son, you've graduated, you've got a good chemistry degree, you're a fine worker with a great future - what do you think you're going to do with your life?' Old Jack Mathews looked proudly at his son. He had worked hard for the boy and put in long hours of overtime in the steel mills so his son could have the best education money could buy; now here was John Jr, fresh from the graduation ceremony, still in his gown, holding mortar and graduation scroll awkwardly in one hand, clinging to his mother's hand with the other. It was a high point in all their lives the old man thought, as they stood among the crowds of excited students and proudly smiling parents.
"The boy hesitated, wondering how to express himself. It was something he had thought about for these past two years, the years when he realized he had the talents to become a really great scientist - not just a glorified bottle-washer and lab assistant, but an innovator, a man who could transmute ideas into reality. He had an honours degree of such quality that recruiters from industry were besieging him like scouts from the major leagues trying to sign the school's ace pitcher. 'Well, Dad', he said hesitantly, almost shyly. 'I've given it a lot of thought. I've looked at the prospectuses, I've talked to the dean of the chemistry school. I've talked it over with all my friends. Dad', he burst out excitedly, unable to hold back the secret any longer, 'I'm going into ordnance'.
"Seeing the puzzled looks on the old people's faces, he felt he had to explain, the words tumbling over themselves as his innermost thoughts jostled for expression. 'See, I've been reading a lot about high-explosive shells, about mines and bombs and rockets, and I feel there's a lot I can contribute there. It's a field with real problems and challenges, Dad. I mean - well, how do you get white phosphorus liquid enough so that it will really splash when the shells explode - not just in lumps, but soft so that it will spread all over a person's body? And how do you develop the sort of alloys that fracture into razor blades, so they really slash through kids' arms and legs? And bombs - Dad, I could think about bombs all day. Someone, and it could just be me, is going to work out one day how you get a bomb that will bore through 8 floors of an apartment block and then explode, so the whole thing crunches up like a deck of cards. And cluster bombs - they're so primitive now - I mean, half of those bomblets don't go off at all, and the rest of them are so under-powered they'll barely take a hand or a foot off. Dad, I tell you, there's a whole new world out there, and I mean to be part of it. It's my future, Dad!' Well, somebody must have thought like that you reflect, as you stand in the Gaza Hospital and look at what, on a backyard barbecue, would be a marvellous piece of T-bone. Dark brown and crackly on the surface, the deeper cracks showing the rare red meat underneath, the juices trickling down on the crisp sesame roll - sorry, on to the pillow - and in the middle of that juicy piece of protein a pair of eyes - pure Magritte, my dear. I do wish you could have seen it, complete with that little blue plug at the bottom to let the air get to the centre of the meat, but it went off, unfortunately, and just had to be thrown away after a couple of hours... such a waste. Plenty more, of course, but that one - just a touch of tabasco, maybe a little mayonnaise, and Graig Claiborne would have had it in colour in The New York Times magazine.
"Some little Arthur or Carl-Heinz or Nathan or Kenzo or whoever probably spent a year or more working on that phosphorus problem. From my days at school, I seem to remember that it came in big hard yellow lumps and didn't spread at all. Someone with a Ph.D. in chemistry sat up all night worrying about Willie Pete and how you get it to spread like jello. No point in having a shell that explodes and just gives someone a headache when he gets whacked by a great hard lump of phosphorus - you've got to thin it out so it spreads like something Helena Rubenstein dreamed about: dragon-licks on your face and your arms and your tits and your balls, fizzing through your skin... the ultimate wrinkle-remover. Great thing about it, ordnance-wise, is that the bugger doesn't stop burning if you bandage it or throw water on it, or even so forget your dignity as to writhe in the dust: it just keeps burning and smoking away.
"Not that you absolutely had to be barbecued - the nice thing about Beirut this time was that everyone was given a wide variety of choices: everyday, something different. If you wanted a body that would have looked good as a rib joint, you stayed in your seaside apartment and waited for the navy to pump phosphorus shells in to the living-room - somehow, the navy more than anyone else seemed to have a real affection for the stuff. But if you wanted something a bit cleaner - more surgical, really - then it was better to hang around in the camps and wait for tank rounds and the 155s to open up. Lots of shrapnel flying around to slit you open, rip your guts out, cut your throat - and you hardly felt it until you saw the looks on the faces of the ambulance guys picking you up: first a foot, then your body, put that leg in the plastic bag, maybe they can sew that chest up. There was even something for the kids: cluster-bombs, such fun things. Big grey-white bean-pods that opened up and then these cute little golf balls all over the place. Kids just love playing with things like that . . . and they weren't all that harmful. I mean, they'll take your hands off and split your forearms open so they look like red orchids, and maybe little Abdul will come home slightly blinded, and there's always some klutz who will kick one in the dark and ruin his chances of playing for Spurs; but basically those little balls gave kids a chance to participate, actually participate in a war, and still be around afterwards to tell their kids about what fun it all was. Looking back on it, that was the nice thing about the Beirut siege: the Israelis made it everyone's siege; they spread the fun around so that, at the end of it, nobody in west Beirut could complain that he'd been left out of the action." (God Cried, Tony Clifton, 1983 pp 69-70)
"The Times has identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from high-resolution images taken of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) artillery units on the Israel-Gaza border this week. The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made WP munition... The rounds, which explode in a shower of burning white streaks, were first identified by The Times... when they were fired over Gaza at the start of Israel's ground offensive. Artillery experts said the Israelis would be in trouble if they were banned from using WP because it is the simplest way of creating smoke to protect them from enemy fire. There were indications last night that Palestinian civilians have been injured by the bombs, which burn intensely. Hassan Khalass, a doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, told The Times that he had been dealing with patients who he suspected had been burnt by white phosphorus. Muhammad Azayzeh, 28, an emergency medical technician in the city, said: 'The burns are very unusual. They don't look like burns we have normally seen. They are third-level burns that we can't seem to control'." (Gaza victims' burns increase concern over phosphorus, Michael Evans, 8/1/09)
"Erik Fosse, a Norwegian doctor who worked in Gaza's hospitals during the conflict, said that Israel was using so-called DIME (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small place. The bombs are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries. Dr Fosse said he had seen a number of patients with extensive injuries to their lower bodies. 'It was as if they had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in the wounds', he said. 'Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been in war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before'. However, the injuries matched photographs and descriptions in medical literature of the effects of DIME bombs." ('Tungsten bombs' leave Israel's victims with mystery wounds, Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, 18/1/09)
"... other foreign doctors working in Gaza have reported injuries they cannot explain. Professor Mohammed Sayed Khalifa, a cardiac consultant from Sudan, said that 2 of his patients had had uncontrollable bleeding. 'One had a chest operation, and continued bleeding even after having been given large quantities of plasma', he said. 'The other had what seemed to be a minor leg injury, but collapsed with profuse bleeding. Something was interfering with the clotting process. I have never seen such a thing before'. Dr Ahmed Almi, an Egyptian cardio-thoracic consultant at al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, said he had seen a number of patients with inexplicable injuries. A boy of 14 had a small puncture wound in his head, but extensive damage to his brain, making it impossible to save his life. 'I don't know the nature or type of these weapons that make a very small [entry wound] and go on and make massive destruction in the tissues', he said." (ibid)