of the legacies of the Vietnam War is the now infamous quote from an
American military press officer, "we had to destroy the village
in order to save it." Rings some bells these days. In the name
of "fighting terror," countries with secret weapons programs
are poised to pulverize Iraq because of its secret weapons programs.
And Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are being used against civilians
in order to prevent WMD from being used against civilians.
Case in point: the American militaryís ongoing use of depleted uranium
(DU), despite numerous independent studies warning of DUís toxic-radioactive
effects. Research conducted six months before the Gulf War found that
short-term high doses of DU could result in death, and long-term low
doses could lead to cancer. Regardless, American forces used DU weapons
in the 1991 Gulf war, the 1999 Balkan conflict, and the recent hostilities
in Afghanistan. It can be assumed that DU weaponry will be used in any
upcoming attack on Iraq as well.
The implications are staggering. The Geneva Conventions clearly ban
weapons that continue to kill or cause genetic effects after the fighting
ends, not to mention weapons that unduly damage the natural environment.
DU fails miserably on each count. And DU makes no distinction between
friend and foe - its victims include local civilians as well as service
members sent abroad to fight.
Hundreds of thousands of US and allied troops entered areas heavily
contaminated by DU dust and debris in the Gulf War, and at least 11
tons of DU was used by NATO forces in the Balkans. In Afghan cities
subjected to allied bombing, uranium concentrations were recorded at
400% to 200% above normal, with birth defects sharply on the rise.
Stats like these would indicate an urgent push to unravel DUís deadly
legacy and prevent further harm; instead, there seems to have been an
urgent push to cover up the facts.
In an ominous 1991 memo, US Lt. Col. Ziehmn said that despite concerns
over their toxic effects, if DU weapons "proved their worth during
our recent combat activities, then we should assure their future existence
... I believe we should keep this sensitive issue at mind when after-action
reports are written." This institutionalized denial could explain
why governmental studies into the health effects of DU on Gulf war veterans
have included flaws and omissions, such as lengthy delays ensuring that
many DU acute exposure victims have been dead too long for autopsies
to be adequately performed. It may also explain why the United Nations
Environment Program (UNEP) took a full 18 months after the Balkan conflict
to begin investigating post-war uranium contamination, and why, even
as late as last year, the US and UK governments vetoed a proposed World
Health Organization (WHO) study into the health effects of DU on Iraqi
DUís ability to penetrate hard targets is desirable militarily, but
alternatives such as Tungsten can achieve similar results without the
radiation hazards. What then justifies the continued use of DU?
One answer might lie in a powerful corporate lobby: 99% of nuclear industry
uranium waste is DU. In other words, by providing DU for weaponry, the
nuclear industry not only makes a tidy profit but avoids the expensive
hassle of disposing nuclear waste as well. Pretty sweet deal.
Bush has been a friend to the nuclear industry from the start, by opposing
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and thumbing his nose at the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. With 2002ís Nuclear
Posture Review (NPR), however, the Bush administration raised the
nuclear ante to critical heights. Among other proposals, NPR says the
US could use nuclear weapons in the vaguely worded "event of surprising
military developments," and lists such cases as a China-Taiwan
conflict, an attack by Iraq on one of its neighbors, or an Arab-Israeli
In tandem with NPR, the Bush administration has publicly euphemized
nuclear weapons as "low-yield," "tactical," and
"user-friendly." (How significant that one of the brains behind
current US nuclear policy, Dr. Keith Payne, is best known for his 1980ís
essay "Victory is Possible," an optimistic approach to all-out
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld continually warns of
rogue states holding "America hostage to nuclear blackmail,"
but fails to mention his own contribution: Rumsfeld
was on the board of ABB, a company that sold hundreds of millions
of dollars of equipment and services to North Korean nuclear plants.
Itís another intriguing coincidence that despite his administrationís
slamming "axis of evil" nukes, Bush
recently requested $3.5 million in funding for a consortium currently
building nuclear reactors in North Korea.
Double speak? Denial? Impending danger? And donít forget that India
and Pakistan are still rattling nuclear sabers, Israel has a complete
nuclear arsenal, and Britainís Tony Blair has publicly declared the
possibility of using nuclear weapons in an attack on Iraq.
Yet every day weíre told the important issue is that "time is running
out for Saddam," a message ludicrous at best: Iraqís army is weak,
its population vanquished by years of inhumane sanctions and as Secretary
of State Colin Powell recently admitted, even he has not seen the supposed
evidence linking Iraq with al-Qaeda or ongoing development of weapons
of mass destruction.
Wokusch is a free lance writer. She can be reached via her web