Destroying the Village to Save Weapons Manufacturers

One 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 military’s ongoing use of depleted uranium (DU), despite numerous independent studies warning of DU’s 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 DU’s 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 civilians.

DU’s 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 2002’s 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 war.

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 1980’s essay "Victory is Possible," an optimistic approach to all-out nuclear war.)

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. It’s another intriguing coincidence that despite his administration’s 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 don’t forget that India and Pakistan are still rattling nuclear sabers, Israel has a complete nuclear arsenal, and Britain’s Tony Blair has publicly declared the possibility of using nuclear weapons in an attack on Iraq.

Yet every day we’re told the important issue is that "time is running out for Saddam," a message ludicrous at best: Iraq’s 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.