America's dirty bombs – and dirty little secret | OPINION: Peter Eichenberger | Indy Week

Ye Olde Archives » OPINION: Peter Eichenberger

America's dirty bombs – and dirty little secret



Finally, some good news concerning the Bush posse's reckless rush toward war. Saturday's mass, global actions were an unparalleled success, motivating the largest demonstrations in history. And in the aftermath, a sea change; the press finally acknowledged that sheer numbers are weighing in against Bush's right-wing fundamentalist/Zionist zealot Armageddon wet dream.

Locally, The News & Observer finally got the crowd figures about right (6,000 or so by my estimate), using an elementary technique of crowd counting (a stationary observer along the march route). The New York Times, however, botched it, omitting (again) that all-important last decimal place that would have correctly placed the European figures not at "hundreds of thousands" but the millions there actually were.

There is reality and there is "news." And when that doesn't fit the average American's idea of what they are instructed to believe, it is quite easy to be castigated as a nut, or worse--that dismissive, patronizing little titter, "Oh, you conspiracy freaks."

Here's one unexamined truth the American media have mostly ignored: Gulf War I, as well as the Kosovo action, were actually nuclear (more accurately, "radiological") wars via the unrestrained use of depleted uranium armor penetrating ammo. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and on the heels of 12 NATO soldiers deployed in Kosovo now dying of cancers, Italy, Belgium, France, Portugal and Germany have demanded that NATO conduct an investigation into U.S. depleted uranium ammo lest the issue sunder the alliance--as it is threatening to do.

Our country bombarded those sad, little places with literally hundreds of tons of radioactive compounds. Depleted uranium is some scary stuff. It comes in a variety of configurations of armor-piercing projectiles--from 30-mm chain gun ammo to 155-mm artillery shells. Militarily, the beauty of the stuff is that first, it is waste--so it is "free." Second, in its unfired state, it emits relatively low radiation, so it is "safe" for military personnel to handle. Third, it is extremely heavy, and in ammo, heavy is good. Fourth, when depleted uranium strikes armor, it burns and self-sharpens as it goes through--and when it penetrates, well, you can imagine what it does to the crew (think of blackened, deep-fried grasshoppers). Then it leaves fine, black 5-micron particles that leave the battlefield and the scrap highly toxic and radioactive.

Depleted uranium travels deeply into lungs and gets into water, air and unborn children, making the United States guilty of "dirty bombing" non-combatants as well as our own soldiers--acts strictly forbidden under the rules of war. The result of this indiscriminate spraying of a million or so of these rounds has been linked to increased cancers and birth abnormalities.

In the last few years, depleted uranium stories have been a staple of the European press. FAIR reported in 2001 that the London Independent had run 14 original articles, the staid London Times, 12, the Daily Telegraph, 10 and the Guardian, eight.

And the U.S. press in the same interval? A smattering of short briefs and wire stories. The only American paper that chose to publish an op-ed piece was the Seattle Times. The only other coverage was three stories in The New York Times, two in the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post, and one apiece in the L.A. Times, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor. My own research produced a 2000 index that gave 13 domestic sources out of close to 80 internationally (reminding you that we alone manufacture and use the stuff). Calculate that against the really important stuff, like who Britney is bonking these days. (Google gives 11,100 sites for depleted uranium munitions and 1,820,000 for Miss Spears.)

Dr. Helen Caldicott, the world-renowned anti-nuke campaigner, says The New York Times commissioned her to write a piece. "They sent it back and said, 'we are unable to publish this,' as if someone is preventing them," she told a radio interviewer. "Yeah, probably the Pentagon. So I sent it to USA Today; they said, too technical. It wasn't technical at all. The L.A. Times--they wouldn't publish it. There is a total blackout on this event in the U.S. media, a total cover-up." Another paranoid conspiracy freak?

Of the 698,000 Gulf War veterans (552,000 deployed during the hostilities), 400,000 may have been zapped by the stuff either through inhalation, ingestion, or via incurred wound contamination by depleted uranium dust during combat or mopping the mess up after the shooting stopped. By the middle of the 1990s, 187,000 veterans sought medical help and 18,200 have been hospitalized. In the department of Like Duh, the DOD and VA have been predictably silent over the effects, just as they pooh-poohed the Vietnam vets' Agent Orange claims. The U.S. Department of State, Office of International Information Programs, actively denies the hazards of exposure to depleted uranium. It wouldn't take a genius to figure out there is a juicy lawsuit against the fiends who cooked this diabolical stuff up. Perhaps Johnny Edwards should use some of his courtroom acumen. Nah, fugetabout it, he's already turning into one of "them," seems like.

A larger issue that hasn't been covered is that NATO and the United States violated international law with the use of these weapons. The spin is so bad that Nightline called that an "astonishing claim."

That may not be the only use of nuclear materials by the United States if it goes to war. The L.A. Times has distinguished itself by examining an American contingency being considered in the White House that calls for the use of tactical nuclear weapons--to the horror of some in the Pentagon. At the very least, the war plan calls for firing in the first 48 hours the same amount of ammo expended in the entire first Gulf war--3,000 to 7,000 Tomahawks (not to mention the other stuff). This would create a gush of fire from the heavens exceeding the destructive power unleashed over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.

This information (when you dig it up) usually remains in the world of the abstract, and that is a good thing. Abstraction is a safe harbor where one can remain detached. Black specks on the page. But all of it came into tight-focused reality one recent night. I was cooling my brain with a beer and started talking to the guy sitting next to me at Sadlack's. He was deployed with the 82nd Airborne, the 3rd 504th, in the Gulf War. After his deployment, he says he suffered from respiratory problems, rashes and strange lumps on his body. He was told by the military that his ailments were possibly due to exposure to the battlefield conditions; burning petroleum, mustard gas, sarin gas, stress, anything but the real possibility of U.S. munitions injuring our own guys. The soldiers were not advised to avoid battlefield wreckage, were not given protective gear, were not even told that depleted uranium had been used.

All the facts swimming around in my head, and here is a living, breathing witness, a guinea pig for the madness of modern warfare, U.S. style. "They killed me," he said. "They killed my buddy, too, who's dying of pancreatic cancer." I could do nothing except tell this gravely injured man that I would do what I could to get justice. In the end, I hugged this perfect stranger. "Call me," he said. "I will." He walked into night. EndBlock

URLs of interest's piece on depleted uranium. Caldicott's piece about depleted uranium from the World Health Organization. veterans' anti-war site about the Department of Defense not informing troops they were being nuked. as/2247600.stm--A piece on former arms inspector Scott Ritter's opposition to war on Iraq.

Peter Eichenberger can be reached at

Add a comment