Discussion Forum

Casualties of War

Posted by Simon Stewart,
Sunday, April 13, 2003

'Among the calamities of war, may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.'  Samuel Johnson, 1758.

Welcome to the peace, a continuation of the war whatever some would like you to believe. 

The combined forces of the US and UK have left some rather curious gifts on the soil of Iraq. One of these is depleted uranium (DU) which will carry on killing and poisoning Iraqis for a very long time.

Depleted uranium is a toxic, radioactive, heavy metal waste product of the nuclear industry (Uranium 238) which is used as both tank armour and in armour-piercing shells.  It was used extensively in the first Gulf War (hence Gulf War Syndrome), Kosovo and in Bosnia, and now, widely, in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  It is classified by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a 'weapon of indiscriminate effect'.  On of its attractions to the military is that it is pyrophoric, it burns on impact.  This makes it a radiological hazard as these fiery impacts create dust like particles, which are small enough to inhale.  They emit alpha, bets and gamma radiation and can cause cancer.  Being a heavy metal, like lead, it is also chemically poisonous even to water supplies.  The MoD was first given warnings about DU as early as 1991, and Hoon, Minister of Defence, was stating only last October 'that recent hysteria over the impact of firing DU on health and environment was without factual foundation.'  He and the MoD have been back tracking a little since then, but not much.

Which contrasts with the view of Professor Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's Depleted Uranium Project - 'stuff of nightmares'.  Involved in the clean up of DU in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the first Gulf War and now suffering breathing difficulties, nerve damage and kidney problems - ten of his fifty strong team are now dead - says DU 'is toxic, radioactive, and pollutes for 4,500 years million years.  It causes lymphoma, neuro-psychotic disordersŠ In semen it causes birth defects and trashes the immune system.'  As many as 250,000 Iraqis may be affected from the first Gulf War.  Robert Fisk of the Independent recently wrote of such heavily bombed cities as Basra - 'Each time I came across terrifying new cancers among those who lived there.  Babies were being born with no arms or no noses or no eyes.  Children were bleeding internally or suddenly developing grotesque tumours.'

We have just compounded the horror of the use of depleted uranium in the first Gulf War with its further use in this one.  Iraqis are going to be living this out for decades to come; a fresh batch of British soldiers will be beginning to incubate Gulf War Syndrome.  All because we could not, or would not, bundle up human rights inspection, and encouragement of democratic institutions, with weapons inspection but followed up on a failed policy of sanctions, and containment through bombing, without outright invasion.

PS.  A very good definition of anarchism, unlike the wholly inadequate if not specious one offered so far, can be found in the Oxford Companion To Philosophy.  Further reading would be George Woodcock's Anarchism - a classic - and edited by him, Anarchist Primer.  April Carter's, The Political Theory of Anarchism is very approachable and particularly good in discussing anarchism's critique of the state.  Anarchism is useful as an ideal type philosophy of optimism and this lefty trimmer has always been engaged by its critique of the state, and state power.  To merely posit anarchy by its popular meaning of lawlessness and disorder is banal.