Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Sussing The DU

A flurry of posts and articles (see previous post) came out the last few days on the use of depleted uranium by the U.S. in weapons, and especially horrifying was a video that purported to show the deformations of human beings caused by the fallout of uranium oxide, the by-product of aerosolized DU that forms upon impact. (Be warned: the video starts up immediately, and is extremely gruesome.)

The first thing that struck me was how like the Operation Rescue materials the video seemed, and that set off red flags. Emotional material is so easily used to sway people, and when it misrepresents facts, even for a good cause, it destroys the moral standing of the argument it's trying to make. So I did a little digging, and read a variety of pieces, from academic papers so thick with statistical math I could hardly get out alive, to the usual suspects like Mother Jones and Common Dreams.

From a 2002 book review in The Catholic Worker of “The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex”, by Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Helen Caldicott:
Dr. Caldicott documents that the US military's own medical studies have shown that DU can cause serious kidney damage, cancers of the lung and bone, skin disorders, neuro-cognitive disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.
Caldecott has been ringing the nuclear alarm for a long time, and she painted a dire picture of Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion.

Somewhat different in tone: a fascinating anti-nuclear website, the World Information Service on Energy, has a subsite devoted specifically to nuclear issues(the WISE Uranium Project), which includes an incredible source of DU info.
There you can read a carefully researched study by Dan Fahey, an expert in the field, that posits a cautious middle ground where the best scientific evidence can agree. But what a middle ground---all the ailments listed by Caldecott above, as well as a 10-30 year lag time that can result in symptoms and illnesses that can appear seemingly unrelated when they do manifest. There have been so few humans studied for their exposure that much remains to be learned, yet enough is known to flatly contradict Pentagon apologists who claim that it is harmless. On the other hand, there is evidence that some of the claims of great numbers of deaths from DU have been deliberately misleading, but again, so little study has been done (possibly to allow deniability?) that it's difficult to say. Fahey cautions that US government reports contain a wealth of information, but are also "laced with propaganda and lies that cast doubt upon their comprehensiveness and make their conclusions suspect," and that anti-DU reports are likewise suspect. He spares neither side. Read his recommendations, which include scientific studies of battlefields and exposed populations, and efforts to identify and cleanup contaminated battlefield areas, and explore the many impressive links in the back of the report.

The upshot of all this is that while I have no love for nukes and would love to see them wiped from the face of the earth in all forms, and there is nothing I would put past the Bush admin in its greed for hegemony, it doesn't help my position to jump on a bandwagon of propaganda just because it furthers my cause. Investigation and evidence is what is needed. Images are too precious in their ability to move viewers to be exploited into meaninglessness.


granny said...

I was surprised when so many people followed Hectate's link because I thought that it was old news that everybody already knew. The U.N. has a page up on it with even more disturbing photos, and notes that some of the deformed babies are children of Gulf War Vets.

Amy Goodman did a mindblowing lecture on NPR right before the war and she said that girls in Iraq were getting breast cancer as early as thirteen.

Most damning of all is the department of Defense itself. Because an estimated 100,000 soldiers have died or were incapacitated with Gulf War Syndrome, the DOD promised to give everybody thorough physicals before they were deployed to Iraq so they would have something to compare any future sicknesses to. The DOD promptly renegged on that promise and were sending people out with cursory medical summaries.

Tom Paine took out a full page ad in the NYT to inform and protest so the DOD relented. I lost track of the story at that point. When there is on outrage a minute from this crew of war criminals a lot of things fall by the wayside.

Riggsveda said...

I remember the soldiers being sent to Iraq without adequate physicals, granny. And some of them, I seem to recall, were being simply processed through in spite of their known medical histories, because there was such desperate need for cannon fodder and such a desire to put on a shock-and-awe circus that they were taking everyone with a pulse.

You're right: so many horrors compete for our attention that most fall through the cracks or attention to them dies an early death. The best we can do is pick our battles, focus closely on those that mean the most to us, and leave the rest for others to handle. Better to do few things effectively, than many things uselessly.