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The human cost of war

July 1, 1993

The human cost of war

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

As the Bush administration inches closer to war with Iraq, it may be time to consider the results of the first Gulf War. That is something national media do not mention.

Last month, the Washington Post ran an article stating about 160,000 Gulf War veterans are ill. The writer mentioned stress and muscle aches, but he said nothing about disability.

The Veterans Administration says 159,238 soldiers who were in that war are disabled. Better than 111,000 of that number are disabled 10 percent or more. That war has claimed 8,000 American lives. All of that was released in September, but not reported in the media.

Many Gulf War veterans are victims of depleted uranium, the radioactive residue used in some U.S. munitions. Iraq is littered with the remains of such shells, which are believed responsible for the astronomically high incidence of cancers in Iraq’s children.

In one U.S. unit of 100 troops, 30 have died and all but one of the remainder are ill. The sorry aspect of some of this is that many of our soldiers then were contaminated with uranium munitions through “friendly fire,” that is, the shots were fired by our side.

Major Doug Rokke (Retd.) was a health physicist for the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium Assessment Team in Iraq. Rokke has a 40 percent disability. The uranium in his urine is 5,000 times greater than the allowable level. He has trouble breathing.

His unit was brought in back in 1991 to clean up contamination after our troops mistakenly used depleted uranium ammunition against our own personnel.

Nobody told Rokke how dangerous the job was. He and the others in his group had no protective gear. They went into knocked out tanks and other battlefield sites that way. Within 72 hours, they began growing sick. They had respiratory problems and bleeding rashes. Over time, several of the team died. Rokke said they were ignored by the Defense Department.

A grateful government fired him after he wrote a report saying the Army had major liability for contamination from a base in Alabama.

After the war, the government claimed only 800 U.S. casualties were sustained. But a multitude of veterans grew ill. They weren’t all combat troops; many were soldiers who went into the Gulf countries after the war. The VA has recognized 60,000 of these “theater veterans” as disabled. Some 2,000 of them have died.

That demonstrates that countries like Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia remain highly contaminated. Depleted uranium has a half-life of something like 45 billion years.

Rokke said there’s nothing depleted about these munitions. When these shells exploded, about half the uranium they contained was released as tiny particles. These settle into the dust and continue their deadly work for a very long time.

Britain has said it intends to use such weapons if we go to war again against Iraq. America is expected to do likewise. These items are popular because they are made from cast off nuclear waste. The British use it in anti-tank shells.

This against a nation whose population is 50 percent children, age 15 and younger.

The DU munitions aren’t the only hazard. Our troops were given pills to thwart the effects of Sarin gas, anthrax shots and other pharmaceuticals, now including smallpox vaccine.

In the first war, we fought the battles without considering the long-term effects of sophisticated weaponry and powerful drugs. Can we be confident that our military leaders and political powers have been any more thorough this time?

Victory may come quickly, but its price could be very steep.

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