OUR CURRENT NUCLEAR WAR
C. A. Hilgartner, MD
The issues in the proposed "preemptive" strike against Iraq go beyond making the United States the aggressors; beyond violating international law, the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Decisions, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, etc. They even go beyond committing genocide against the Iraqi people. Our proposed attack amplifies the outrage already committed in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, where we destroyed the foundations of all life, human and other.
In order to understand what I say, look up "depleted uranium" on a search engine. Also, read the book, Metal of Dishonor, by Helen Caldicott, et al (paperback, 1997).
I offer my comments in outline form, as briefly as possible.
0. Natural uranium occurs in several isotopes, including a fissionable isotope, symbolized as U-235, which we could in principle use to make nuclear "devices", nuclear power plants, etc.; and the most common isotope, U-238, which will not undergo nuclear fission. "Depleted" uranium means that some portion of the military-industrial complex has already extracted the fissionable U-235 -- leaving behind the 99.3% of the original sample, which consists mainly of U-238. The weapons with which we have armed our military forces use depleted uranium projectiles, a coating of depleted uranium on our bombs, etc.
1. Uranium has a very high density -- 1.8 times that of lead. Projectiles or missiles containing depleted uranium have such a high momentum that they penetrate standard steel armor, etc., "like butter." When they strike an obstacle, the uranium shatters into fine particles, about 70% of which then spontaneously burn, in the oxygen of the atmosphere, into uranium oxide smoke -- forming aerosol particles, less than 5 microns in diameter. These particles will travel long distances when airborne.
Organisms -- human or non-human -- exposed to particles of this size will breathe them in and retain at least some of them, will get them into any wounds they may have, etc.
2. Uranium, like lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc., functions as a poison if it gets inside a living organism.
3. Uranium spontaneously undergoes radioactive decay, emitting two kinds of ionizing radiation: alpha particles (helium nuclei, traveling at velocities close to the speed of light -- very heavy, very harmful, but not able to penetrate very far) and gamma rays (like super-energetic X-rays -- very harmful, and able to penetrate).
4. A sample of U-238 has a half-life of almost 4.5 BILLION years. Since the era in which the sun and all the different planets formed, approximately half of the entire quantity of U-238 in our solar system has by now decayed. It will take that long for half of the remainder to decay.
5. Ionizing radiation damages any living organism which it strikes. All known kinds of living organisms make and use DNA to store, preserve and reproduce the kind of information needed to grow and maintain that kind of living organism. DNA specifically absorbs ionizing radiation, getting damaged or destroyed when it does so. Ionizing radiation does other kinds of harm to living organisms, less well understood. Any organism with blood capillaries -- the kind of circulatory system we humans have -- proves particularly vulnerable to ionizing radiation. A whole-body dose of something like 500 roentgen units suffices to kill at least half of a population of humans. Having a source of ionizing radiation INSIDE of a living organism proves particularly harmful. And a chemically toxic source of radiation proves even more harmful.
6. Back at the height of the Cold War, some Americans began speculating about what would happen if a Malevolent Enemy should release a few grams, or pounds, of some finely-divided radioactive isotope upwind of some American population center. The consequences they envisioned seemed horrifying -- and predictably accurate in terms of what scientists know about the effects of ionizing radiation on living organisms.
In the course of the first Gulf War, our forces bombarded the people, non-human organisms and terrain of Iraq with something on the order of 312 tons of depleted uranium -- approximately 624,000 pounds of uranium, about 436,000 pounds of it in the form of aerosol particles of uranium oxide.
If the US government would permit anyone to go into Iraq and measure radioactive contamination of the terrain in various places, I surmise that they might find that at least parts of Iraq got so heavily contaminated with uranium as to render them uninhabitable -- as did some parts of the American Southwest.
I invite you to go on the internet and find some of the reports of the plight of the civilians -- the men, women and children -- of Iraq today. I predict that you will find accounts of radiation sickness, uranium toxicity, leukemias and cancers, birth defects, grossly deformed babies, stillborns, etc., etc.
After the first Gulf war, some of our returning soldiers experienced ill-defined symptoms which got labeled "Gulf War Syndrome". As I understand it, these veterans received no information at all about the possibility that they may have gotten exposed to ionizing radiation, including internal particles of uranium, both from handling the weapons issued to them as well as from the uranium they distributed by using those weapons. As I understand it, our veterans found great difficulty getting any effective medical attention at all, from the VA Hospital system, and perhaps, elsewhere.
The US. Veterans Administration prepared a report on a state-wide survey of the reproductive health of 251 families of Gulf War veterans living in Mississippi. The report deals with their children conceived and born since the war. They found that sixty-seven percent of the babies born had severe eye defects or no eyes and ears -- along with susceptibility to infections, respiratory problems, other, less obvious birth defects, high incidence of leukemias, cancers, etc.
7. By now, anyone in the "developed" world who can field an army has supplied their armed forces with uranium-tipped weapons. Any military unit that engages in maneuvers -- if they fire their depleted uranium weapons -- will leave that part of Earth's crust contaminated with fragments and colloidal particles of uranium.
As I understand it, in order to provide any hope of withstanding the fire of an enemy armed with depleted uranium weapons, our weapons manufacturers have lined our tanks, and perhaps, other vehicles, with depleted uranium armor. Every time their crews enter and operate these vehicles, they climb into a radiation chamber. Anyone who manufactures, transports, handles or fires uranium-tipped or -lined weapons gets exposed to ionizing radiation. And every microgram of uranium used in a military campaign gets left there, to poison and irradiate any living organisms that wander by.
8. INFERENCE: Any warfare in which the combatants use depleted uranium weapons makes the planet less habitable. How much of that kind of insult will it take to make Planet Earth as uninhabitable as our Moon?
No one knows for sure.
And we can't find out -- make the required careful, and repeated, measurements -- without in the process sterilizing our planet. If the experiments leave any humans living, how could we conclude that we had in fact applied enough insult to make the planet uninhabitable?
Of course, as Jonathan Schell pointed out in his book, The Fate of the Earth, under the conditions signified by the word extinction, the planet would harbor no humans to observe present conditions and generate a report, and no humans to report to.
9. THE MAIN ISSUE in the "To War Or Not To War" debate: Do we DESIRE to sterilize our planet? Do we actually SEEK to produce species suicide and extinction of humans, and perhaps, pan-biocide -- the annihilation of the other kinds of living organisms also?
In my opinion, the decision -- no matter who makes it, or why -- the decision to GO to war risks sterilizing Planet Earth.