In these days of doublespeak war hysteria, we are being treated to a mirror world--one of destruction and annihilation, concealed behind lies and omissions that masquerade as truth. It's the tortured logic President Bush recently used to justify the unlimited war powers he craves: "If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force."
But as our leaders rally for another Persian Gulf blowout, they seem to have forgotten the unspoken world of toxicity our troops were exposed to in the 1991 Gulf War--and the increased dangers awaiting today's service members. While 147 US troops were killed in action in the Gulf War, almost 7,800 have since, and close to 200,000 (a whopping 28%) have filed claims for medical and compensation benefits. The UK figures are proportionately similar, and shockingly, of the 537 UK vets that have died since the Gulf War ended, a full 70% killed themselves.
The suspected culprit? A deadly syndrome called Gulf War Illness which, despite $150 million and years of studies, remains elusive. Potential causes range from the unproven vaccines and drugs that were forced on troops, pollution from burning oil wells, radiation from the Depleted Uranium Munitions of allied forces, or an especially horrific case of friendly fire--the exposure of more than 100,000 service members to chemical warfare agents when US forces conducted demolition operations at Khamisiyah.
Despite the debilitating physical and emotional consequences of Gulf War Illness, veterans were denied treatment for many years, and still face an uphill battle in getting proper support or compensation. The US Department for Veterans' Affairs has been accused of withholding death and disability statistics so as not to undermine the administration's case for another Gulf war, and only a few weeks ago, almost 12 years after the fact, a study was finally published stating that Gulf War Illness is not "just in the minds" of its sufferers.
Nor is it, however, in the minds of the administration. Disability and suffering don't fit well in the world-domination equation. An unlimited number of fresh young troops is necessary for an unlimited war, and if the toxic dangers they will face are greater this time around than (which they likely will be, given the emphasis on ground warfare) then so be it. Simple message: service members are heroes, but they are also expendable, and when the battle ends they should nurse their afflictions quietly and without complaint.
Such a laissez-faire attitude toward toxicity abroad is in some ways not surprising, given Vice President Dick Cheney's recent history with poisonous chemicals at home. As CEO of oil-field services company Halliburton, Cheney engineered the purchase of a number of companies that later got hit with asbestos-related claims, a liability that is now estimated will cost Halliburton $2.2 billion over the next 15 years. Cheney has pushed for legislation limiting workers' rights to file claims for asbestos-related illnesses, but he is not alone in the fight--250 of the world's largest corporations recently petitioned the US Supreme Court to make it harder for victims to sue. With the number of claims in the hundreds of thousands and rising every day, however, it is clear the asbestos time-bomb can't be denied. Fred Baron, a Dallas-based trial lawyer representing asbestos victims, has said "there will be a jihad" against those individuals and corporations trying to limit a victim's right to sue, and adds "we will fight them with everything we've got." At issue are toxic dangers (at home and abroad) linked by governmental and corporate denial regarding their deadly effects on the population. But the hazards and suffering toxicity brings can no longer be relegated to some unacknowledged separate world; we must expose our hidden bombs for what they are, then demand justice for those afflicted and fight to prevent new casualties.