James A. Stevenson :
copyright April 13, 2003
Some Modern Weapons’ Effects
No words are really capable of describing
the physical reality of the wounds and deaths inflicted by the weapons
that will be described in this essay, but some writers have come closer
than most. Foremost among these writers are physician Helen Caldicott
and the combat journalist John Pilger. And it is from these authors
that we can learn at least something about a few modern weapons’ effects
on human beings. Many people, including children, have experienced
these effects. Indeed, through weapons handling or "friendly fire"
incidents in the Gulf War, Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, even some U.S.
and British soldiers have experienced some of these effects. At any
rate, various people have experienced either the direct or indirect impact
of some of the following individual weapons or some combination of weapons.
These weapons are the ones that may be in use in the U.S.-British war with
Iraq. They include: 15,000 and 21,500 pound Fuel Air Explosives
(FAEs) known as "Daisy Cutters," and cluster bombs out of each of which
explodes 202 bomblets that burst to send millions of shards of razor-sharp
shrapnel over an area the size 22 football fields, and implosion
bombs, and deep penetration bombs sheathed in depleted uranium, and Cruise
missiles, and depleted uranium 238 shells, and bombing by B-52s or
other high flying craft.
Referring to the gruesome effect of B-52 bombing, long-time combat journalist John Pilger once described what happens when people are hit by 70 tons of B-52 bombs dropped in the "long box" pattern (i.e., carpet bombing). Noting that the U.S. military "presumed" that everything inside a "box" would be destroyed, Pilger found that such was nearly true when, during the U.S.-Vietnam War, he reached the Vietnamese village inside the "box" that had just been hit with "three ladders of bombs." He discovered that a crater had replaced the street and wrote: "I slipped on the severed shank of a buffalo and fell hard into a ditch filled with pieces of [human] limbs and the intact bodies of children thrown into the air by the blast. The children’s skin had folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead. A small leg [of one child] had been so contorted by the blast that the foot seemed to be growing from a shoulder. I vomited. . . . this is what I saw, and often; yet . . . I never saw images of these grotesque sights on television or in the pages of a newspaper. I saw them only pinned on the walls of news agency offices in Saigon as a kind of freaks’ gallery."
Likewise, Helen Caldicott describes what happens to people when they are blasted by 15,000-pound Fuel Air Explosives (i.e., "Daisy Cutters"). These U.S. bombs, and their latest bigger 21,500-pound version, are so huge that they have to be dropped by parachute from the rear of huge cargo planes. When they explode a few feet above ground, they create a wide area of destruction with devastating fire and blast. Typically holding explosive charges, this bomb goes off when the "first explosion bursts the container [of] . . . fuel which mixes with atmospheric oxygen. The second charge then detonates this fuel-air cloud, creating a massive blast that kills people and destroys unreinforced buildings [i.e., homes and businesses rather than military bunkers]. Near the ignition point people are obliterated, crushed to death with overpressures of 427 pounds per square inch, and incinerated at temperatures of 2500 to 3000 degrees centigrade. . . . [A] vacuum effect — then ensues. People in the second zone of destruction are severely burned and suffer massive internal organ injuries before they die. In the third zone, [possibly extending as far as twenty miles from ground zero], eyes are extruded from their orbits, lungs and ear drums rupture, and severe concussion ensues." In Afghanistan, Caldicott notes, "Up to 200 civilians died 20 miles away from the bombs detonation point]. . . . They suffered blast trauma — ruptured lungs, blindness, arms and hands blown off, almost certainly from FAEs (i.e., Daisy Cutters)."
As for the deaths and injuries caused by the flesh-ripping shrapnel shot out by "cluster bombs," these weapons simply lacerate the people that they hit with various amounts of multiple wounds. And if they don’t kill outright, there is little that medical personnel can do to stop severely wounded people from slowly or quickly bleeding to death from scores to hundreds of unclinchible wounds.
Likewise, the medical consequences resulting from the use of depleted uranium 238 shells and bombs are such as to be largely untreatable and vast in their mass destructiveness. U.S. and British troops have already shot 300-800 tons of depleted, cancer-causing, uranium 238 shells at Iraqis in the first Gulf War of 1991. Explaining what this means for flesh and blood — including the flesh and blood of U.S. troops — Caldicott starts with the technical aspect of uranium 238, and writes: "No dose of radiation is safe, and radiation is biologically cumulative — each dose adds to the risk of cancer development years later. . . . Uranium 238, the un-fissionable isotope remaining after enrichment is dubbed depleted uranium, or DU." It is "1.7 times more dense than lead and is therefore extremely effective as ammunition for penetrating metal armor. . . . [But] [u]ranium 238 can also be used as armor plating in tanks because its density prevents penetration by conventional weapons. . . ." "Uranium 238," Dr. Caldicott continues, "has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. In the depleted form after the enrichment process, it still contains small amounts of uranium 235 and uranium 234. All three uranium isotopes are alpha emitters and as such are potentially highly carcinogenic. . . . The depleted uranium 238 used for weapons has the radioactivity of the original natural uranium . . . Nevertheless, the radiation emanating from 238 can be dangerous if it enters and resides within human or animal bodies."
Turning to the precise biological danger created by using uranium shells and bombs, Caldicott explains, "that uranium 238 is pyrophoric: when it hits a tank at high speed it burst into flame. Up to 70 percent of the shell is vaporized and converted to tiny particles of oxidized uranium 238. Sixty percent of the particles are tiny — less than 5 percent are light, they can be transported many miles on wind currents, and they are small enough to be inhaled into the terminal bronchi — the tiniest air passage of the lungs. They can reside in these terminal bronchi for many years, irradiating a small volume of surrounding cells with high doses of radiation. The larger particles can be wafted up to the throat carried by the mucous and cilial action of the airways and then swallowed. . . ." Continuing, Caldicott states that the post Gulf War battlefield and training grounds of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia were littered with the radioactive debris of "between 300 and 800 tons of uranium 238 with a half-life of 4.5 billion years." So, the "water supplies in the affected areas are at risk. The dissolved uranium will concentrate in the food chain, thousands of times at each step, particularly in milk – including human breast milk. . . . And noting that "[c]hildren and babies are ten to twenty times more sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than adults," Caldicott adds that "the inhabitants [will be] at risk for cancers and congenital deformities forever more. Insoluble, tiny ceramic particles of uranium dioxide aerosol will be inhaled into the lungs of the surrounding population . . . and the radioactive water will cause pollution of the food supply."
Meanwhile, she notes that those dangers extend to some of the troops that fired those weapons — U.S. troops. "One third, or 654 of the 2054 American tanks used during Desert Storm," she writes, "were equipped with uranium armor plating . . . But by their use, the American tank crews were exposed to whole-body gamma radiation, similar to X-rays emanating from the uranium armor." Whether from spent exploded shells, external gamma radiation emitted from uranium shells or gamma radiation emanating from uranium armor, some U.S. and British troops have probably come in contact with some very dangerous radioactive contaminates. As Caldicott points out, "[S]ome of the NATO troops who were exposed to uranium weapons in Bosnia and Kosovo are now reporting an increase in leukemia, as are the civilians in Iraq. . . . In 1997 uranium 238 was found in the semen of five out of twenty-two American veterans who had been carrying uranium fragments in their bodies since 1991. . . . [T]here have [also] been reports of an increase in incidences of congenital abnormalities in the offspring of veterans and also in the newborn babies in Iraq: the uranium is finding its way into testicles where it is mutating genes in the sperm cells. Uranium can also induce testicular cancer." And, Caldicott goes on, "Uranium . . . can cause a particular form of nephritis or kidney disease. It is excreted through the kidney, so this organ is at particular risk. It is known that many Gulf War veterans are suffering from kidney disease. The kidney is also at risk because the heavy-metal uranium is also radioactive."
Yet, despite these dangers and growing evidence of the source of their cause, the U.S. government’s initial response to this medical crisis — like its earlier response to concerns about the biological impact of the estimated 17 million gallons of Agent Orange used in Vietnam — appears to be one of maintaining ignorance and deniability. Thus, Caldicott writes, "No epidemiological studies have been done by the Pentagon to determine the true incidence of renal disease amongst the veterans. Nor have there been any studies to determine whether malignancies have increased. [And] the Pentagon is also steadfastly refusing to conduct studies of the civilians living in the contaminated areas. . . . Instead, the Pentagon and the British ministry of defense," Caldicott notes, "are blocking efforts to study their troops for relevant diseases, disclaiming any association of the so-called Gulf War syndrome with uranium ammunition, even though a secret report issued by the United Kingdom atomic energy authority in April 1991 — a month after the conclusion of Desert Storm — warned that only 40 tons of uranium debris left from the DU [i.e., depleted uranium] weapons could cause over 500,000 deaths. (Actual debris amounts to not 40 tons but 300 to 800 tons.)."
Just as tragic, probably more tragic, is the refusal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to conduct any "studies on the health effects of exposure to uranium 238 following Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Kosovo." Still, the WHO coordinator for occupational and environmental health, Dr. Mike Repacholi, has "acknowledged that young children face a particular risk from depleted uranium." So, like the tens of thousands of Vietnamese children in parts of the 50% of South Vietnam that were hit with Agent Orange who have been born dead, or without chins, hands, legs, palates, scrotums, and with other physical mutations, or those who have been affected with leukemia, Iraqi children may suffer unspeakable diseases and malformations spawned by U.S. weaponry. Already, in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, "[m]edical reports from Iraq indicate that childhood malignancies have increased to seven times what they were and the incidence of congenital malformations has doubled in the areas where the bombing was the most intense."
At the close of these gruesome descriptions about some weapon’s effects, it is appropriated to quote at some length the magnificent words and vision which Charlie Chaplin articulated in his wonderful peroration in one of his best films — one of the ten best films ever — The Great Dictator. Mingling his damming indictment of tyranny, greed, and militarism with a vision of peace, social justice, true democracy, and the unity of all humanity, Chaplin wrote words that are as relevant for people today as they were when he condemned the fascists of his era. These are the sentiments and attitudes that every American, every soldier, and every human being must finally embrace if we are ever to rid ourselves of terrible weapons and the type of policy makers who so readily order their use. Chaplin states:
"I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible. Jew, Gentile, Blackman, White – we all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned man’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities life will be violent and all be lost.
The airplane and the radio [and television and internet] have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of all. Even now my voice is reaching . . . victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed . . . The hate of men will pass . . . and the power they took from the people will return to the people. . . .
Soldiers don’t give yourselves to brutes. Men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think, and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines you are not cattle, you are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate. Only the unloved hate. The unloved and unnatural . . . In the 17th chapter of St. Luke it is written, "The Kingdom of God is within men," not in one man nor a group of men but in all men – in you.
You, the people, have the power. The power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful – to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use this power – let us all unite – let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill that promise. They never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now, let us . . . fight to free the world to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate, and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason – a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness."
Of course, the great hope and promise that Chaplin so poignantly expressed so soon after the advent of fascist conquests in the 1930s is still to be realized. In Gaza, one valiant, compassionate, remarkable young woman — the 23 year old American peace activist Rachel Corrie — recently joined others who have tragically sacrificed everything in a hope similar to Chaplin’s hope for humanity. Rachel was crushed to death by a bulldozer about a month ago in her non-violent attempt to stop an Israeli tank from destroying Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Some of her most beautiful and sensitive emails to her family were obtained and published by The Guardian on March 18, 2003. Every word that Rachel wrote to her loving parents and friends is worth reading, but some of her last words to her mother (in "additional emails") on February 28, 2003, seem most appropriate here. They are the hopeful, idealistic words of the best in humanity from one of humanity’s great lost treasures — Rachel herself. On the eve of her short life being ended, she wrote: "I look forward to more moments like February 15 when civil society wakes up in mass and issues massive and resonant evidence of its conscience, its unwillingness to be repressed, and its compassion for the suffering of others. I look forward to more teachers like Matt Grant and Barbara Weaver and Dale Knuth who teach critical thinking to kids in the United States. I look forward to the international resistance that’s occurring now fertilizing analysis on all kinds of issues, with dialogue between diverse groups of people. I look forward to all of us who are new at this developing better skills for working in democratic structures and healing our own racism and classism and sexism and heterosexism and ageism and ableism and becoming more effective."
No one need say that the road to actualizing Rachel and Chaplin’s beautiful vision of a common humanity and justice for all will be long and hard. But like Charlie Chaplin and Rachel Corrie, we should have an implicit confidence in the fundamental fairness, compassion, goodness, and decency of most people. Then, if we pace ourselves, is it possible — even if it takes more than several generations — that millions of people all over the earth will eventually build a global society that is contrary to everything that some morally bankrupt elites think is to be forever imposed on humanity? (E)
Notes to On Some Weapons’ Effects
According to Doctor Helen Caldicott,
cluster bombs are prohibited by the Geneva Protocol. See Helen Caldicott,
The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush’s Military-Industrial Complex,
New York: New Press, 2002, XI, 226, n.11. Dr. Caldicott cites
"Protocol, Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed
Conflicts, Article 51."
Michael Jansen, "To Shock and Awe into Oblivion," Jordan Times no date, 2 in Al-Jazeerah Opinion Editorials, HYPERLINK "http://www.aljazeerah.info" www.aljazeerah.info ; Evan Thomas and John Barry, "Saddam’s War," Newsweek, 17 March 2003, 27; "Fighting a ‘Smart’ War," Newsweek, 17 February 2003, 36.
John Pilger, "Blair is a Coward," Mirror.co.uk, 29 January 2003, 2, www.mirror.co.u…=12581179&method=full&siteid=50143.
Caldicott, X-XI. My emphasis.
Pilger, "Blair," 3; Caldicott, 152.
Caldicott, 69, 147.
Caldicott, 149. Caldicott notes that the "U.S. military is fond of saying that depleted uranium [DU] is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium. However, uranium 238 is 100 percent uranium, unlike the uranium ore in the ground, which is considerably deluded with soil. Thus, comparing DU with natural uranium ore is like comparing apples and oranges. It is simply not relevant."
Caldicott, 154. Caldicott, of course, notes that, in the absence of more/any scientific studies, "The symptoms of Gulf War syndrome are difficult to collate within a specific disease entity. Nevertheless, the complaints of the veterans are surprisingly similar in pattern to the various pathologies induced by uranium exposure as described by the U.S. military. Without definitive medical and epidemiological studies, it is at this stage impossible to know exactly what the future holds for the people to uranium from the weapons used in the Gulf and the Balkans. Estimate must suffice. [Accordingly,] the president of the American Gulf War Veterans estimates that 50,000 to 80,000 veterans are afflicted with Gulf War syndrome, 39,000 have already been dismissed from active service, and 2,400 to 5,000 have died." See Caldicott, 155-156.
WHO has been unable to conduct such studies because it is tied into an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that stipulates that "if one agency wishes to carry out a study that affects the work of the other, mutual agreement is required [and] the IAEA has never agreed to such studies." See Caldicott, 156.
Charles Chaplin, "The Great Dictator," Director/Producer and speech writer Charles Chaplin, Image Entertainment, 1940.
Rachel Corrie, "Rachel’s War," The Guardian, 18 March 2003, 2, Guardian.co.uk/Israel.