Published on Sunday, March 27, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
The Quintessential Universal Soldier
by Lucinda Marshall
children, we were taught that the military protected us in times of
war. We learned about soldiers being killed and wounded by 'the enemy',
and how people died if they got shot or if a bomb landed on them.
Sometimes innocent people got killed during a war, but the fact that
most victims were civilians was carefully hidden from us by our elders.
They knew that children are smart enough to understand that there is a
big moral difference between killing other soldiers and killing
ordinary people. That a significant number of deaths were caused not by
a weapon's impact, but by its toxicity and by military pollution, was
not learn that military toxins know no boundaries, that they don't just
kill the enemy, they kill our military personnel and people living near
military bases, that they pollute the water, land and air. We were not
taught and still aren't told today that military toxins go anywhere and
kill everything, that they are in fact the quintessential universal
We Have Met The Enemy
U.S. Department of Defense is the largest polluter in the world,
producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical
companies combined. (1) The types of hazardous wastes used by the
military include pesticides and defoliants like Agent Orange. It
includes solvents, petroleum, perchlorate (a component of rocket fuel)
lead and mercury. And most ominously, depleted uranium.
health problems that have been documented as being attributable to
these various toxins in military use include miscarriages, low birth
weight, birth defects, kidney disease and cancer. Military pollution
most directly affects those who are targeted by our weapons, soldiers
and anyone living near a military base, both in the U.S. and abroad. In
the U.S., one out of every ten Americans lives within ten miles of a
military site that has been listed as a Superfund priority cleanup
where chemical and nuclear weapons are used, tested, manufactured,
stored and disposed of, the burden of health impacts and environmental
destruction falls disproportionately on poorer communities, people of
color and indigenous communities. Women face particularly severe
problems because of their sensitive reproductive tissues and children
because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. (3)
Way Off Base
number of health problems and environmental problems that have been
reported near military installations throughout the world is truly
staggering. The following are only a few of the many examples.
U.S. Navy is the largest polluter in the San Diego, California area,
having created 100 toxic sites during the last 80 years. Environmental
damage caused by the Navy includes spilling over 11,000 gallons of oil
into the San Diego Bay in 1988. Fish in the Bay contain high levels of
mercury and radioactive compounds that are attributable to Navy
pollution of the Bay. (4)
the Naval Air Station in Fallon, NV high rates of cancer and rare
diseases have probably been linked to the dumping of jet fuel, radio
and electronic emissions and the contamination of groundwater with
radioactive materials. Fallon has the highest per capita rate of
childhood leukemia in the nation. (5)
important to note that the contamination of military bases is also a
problem overseas where significant toxic pollution has impacted the
areas near U.S. military bases in countries such as South Korea, the
Philippines and Panama.
from the manufacturing of military weapons is equally horrific. The
soil near a plant that manufactured depleted uranium rounds in Colonie,
New York was found to have 500 times the amount of uranium that one
could normally expect to find in soil. (6)
waste disposal sites also pose significant problems. Recently, evidence
of contamination from the Diamond Alkali plant which manufactured Agent
Orange that was used in Vietnam was found in the Newark Bay in New
Jersey. Bottom dwellers in the Bay contain the highest levels of
dioxins ever recorded in aquatic animals, high enough to guarantee
cancer at the same levels in humans. Many low income, immigrant and
homeless residents of the area rely on the Bay for subsistence fishing
and thus face the considerable risks of exposure and ingestion of Agent
Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons plant site in Colorado, Jon
Lipsky, a former FBI agent, has recently come forward to expose the
contamination of the land that he says the EPA and FBI and Department
of Justice are suppressing. Lipsky and other plaintiffs in a case
against the DOJ are concerned about plans to turn Rocky Flats into a
wildlife refuge without adequately cleaning up the contamination. As
Lipsky and others point out, disguising a toxic dump as a tourist
attraction to be visited by schoolchildren is unacceptable. (8)
cleanup of sites such as these have slowed considerably since President
George W. Bush took office. EPA inspections at military sites have
dropped by 10%. The number of fines has dropped by 25% and the dollar
amount of fines has been smaller. Overall spending on the cleanup of
military sites has dropped 20% since 2001. Military spending on the
cleanup of hazardous sites amounts to only 1% of the military budget.
the case with many pollutants, the effects of perchlorate, a toxic
rocket fuel component, knows no bounds. New research has found
perchlorate, in women's breast milk in eighteen states. It can also be
found in ground water, crops such as lettuce and dairy milk.
Perchlorate can cause mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech
and motor skill problems. (10) Like other pollutants that are now
finding their way into breastmilk, perchlorate puts mothers in the
untenable position of simultaneously nurturing and (many times
unknowingly) poisoning their children.
Testing, 1, 2, 3
testing is responsible for particularly hazardous pollution. Amchitka
Island, off the coast of Alaska was the site of three nuclear weapons
tests in a mile-deep shaft on the island in the late 1960's and early
1970's. The last bomb tested was the equivalent of 400 bombs the size
of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.
the time the tests were conducted, wildlife populations in the area
dropped off dramatically. Afterwards, when workers started reporting
health problems, their claims were initially dismissed but eventually
they were awarded compensation for "occupational illness". Doctors now
say Amchitka workers will develop cancer at twice the rate of other
Americans. More ominously, in the late 1990's Greenpeace conducted
tests that showed radioactive substances including plutonium in the
waters near Amchitka. Scientists have also found that geological forces
in the island chain are producing movements that may at some point in
the future allow nuclear materials in the test shaft to leak into the
surrounding land and water. (11)
"The Clan of the One-Breasted Woman", Terry Tempest Williams shares her
poignant realization that the breast cancer that struck her mother,
aunts and grandmothers was in all probability due to the radiation they
were exposed to during the atomic testing that took place in Utah
(where they lived) between 1951-1962. (12) Despite assurances that the
tests posed no danger, clearly the testing of bombs that were hundreds
of times larger than those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would
certainly pose a danger. And a report from the Breast Cancer Fund has
recently concluded that ionizing radiation is the "best established
environmental cause of breast cancer". (13)
From Here To Eternity
the military's use of Depleted Uranium that should cause the most
alarm. Not only is the evidence of irreparable harm becoming
undeniable, it is also quite clear that the U.S. government has been
aware of the lethality of these weapons for quite some time. Despite
denials of health risks, a 1950 Army pamphlet states, "Although there
is negligible danger from uranium and plutonium outside the body, it is
possible for dangerous amounts of these elements to enter the body
through the lungs, the digestive system, or breaks in the skin." (14)
An FAA Advisory Circular written in 1984 stated, "if particles are
inhaled or ingested, they can be chemically toxic and cause a
significant and long-lasting irradiation of internal tissue." In 1990,
U.S. Army Armaments, Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM) reported
that depleted uranium is a "low level alpha radiation emitter, which is
linked to cancer when exposures are internal." AMCCOM’s radiological
task group also pointed out that the "long term effects of low doses
[of DU] have been implicated in cancer…there is no dose so low that the
probability of effect is zero." The risk to our own military personnel
was spelled out in a 1993 letter from the U.S. Army Surgeon General
stating that, "When soldiers inhale or ingest DU dust, they incur a
potential increase in cancer risk." And in 1995, a U.S. Army U.S. Army
Environmental Policy Institute report to Congress says that depleted
uranium has the potential to generate "significant medical
impact of depleted uranium on Gulf War veterans is so staggering that
it is incomprehensible that the U.S. government persists in denying the
damage done. The numbers tell the obvious story. During the three-week
war in 1990-91, 467 U.S. personnel were reported injured. Since then,
more than 11,000 Gulf War veterans have died and more than 600,000 are
on permanent disability due to their exposure to depleted uranium, or
what we euphemistically call Gulf War Syndrome.
U.S. military personnel are of course not the only victims of depleted
uranium. Many returning soldiers brought it home to their families as
well. Wives and girlfriends have been contaminated through sperm,
causing a variety of gynecological problems, including cancer and the
need for hysterectomies. Children born to Gulf Veterans have a much
higher than normal incidence of birth defects, cancer and other
of course, the same problems that have plagued our own citizens have
also taken place in the countries where depleted uranium has been used,
including the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. In Basra, Iraq, cancer
rates have leapt from 11/100,000 in 1988 to 123/100,000 in 2002. Cancer
in children under the age of fifteen has tripled at the Basra Maternity
and Children's hospital since 1990. Children under five years of age
now make up 56% of the reported cancer cases, in 1990, they were 13% of
the total. There were several cases of babies born with multiple
congenital birth defects in 1990. In the last three years there have
been more than 200 such cases. This scenario is being played out
wherever depleted uranium has been used. (17)
The Ultimate Crime
As human rights attorney Karen Parker explains, the use of depleted uranium is illegal in four ways:
It fails the territorial test because it can't be contained on the battlefield.
The impact of depleted uranium continues to be felt after the battle is over.
It is illegal because it causes inhumane death and injury.
Depleted uranium irreparably damages the environment.
For all these reasons, the use of depleted uranium is in violation of the Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime. (18)
Writing Our Collective Epitaph
impetus to write this article came from my own history. When I was only
a baby my grandmother, Lenore G. Marshall, was one of the early leaders
in the effort to stop nuclear testing. A co-founder of The Committee
for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), she worked tirelessly to stop nuclear
testing in Nevada and Amchitka. In the fullness of time, it is
abundantly clear that her instincts were correct, and the peril we face
today is many times greater. Why then are we still persisting in our
use of toxic weaponry in the face of such overwhelming danger to our
environment and health?
is no justification for our military killing us to protect us. And as
the founding of SANE foretold, it is truly insane to think that we can
justify permanently damaging the earth and endangering the future of
humanity in the pursuit of global empire, even if one thought that was
an admirable goal. In the process of killing everything in sight, we
seem oblivious to the fact that we are also committing suicide. Our
continued ignorance and silence will become our collective epitaph.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org which publishes Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against women throughout the world. She blogs at http://blog.zmag.org/bloggers/?blogger=marshall.
1. "War on Earth" by Bob Feldman, Dollars and Sense, March/April 2003. Also see the Military Toxics Project, www.miltoxproj.org.
2. "Pollution cleanups pit Pentagon against regulators" by Peter Eisler, USA Today, October 14, 2004.
3. "Health and Environmental Costs of Militarism" by Rosalie Bertell, presented in Barcelona, June 24, 2004.
4. "War on Earth" by Bob Feldman, Dollars and Sense, March/April 2003.
5. "The Fallon, NV Cancer Cluster And A US Navy Bombing" by Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, August 10, 2002.
6. "War on Earth" by Bob Feldman, Dollars and Sense, March/April 2003.
"Activists Oppose Plan to Dredge Up Agent Orange Residue in NJ Bay" by
F. Timothy Martin, New Standard News, January 27, 2005.
8. "The Rocky Flats Horror Picture Show" by Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine, January 21, 2005.
9. "Pollution cleanups pit Pentagon against regulators" by Peter Eisler, USA Today, October 14, 2004.
10. "Rocket Fuel Chemical Found in Breast Milk of Women in 18 States" by Robert Roy Britt, Live Science, February 24, 2005.
11. "Amchitka Nuclear Tests", December 23, 2001.
12. "The Clan of One-Breasted Women" by Terry Tempest Williams, Awakened Woman, March 1, 2005.
"State of the Evidence: What Is the Connection Between the Environment
and Breast Cancer?", Third Edition, Edited by Nancy Evans, Health
Science Consultant, Breast Cancer Fund, 2004.
14. "What Does The
U.S. Govt. Know about DU?" by Leuren Moret, International Criminal
Tribunal for Afghanistan, Traprock Peace Center, November 25, 2003.
15. "Some of the U.S. Government's Documentation of Harmful Effects of D.U.", Nukewatch.com, January 31, 2003.
16. "Depleted uranium: Dirty bombs, dirty missiles, dirty bullets" by Leuren Moret, SF Bay View, February 23, 2005.
17. "Iraq: High levels of radioactive pollution seen in the south", Axis of Logic, November 19, 2004.
"The Illegality of DU Weaponry" by Karen Parker, JD, paper prepared for
the International Uranium Weapons Conference in Hamburg, Germany
October 16-19, 2003.
© 2005 Lucinda Marshall