August 1, 2010
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fallujah . . .
And so it turns out that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, though not until we arrived and started using them.
Along with whatever else we did to Fallujah
— exacted collective punishment on a defiant city (a war crime) in
November 2004, killed thousands of civilians, shattered the
infrastructure (nearly six years later, the sewage system hasn’t been
repaired and waste flows in the streets) — we also, apparently, nuked
the city, leaving a legacy of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and
Freedom isn’t free. Remember when
that was the go-to phrase of the citizen war zealots among us, their
all-purpose rebuttal when those of us appalled by this insane war cited
civilian casualty stats? Discussion over. Thought stops here.
This is the power of language.
Call it "war" and along come glory, duty, courage, sacrifice: the best
of humanity writ large. The word is impenetrable; it sets the heart in
motion; God makes an appearance, blesses the troops, blesses the
weapons. Operation Iraqi Freedom: They’ll greet us with open arms.
At what point do we learn our
lesson, that "war" is a moral cesspool of horrific consequences,
especially, and most troublingly, unintended ones?
Thus last November, a group of
British and Iraqi doctors petitioned the U.N. to investigate the
alarming rise in birth defects at Fallujah’s hospitals. "Young women in
Fallujah," they wrote, ". . . are terrified of having children because
of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no
heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or
missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now
experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias."
The official U.S. response was
that the doctors’ letter was anecdotal: There have been no studies to
verify that anything is truly amiss in Fallujah, beyond the devastation
caused by U.S. troops and bombs. Now that has changed.
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has just published an epidemiological study, "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah,
Iraq 2005-2009," which has found, among much else, that Fallujah is
experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than
Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.
Perhaps most eerily, the study,
conducted by a team of 11 researchers this past January and February, in
711 households, found a radical shift in the ratio of female-to-male
births. Under normal circumstances, the human constant is approximately
1,050 boys born for every 1,000 girls. In post-invasion Fallujah, 860
boys have been born for every 1,000 girls — similar to a shift seen in
Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped.
Dr. Chris Busby, one of the
study’s authors, said only "some very major mutagenic exposure" could
account for such an aberration. The most likely culprit, he said, is
depleted uranium, a dense metal with extraordinary penetrating ability
used in the manufacture of missiles, shells and bombs. DU explodes on
impact into an extremely fine, radioactive dust that settles on the
ground or is carried by the wind. While the U.S. military continues to
deny that breathing it is harmful, many scientists insist that it is
highly toxic and a likely contributor to Gulf War Syndrome — that it
is, in short, a nuclear weapon, with fallout as dangerous as a nuclear
To read about this is to grow
increasingly sickened and disturbed at who we are and what we are doing:
still debating "the war," still dignifying this ongoing hemorrhage of
national values with the term; still murdering civilians in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, and resolutely fleeing from any responsibility for the
ecocide we have committed in Iraq; and still silently, inevitably,
preparing for the next one.
Would that we could bring the
suffering of Fallujah to the heart of America, or at least to the heart
of Congress, which just OK’d another $59 billion to "fund the troops"
(notice the delicacy of the Pentagon’s phrasing) in Afghanistan.
numbers turn over in Congress with such ease, if the money is demanded
by the war machine. Money dedicated to building the future, or repairing
the damage from old, dead wars, is another matter entirely: Suddenly
it’s real, like a pound of flesh, and meted out only with howls of
To help clean up our legacy of Agent Orange in
Vietnam, for instance, Congress has appropriated $9 million since 2007.
We sprayed 19 million gallons of this highly toxic defoliant on the
country between 1962 and 1971, causing harm to at least 3 million
Vietnamese in the process. Our sense of responsibility amounts to $3 per
person. And such money becomes available only after decades of denial
that we have any responsibility at all.
I think again about Fallujah. The
city’s suffering will haunt our national dreams for decades to come. It
is our future. In a generation or so, our children will face the
consequences of what we have done there; but in the meantime, we’ll keep
trying to buy "victory" and ultimate justification in
multi-billion-dollar increments until our financial bankruptcy equals
our moral bankruptcy.
– – –
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist,
contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer.
His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now
available for pre-orders. Contact him at email@example.com or visit
his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2010 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.