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|Depleted Uranium -
The Real Story
by Linda Weltner
My friend Lynn and I joined a Walk for Peace that began at the Starmet Corporation in Concord and ended - on August 9, the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki - with the arrest of five of the peace walkers at the Raytheon Corporation in North Andover.
We walked because we believe these firms are committing crimes against humanity, helping our side wage a "radioactive" war against the people of Iraq and Yugoslavia. We're not dropping nuclear bombs. We're using munitions made with depleted uranium, (DU). Don't let the word depleted fool you. DU, a byproduct of uranium enrichment, is 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium. It burns and oxidizes upon impact, creating aerosol particles which are easily inhaled and ingested.
These particles can become lodged in lung tissue and deposited in the bones or kidneys. They can cross the placenta, enter semen and breast milk, causing cancer and leukemia as well as chromosome and immune system damage for generations to come. Battlefields, which in past years would have become historical sites, have been turned into killing fields for innocent populations, with a radioactive half life of 4.5 billion years.
I became aware of this totally by chance.
A friend lent me her March issue of the journal "Peacework." In it I came across an article titled, "Letter from Basra," written by Felicity Arbuthnot, a London-based journalist who won a British award for her coverage of Iraq. Because projectiles made of DU, which is heavier than lead, are so devilishly effective in piercing tank armor, DU tipped bullets and more than 14,000 large caliber DU rounds turned the Basra Road into the "Highway of Death." The Pentagon itself estimates that hundreds of tons of depleted uranium were left behind in Iraq.
Arbuthnot writes: "Death stalks Basra's children from the moment of birth. . . Cancer, leukemias, and malignancies have risen up to 70% since the Gulf War, increases linked to the depleted uranium weapons used primarily by the US and UK, leaving a radioactive dust throughout the country, which according to experts has entered the food chain via the water table and the soil. . . The unimaginable can also be found in Basra. One doctor's thesis compares abnormalities since the Gulf War with Hiroshima. Dr. Jenan Ali's photographs for 1998 show full term babies undeveloped, the 'bunch of grapes' syndrome reminiscent of the Pacific Islands after the 1950's nuclear testing. Others - no face, no eyes, twisted limbs, no limbs, no brain.
"'If you are not prone to fainting, I will show you a baby born an hour ago,' said Dr. Jenan. The tiny being ...had no genitalia, no eyes, nose, tongue, esophagus, or hands. Twisted legs were joined by a thick 'web' of flesh from the knees. 'We see many similar,' said the doctor."
But it isn't only the enemy who suffers.
In November 1995, Life Magazine ran an article titled "Tiny Victims of Desert Storm," which raised the possibility that DU was implicated in these children's otherwise unexplainable deformities. For those who had the heart to look, there were photos of the children of American soldiers, some with with no arms, no legs, or misplaced inner organs, some without thyroids, with two hearts or hearts on the wrong side, enlarged heads and abdomens, and abnormal blood vessels. A presidential panel recently absolved DU of any responsibility for the catastrophic health problems faced by thousands of veterans after the Gulf War. Its guess? Certain soldiers must have had a genetic predisposition. Why doesn't it surprise me that they blamed the victims?
Despite so many unanswered questions, the US used these same weapons in Yugoslavia. What are we thinking? From the viewpoint of 4.5 billion years, these wars are kids' spats. Are we so mad - in both meanings of the word - that we're willing to poison the world for eternity?
Starmet Corporation is a major player in the DU industry. Intending to inflict pain on the enemy, it has also poisoned its own property in Concord by contaminating groundwater on the site with concentrations of uranium up to 3000 times what are now considered safe levels. Raytheon supplies the electronic guidance systems which direct these weapons to their targets.
When five of the people Lynn and I walked with - Hattie, Arthur, David, Mary Kate, and John - were arrested for trespassing, there were no TV cameras, no newspaper reporters, no public outcries of revulsion at what our government is doing. Protest, it seems, is no longer of interest to the media, which is currently hellbent on entertaining us to death.
To me, it is the only reassuring evidence I have that this country still has a soul.
Linda Weltner "Ever So Humble" Thursdays in the Boston Globe.
"Family Puzzles" is a collection of my columns about mothering, being a grandmother, a wife, a daughter, a sibling, a daughter-in-law, and one's self. Available from any bookseller or call 1-800-367-5872.
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