Military dissent shows bitter truth: U.S. troops as victims in our own war

U.S. troops in Iraq are annoyed with their treatment by the U.S. government. Julian Borger, writing for The Guardian in late August, said many bitter editorials have lately appeared in, of all places, the Army Times. One editorial said, “In recent months, President (George W.) Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military.” The editorial continues, “But talk is cheap – and getting cheaper by the day, judging from the nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting lately.” Similar statements from military personnel and their families could be heard on National Public Radio and other mainstream sources at various points throughout this past summer.

How might we take seriously this dissent in the military, given that veterans from the Persian Gulf War are suing chemical corporations from France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States who sold chemical weapons to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the 1980s? According to The Associated Press, “The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for more than 100,000 soldiers who it alleges suffered severe injuries and staggering economic losses after they were exposed to chemicals when coalition forces blew up Iraqi ammunition dumps.” The veterans are urging the corporations to “reject future requests for business from tyrants around the globe.”

In other news, on Aug. 21, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported that the U.S. military, which touted its supposedly successful, death-free inoculation campaign of half a million U.S. soldiers for the most recent war with Iraq, is not telling the entire truth. Attkisson notes, for example, that army reservist Rachel Lacy received her military shots last spring and died shortly after because of her “recent smallpox and anthrax vaccinations.” Still, Attkisson said, “The military doesn’t mention Lacy under ‘Noteworthy Adverse Events’ in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association touting its smallpox vaccine success.”

The military also failed to mention or admit – and now they discount – the deaths of a national guardsman who had a heart attack and NBC news correspondent David Bloom, who died of a blood clot after receiving military shots. Many doctors who work with soldiers say these deaths are “supposed to be reported and independently checked for patterns.”

So what else are the U.S. government and military not telling us? How about the number of soldiers wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom? The U.S. military will only give these numbers to the reporters who explicitly ask for them, Dawn House of the Salt Lake Tribune reported. As of Aug. 17, more than 1,000 military personnel have been wounded since the United States first crossed the border into Iraq. House said, “That number compares with 467 ‘nonmortal wounds’ in the 1991 Gulf War, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.” This is the first war in which WIAs have not been listed among casualties.

And then there is that controversial ingredient: depleted uranium, a component in toxic nuclear waste put in the bullets and missiles fired in Iraq. Amy Worthington of The Idaho Observer, in her splendid article “Death By Slow Burn – How America Nukes Its Own Troops/What ‘Support Our Troops’ Really Means,” calls these weapons a “Bush-Cheney Ö ‘liberation’ gift that will keep on giving.”

“America’s mega-billion dollar war in Iraq has been indeed a NUCLEAR WAR,” Worthington said. Recent wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as the gulf war, were also nuclear wars. As thousands of writers have noted, “(Depleted uranium) munitions are classified by a United Nations resolution as illegal weapons of mass destruction. Their use breaches all international laws, treaties and conventions forbidding poisoned weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.”

Depleted uranium weapons will not only kill civilians in Iraq and elsewhere, but they kill our own soldiers. In fact, depleted uranium will continue to kill U.S. soldiers after they return from the Middle East. What is more, the 700 depleted uranium-tipped Tomahawk missiles launched during the first few weeks in the recent war, at a cost of $1.3 million each, are mere pocket change when compared with the long-term health problems to soldiers who make it back. If the inoculations, the Iraqi people, al-Qaida, terrorists or our own weapons do not kill our own soldiers, they are indeed lucky.

But history has shown the bitter truth: Our troops might not remain fortunate for long. Worthington said at least 300,000 gulf war vets have developed incapacitating illnesses and more than 200,000 have filed for disability benefits for service-connected injuries and illnesses.

As all these news accounts show, we are not informed of the gap between civilian dissent and soldier discontentment. And the pockets of information mentioned above are rarely, if ever, synthesized. We must realize American citizens are not informed, nor are the soldiers who are fighting and dying in Iraq. We need to obtain the information and learn to use it effectively in order to unveil the inconsistencies – indeed, contradictions – in current governmental policies. In order to do that, we must rethink the role of dissent in the military. We must understand the importance of uncovering discrepancies in news reporting regarding soldiers’ experiences and treatment. And we need to disclose the human and environmental costs of war.

Joel T. Helfrich’s column appears alternate Tuesdays. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]