Perpetual Nuclear War
By Robert Weitzel
13 March, 2007
On the evening of July 25, 1945,
President Truman confided to his diary that the atomic bomb “seems
to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the
most useful." Twelve days later it was “useful” in
Hiroshima, and again three days later it was “useful” in
In a radio speech the day
Nagasaki was obliterated, Truman told his American audience, "The
world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,
a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to
avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."
The world took note that
as many as 140,000 civilians were killed instantly or later died of
injuries and radiation poisoning at Hiroshima.
To prevent Iran from becoming
a nuclear power in the Middle East, President Bush has tasked the Pentagon
with developing plans for a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear
facility at Natanz, which is buried under 75 feet of earth and rock.
One option on the table is
the B61-11, the smallest tactical nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
The B61 is a variable yield bomb. It can be calibrated to yield as low
as 0.3 kilotons or has high as 170 kilotons of atomic power. Its maximum
yield is ten times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
In keeping with our country’s
“humanitarian” effort to minimize civilian casualties in
a nuclear strike, “low” yield tactical nuclear weapons,
such as the B61, have been reclassified by the Pentagon as "safe
for the surrounding civilian population.” Because these weapons
are now considered as “safe” as conventional munitions,
their use is at the discretion of the theater commander. Presidential
approval is no longer needed to start a nuclear war.
But the world should note
that America has been waging a “low yield” nuclear war that
has been killing civilians for almost two decades. Missing from this
war are mushroom clouds and very loud booms. Present is nuclear fallout
with its insidious long-term effects on both combatant and civilian
and its perpetual contamination of land and water resources.
The United States began waging
nuclear war in Kosovo in 1990 and has continued through the Persian
Gulf War, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The “nuclear tipped”
weapon of choice in each of these theaters of war has been depleted
uranium (DU) munitions.
To build atomic bombs, and
later to fuel nuclear reactors, the U.S. began enriching uranium ore
mined from the earth’s surface. In the process, the fissionable
isotope Uranium 235, which accounts for 0.7 percent of the ore, is extracted,
while the remaining 99.3 percent of the unfissionable isotope, Uranium
238, becomes “low yield” radioactive waste. By the middle
of the 1950s there was approximately 600,000 tons of DU waste being
stored at various facilities throughout the United States.
Depleted uranium has several
properties that attracted the U.S military-industrial complex. It is
cheap and plentiful and 1.7 times denser than lead, which makes it an
idea metal for armor piercing bullets and tank rounds, armor plating
on tanks, and ballast for cruise missiles and aircraft. Consequently,
much of what has been dropped, launched, fired or destroyed during combat
operations involving the U.S. and its allies in the last two decades
is radioactive and will remain so for as long as the Earth exists.
When a “nuclear tipped”
DU tank round, containing 10 pounds of uranium, strikes the armor plating
of an enemy tank, it ignites and burns through to the interior, setting
off the tank’s ammunition. The resulting fire and explosion creates
a radioactive dust cloud of submicroscopic insoluble uranium oxide particles,
which is suspended in the air and ultimately settles on the ground to
be inhaled and ingested by combatant and civilian alike.
Depleted uranium, though
it sounds safe, is still one-third as radioactive as the original natural
uranium, and will lose only half of its radioactivity in 4.5 billion
years—the age of the solar system. Depleted uranium emits alpha
and gamma radiation, which can be mutagenic and carcinogenic in the
human body and result in cancers and birth defects. It is a nuclear-plated
Trojan Horse that continues to kill civilians long after the fighting
has moved on.
In April 1991, only one month
after the end of the first Gulf War, a secret report prepared by the
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority was leaked to The Independent
of London. The report described the hazards of the radioactive dust
from expended DU munitions and destroyed DU-armored tanks getting into
the food chain and water supply. The report warned that 40 tons of radioactive
DU debris left on the battlefield could, in the decades ahead, cause
as many as 500,000 civilian deaths.
The U.S. left behind 375
tons of DU debris in the Gulf War, 800 tons in Afghanistan, and 2,200
tons during the current invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Children are particularly
susceptible to DU poisoning and the resulting cancers due to a higher
absorption rate in their blood, which is instrumental in building bones
and soft tissue. In March 2001, Dr. Aws Albait, a physician practicing
in Baghdad from 1990 to 1999, reported a 12-fold increase in leukemia
and lymphomas in Iraqi children and a six-fold increase in adults during
that decade. In 2004 it was estimated that children under the age of
five accounted for 56 percent of all cancer patients in Iraq, compared
with 13 percent 15 years ago.
It is not only Iraqi children
who are the victims of our perpetual nuclear war, but American children
as well. A Veteran’s Administration study of 251 Gulf War veterans
in Mississippi found that 67 percent of their children born since the
war had birth defects and severe illnesses. In addition, 90,000 veterans
suffer from the chronic, debilitating effects of the Gulf War Syndrome,
which many researchers believe may be related to exposure to DU fallout.
In 1995, a U.S. Army Environmental
Policy Institute report stated, “If DU enters the body, it has
the potential to generate significant medical consequences. The risks
associated with DU in the body are both chemical and radiological.”
Regardless, the Pentagon steadfastly refuses to conduct studies of its
effects on both military personnel and civilians exposed to DU fallout.
In fact, its policy is to silence those who would sound an alarm.
Dr. Asaf Durakovic, founder
of the Uranium Medical Research Centre and the former Chief of the Nuclear
Sciences Division at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute,
was fired from his position as Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the veterans’
hospital in Wilmington, Delaware when he refused to terminate his research
on Gulf War veterans with symptoms of radiation exposure.
Dr. Durakovic stated, "The
Veterans Administration asked me to lie about the risks of incorporating
depleted uranium in the human body . . . uranium does cause cancer,
uranium does cause mutation, and uranium does kill . . . [It] is a threat
If the Bush administration
follows through with its plan to attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons,
they will, in essence, only be adding a sound track to the silent nuclear
war America has been waging for decades.
But this perpetual nuclear
war is not a clash of ideology or religion, nor is it to spread democracy
or to fight the long war on terrorism. It is about the immoral war profiteering
of the U.S. military-industrial complex, and the even more morally repugnant
dumping of its radioactive waste in someone else’s backyard. It
is about the maiming and killing of civilians who are not yet born.
Robert Weitzel is a freelance
writer whose essays appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He has
been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Skeptic Magazine,
and Freethought Today. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org