Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Humanist Perspective Presented By, Matthew O’Neil
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Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Humanist Perspective
As mirror and conscience of society, sociology must define, promote and inform public debate about deepening class and racial inequalities, new gender regimes, environmental degradation, market fundamentalism, state and non-state violence. I believe that the world needs public sociology - a sociology that transcends the academy - more than ever. Our potential publics are multiple, ranging from media audiences to policy makers, from silenced minorities to social movements. They are local, global, and national. As public sociology stimulates debate in all these contexts, it inspires and revitalizes our discipline. In return, theory and research give legitimacy, direction, and substance to public sociology. Teaching is equally central to public sociology: students are our first public for they carry sociology into all walks of life. Finally, the critical imagination, exposing the gap between what is and what could be, infuses values into public sociology to remind us that the world could be different.
-Michael Burawoy2004 ASA President
Refocusing Current Thinking on WMD
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004.
This analysis is not about whether the invasion of Iraq was appropriate or not. I’d like to get into that, but it’s a whole different issue.
Instead, this presentation is a humanist analysis of WMD usage by the United States. How many times did we hear of Saddam Hussein “he gassed his own people” in the run up to war? The repugnance for that level of brutality is rooted deep in the human consciousness. Saddam was perceived as a threat “if he did that to his own people, what could he do to us?” The focus was on the bad things, the other guy did.
This research looks at it the other way. What have “we” done with WMD? In a representative democracy what is done in our name reflects broader cultural values and norms By shifting the focus back on ourselves, we may be able to better understand why we were not met on the streets of Baghdad with flowers and heartfelt thanks. Further, by examining our own position more closely we have the potential to redirect foreign policy that validates our common humanity and nurtures a shared vision for the future.
For the purposes of this research, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) include nuclear, biological, chemical and, increasingly, radiological weapons.
As the previous map suggest there are some chemical weapons facilities in the United States. So what?
How far down the historical rabbit hole do you want to go? The Geneva Protocol, prohibiting use of chemical weapons in warfare, was signed worldwide in 1925. Several nations, the United States included, signed but reserved the right to retaliate in kind if chemical weapons were used against them (the United States did not ratify the Protocol until 1975). While the United States has reduced its overall arsenal of WMD, it remains the world leader in nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons.
The following is an abbreviated exploration of WMD used throughout the world by the United States. The facts collected here are an attempt to refocus our understanding of WMD and to frankly assess current and future U.S. policy as it relates to WMD.
U.S. Use of WMD
World War II
Nagasaki’s “Fatman” atomic bomb claimed 140,000 lives
Hiroshima’s “Little Boy” atomic bomb claimed 80,000 lives
50,000 survivors with significant radiation exposure
The Korean Conflict
The Commission of International Association of Democratic Lawyers' Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea, March 31, 1952, concluded that the U.S. used both germ ("deliberate dispersion of flies and other insects artificially infected with bacteria, with the intention of spreading death and disease") and chemical ("use of poison gas bombs and other chemical substances") warfare against both civilians and combatants in North Korea.
Between 1962 and 1971 the United States sprayed an estimated twenty million gallons of herbicide on the people of Vietnam, resulting in an estimated 50,000 deformed Vietnamese children.
Depleted Uranium (DU)
Dense munitions to penetrate
tanks, armor. Made from
low-level reprocessing waste.
Huge cancer rates in
southern Iraq (387 tons
of DU left behind)
Releases radioactivity when
explodes or burns, leaves behind dust
Gulf War 1991
Approximately 944,000 rounds of DU-enhanced ammunition were used in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991.The estimated delivery of depleted uranium all over Iraq was 800 tons. 3,500 Iraqi civilians acute deaths were reported.
In 1989, birth defects in Iraqi children were 11 per 100,000 births; in 2001 there were 116 per 100,000 births..
Cancer has increased dramatically in southern Iraq. In 1988, 34 people died of cancer; in 1998, 450 died of cancer; in 2001 there were 603 cancer deaths.
159,238 U.S. combat veterans have been awarded service-connected disability by the Department of Veterans Affairs for health effects collectively known as the Gulf War Syndrome. Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome are a clinical match to those of DU exposure. Congressional testimony from soldiers with Gulf War Syndrome indicate possible exposure to DU munitions.
Sixty-seven percent of babies born to veterans who suffer from Gulf War Syndrome have birth defects.** American Free Press April 12, 2004
The Official U.S. State Department Response
NATO studies and other scientific research studies indicate Depleted Uranium poses no serious health risks. (bringing up the junk science issue)
Depleted Uranium has not affected the health of Gulf War veterans.
There have been no independent studies related to Depleted Uranium inside Iraq. Since 1991, Iraq has refused to allow health inspectors assess the alleged impact of Depleted Uranium.
Depleted Uranium does not cause birth defects. Iraqi military use of chemical and nerve agents in the 1980's and 1990's is the likely cause of alleged birth defects among Iraqi children.
Keep in mind however, it took the United States 40 years to acknowledge Agent Orange had any links to cancer or birth defects. Before that, steady denial was the official response.
Toxic cloud after NATO bombing of
Pancevo plant in Yugoslavia, 1999
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) confirm that depleted uranium (DU) from U.S. weapons used in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1994 and 1995 contaminated local supplies of drinking water at and can still be found after 10 years in dust particles suspended in the air.
In U.S.-led NATO airstrikes against Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, about 10,800 depleted uranium rounds were fired around Sarajevo. 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium munitions were fired by American aircraft during the 1999 war in Kosovo.
Local Physicians estimate that there will be a 30% increase in the next ten years of people sickened by cancer, leukemia, kidney and respiratory disorders from contaminated regions. Doctors at Belgrade University Children’s Hospital report that between 1999 and 2000 the number of children suffering from respiratory illnesses, pulmonitis, asthma, chronic bronchitis and various allergies had increased by about 100%.
Columbian Spray Program
Arial Spraying of herbicide to reduce the flow of cocaine to the United States
The United States has sprayed tons of Roundup and Roundup Ultra, produced by Monsanto, from fast moving airplanes purportedly to stem the flow of drugs from Colombia since 1989. Mixed in this is a military subsidy for Columbia that suppresses leftist “guerillas” who do not favor turning over Columbia’s natural resources to American corporations (see the film Plan Columbia) for the full story. The use of these herbicides has consistently produced health complaints from campesinos in the Colombian countryside. Burning eyes, dizziness and respiratory problems being most frequently reported.
Although Roundup is billed as "safe" for mammals including humans by the U.S. State Department, there have been too many persistent reports of skin and other problems after fumigation incidents involving farmers and their animals to ignore. Other studies implemented by local departmental health units in Colombia reported an increase in dermatological, gastrointestinal and respiratory cases following aerial fumigations in their regions. Those complaints have gone largely ignored by government officials in Washington and in Columbia and the Andean Initiative, President’s Bush II’s solution to the problem actually increased the use of chemical defoliant in Columbia and expanded to Bolivia. Meanwhile Columbian production of cocaine has increased, 90% headed to the United States.
SCENES FROM AFGHANISTAN: Operation Enduring Freedom Aftermath
Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan
In 2003 scientists from the Uranium Medical Research Center (UMRC) studied urine samples of Afghan civilians and found that 100% of the samples taken had levels of non-depleted uranium (NDU) 400% to 2000% higher than normal levels. The UMRC research team studied six sites, two in Kabul and others in the Jalalabad area. The civilians were tested four months after the attacks in Afghanistan by the United States and its allies. The type of bombs used in Afghanistan contained a new type of chemical weapon that used non-depleted uranium. It has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
At a meeting of the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan held December 2003 in Tokyo, the U.S. was indicted for multiple war crimes in Afghanistan, among them the use of DU. Leuren Moret, President of Scientists for Indigenous People and Environmental Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, testified that because radioactive contaminants from uranium weapons travel through air, water, and food sources, the effects of U.S. deployment in Afghanistan will be felt in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China and India.
SCENES FROM IRAQ: Operation Iraqi Freedom Aftermath
U.S chemical weapons in Fallujah
Operation Iraqi Freedom
It has been widely documented (outside of the United States of course) that in the current incarnation of the War in Iraq, chemical weapons both new and old are being used.
Reports by the Iraqi Minister of Health Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli indicates a new version of napalm called MK77, has been used throughout the city of Fallujah, “melting bodies” is a quote from his work.
White Phosphorous powder, referred to as Willy Pete by the Army, has also been deployed as a chemical weapon. White phosphorus is fat-soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air. According to globalsecurity.org: "The burns usually are multiple, deep, and variable in size. If service members are hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone."
A documentary film produced by Italian filmmaker Maurizio Torrealta, reveals dramatic footage showing the effects of the WP bombardment on civilians, women and children, some of whom were surprised in their sleep. There are pictures but frankly they are far too graphic for this presentation.
To date, independent analysis puts the Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of U.S. military operations at 38,000 people.
Slow Accumulation of Data
What do we know about exposure to depleted uranium? The extensive use of depleted uranium during the last 15 years could have resulted in substantial inhalation exposure. Although depleted uranium is considered toxic to the kidney because of its properties as a heavy metal, recent data have linked systemic exposure to depleted uranium to neurotoxic effects as well.
The exposure to depleted uranium combined with the exposure to extensive combustion products from oil fires and blowing sand from the desert environment, like Iraq I & II however, is unique and the extent of exposure to respiratory irritants during the Iraq war(s) was probably greater than in previous wars. Some symptoms linked to DU exposure:
Skin rashes and hair loss
Neurologic/Neuropsychological signs (including memory loss)
Signs or symptoms involving upper or lower respiratory system
Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
Applying the Message
Exploring the meaning and context of Professor Burawoy’s quotation in the initial slide of this presentation in relation to the mounting evidence that the use of WMD, is a daunting and soul retching experience.
If perceptions within the United States on WMD have been managed and the manufacture of consent is what allows the public to remain blissfully patriotic, what challenges and opportunities does that present for us as sociologists?
I considered myself fairly knowledgeable and broadly read, and I had no idea before I started this project how pervasive WMD use has been and is. Following current trends, consolidated corporate media will likely continues to limit or bias information generally available to the public. Is there a place for sociology to inform and challenge popular conceptions on social issues? Can we do this in a way that is accessible without being labeled “muckrakers?”
Perhaps a more direct appeal to regular working class people, who attend our classes on scholarship and mop the floor at the gym serves the discipline and the public more fully than the prevailing trend to rely on statistics and publish for our peers. Our knowledge and scholarship have the possibility to expand perceptions and spark change and by doing so we bring attention to social issues. We should accept this challenge.
Assessing the Information
What does the data, a loose collection of facts to be sure, tell us? How should we interpret this information?
Looking at common elements in nearly all the incidences of WMD usage by the United States (excluding WW II) one is immediately struck by the contrast between how most Americans view themselves and how the United States acts. There is a chasm, a gulf between our perception of ourselves and our culture and what is done in our name abroad. Dichotomizing this complex issue into an either/ or postulate as is the current fashion of the day, we can either remain blissfully ignorant or silently complicit. We cannot do both.
The relative ignorance surrounding WMD and other nefarious foreign policy activities being conducted around the world under the banner of the United States is the perfect opening for a public sociology to emerge.
My sense is many of you learned a new fact or are walking away from this presentation with a new question (why did I sit through that…) here today. Which I am happy to report, is a public sociology in practice. Whatever the issue, sociologists can inform and enliven public debate.
Doing Something About it
By sparking the critical imagination, sociologist are afforded the wonderful opportunity for both teaching and learning. By promoting exchange and pushing the bounds of public debate, social change can occur. By exposing the gap between what is and what could be, we offer hope for a better world.
In terms of WMD, it is clear that American hands are not clean. Much has been done in our name and the consequences will be felt around the world for decades to come. Whether for or against the current War in Iraq, it is hard to imagine anyone supports civilian death and environmental degradation. It is even harder to imagine a peaceful and sustainable world while WMD continue to fall from the sky.
I thank you very much for your time.
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