Tiresias Speaks

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Posts Tagged ‘War

10 Hard Truths About Veterans Day

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By Nora Eisenberg
Reposted from www.alternet.org

Veterans Day, which Americans celebrate on November 11, was originally called Armistice Day, to commemorate the cessation of fighting in the Great War of 1914-1918. In the United States, the idea that this was “the war to end all wars,” (a phrase coined by H.G. Wells in a pamphlet of that name and echoed by Woodrow Wilson with equal earnestness) was challenged by an outspoken and persecuted peace movement, including poor farmers and black Americans conscripted at disproportionate rates.

Most Americans may have accepted the justification at the war’s start, but by the war’s end, with a U.S. body count of 117,000 and double that in serious injuries (and 37 million casualties overall on both sides, 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded), the signing of the Armistice by Allies and Germans at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was met with celebration that it might mean a true “end of war.” In 1919, a year later, Armistice Day was established to celebrate “the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed.”

After World War II and the Korean War, and the start of a heated Cold War, it was clear to the government that an armistice and peace were not in sync with the times. In 1954, Congress changed the name of the November 11 holiday to Veterans Day, exchanging peace for celebrating patriotic valor, and the ultimate sacrifice of life, limb and health in battling for one’s country.

Today’s veterans are survivors of more than a half century of American wars—World War II, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, the 1991 Gulf War (which has never been officially declared over), and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As we celebrate our veterans this week, we would do well to remember the following realities that the public is barely aware of, but veterans know only too well:

1. It took almost 50 years for the government to acknowledge the suffering of more than 200,000 U.S. veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, which the U.S. military used for a decade to defoliate forests and destroy food sources in Vietnam. Despite higher incidences of cancer, neurological, digestive, skin, lung and heart disorders along with miscarriages and birth defects, the DoD denied any linkage of exposure and disease, and disability claims, which veterans initiated in 1977 were mostly denied. By 1993 only 400 veterans exposed to Agent Orange had been granted some compensation.

Class action suits against companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical settled out of court for small amounts. After much advocacy by veterans and their supporters, the 1991 Agent Orange Act was passed, allowing the VA to declare specific conditions “presumptive” to Agent Orange. This summer the list was expanded to include B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease. Still, after five decades, compensation is small with the vast majority of awards at 20 percent or $243 montly.

2. Almost a third of the 700,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffer from a profound physiological disorder called Gulf War Illness (formerly Gulf War Syndrome). For almost 20 years, the DoD and VA insisted that psychological stress alone was the cause of the fatigue, mood disorders, cognition and memory problems, and disorders of every physical system as well as birth defects of veterans’ children. To date, some 11,000 veterans have died from the illness, and most survivors continue to suffer chronic symptoms. In 2008, the Gulf War Research Advisory Committee (RAC) reported what veterans have known too well—that wartime toxins, not stress, caused profound physical illness in almost 300,000 veterans of Desert Storm.

RAC identified in particular a class of neurotoxins found in experimental anti-nerve gas pills that troops were forced to take upon threat of court martial, pesticides and sarin gas, which plumed for hundreds of miles when Iraq munition storage facilities known to contain nerve gas were exploded. RAC did not rule out vaccines or depleted uranium, pioneered during the Gulf War for its ability to penetrate most anything. Yet the RAC report’s recommendations for immediate interventions and programs have not been followed, but rather remain the subject of further study by the Institute of Medicine.

3. Veterans of ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a variety of physical traumas beyond the widespread maiming and loss of limbs. Last year, the DoD warned that as many as 20 percent of veterans (360,000) may have suffered traumatic brain injury from IED blasts. Blast injuries generally do not result in skull fractures or loss of consciousness, yet the Institute of Medicine has reported that these traumatic brain injuries may cause diffuse brain bleeding and result in PTSD and problems with mood, concentration, memory, pain, balance, hearing and vision.

In addition, veterans have suffered multiple toxic exposures, including contaminated water, and dioxin and other carcinogenic compounds from the widespread use of burn pits instead of incinerators in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything from refrigerators to trucks to body parts has been reported burning in the vast pits, which spew black smoke for miles and cause the black phlegm known as “Iraq crud.” Several class action suits have been filed against contractors like KBR on behalf of veterans sickened by toxic exposure.

4. On any given night, more than 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 1.5 million veterans are considered at risk for homelessness. Because of lack of work, support networks and substandard housing, veterans without homes have served in every war with surviving populations–World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Vietnam veterans have long comprised the largest portion of the homeless veteran population, but veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become homeless much sooner than veterans of the Vietnam War did. PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause severe psychiatric symptoms from mood disorders to depression, aggressive and dangerous behaviors, substance abuse and alcoholism. In addition to psychiatric, neurological and physical injury, multiple deployments, the high cost of housing, reduced job opportunities, and low wages endanger family stability, employability and maintaining a steady residence.

5. The population of homeless women has skyrocketed from 5 to 20 percent over the last decade as more women are deployed into battle. Women veterans are two to four times more likely than non-veteran women to be homeless. Approximately 40 percent of homeless female veterans of today’s wars report being sexually assaulted by male soldiers while in service, with sexual abuse being a major risk factor for homeless according to the VA Homeless Programs director. Fifty-six percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite being only 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the population, respectively.

6. Over a half million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are patients in the VA system. Thousands more wait as much as a year for VA treatment for serious ailments including traumatic brain injury. Forty-eight percent (243,685) are mental health patients and 28 percent (143,530) are being treated for PTSD. A recent internal VA memo revealed systematic gaming of the VA application process, whereby bureaucrats at facilities seek to improve access data by denying treatment.

7. Every day, five U.S. soldiers attempt suicide, a 500 percent increase since 2001. Every day 18 U.S. veterans attempt suicide, more than four times the national average. Of the 30,000 suicides each year in the U.S., 20 percent are committed by veterans, though veterans make up only 7.6 percent of the population. Female veteran suicide is rising at a rate higher than male veteran suicides.

8. The number of U.S. service men and women killed in Afghanistan has doubled in the first quarter of 2010, compared to the same quarter last year. In the first two months of 2010, injuries tripled.

9. Estimates of civilian deaths from violence in Iraq alone range from a conservative 105,000 (Iraq Body Count project) to over 1.2 million (UK pollster Opinion Research Business), with estimates by Johns Hopkins at 655,000. More than 125,000 civilians have been injured in Iraq and 4 million displaced, with civilian death and injury in 2010 rising each month. By most estimates, tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since the 2001 invasion; over 200,00 have been internally displaced; and over two million have become refugees, with civilian deaths and injuries rising dramatically in 2010.

10. U.S. veterans live with these horrific realities daily. Many are acutely aware as they suffer, of the suffering they have inflicted on others.

Written by Tiresias

November 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

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Never again? Fallout from US seige on Fallujah worse than Hiroshima’s

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Friday, August 6th, marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of the day the United States’ dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima killing some 140,000 people and bringing the second world war to a quick and brutal end.  The anniversary was covered in The New York Times and many other major news outlets across the US. This years’ anniversary was especially notable because for the first time ever a US government official, US ambassador to Japan John Roos, attended the remembrance ceremonies in Hiroshima. Though the US government has never actually apologized for the bombing, some took ambassador Roos’ attendance as a symbol of reconciliation and hope for nuclear disarmament worldwide. However, there is another grimmer story that seems to contradict these dreams of peace that has received little if any news coverage within the United States.

On July 6th, exactly one month before the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) released a study titled, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009.” The study’s authors Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan, Entesar Ariabi and their team of researchers gathered data from household surveys of 711 homes in January and February of this year that revealed a tremendous spike in cancer rates and birth defects in the city of Fallujah within the last five years. Using cancer rates among similar populations in the neighboring nations of Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait as a standard for comparison the researchers’ made some disturbing discoveries in Fallujah including:

  • 38 times higher rates of Leukemia
  • 10 times higher rates of breast cancer
  • 5 times higher infant mortality rates
  • A wide range of birth defects
  • unusual gender disparity in newborns of 860 boys per 1,000 girls

 These results are shockingly similar, but even worse, than what researchers found among survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were exposed to radioactive fallout from the blasts. The first scientific study of Fallujah supports the anecdotal evidence of increased cancer related deaths and other mutations in the city that have been surfacing since the United States’ invasion of Iraq, but it begs the question: what’s poisoning the people of Fallujah?

The authors’ argue that to cause this sort of sudden and widespread mutagenic damage there had to have been some sort of recent catastrophic contamination in Fallujah. While they are not yet positive what this was as there are a number of incredible difficulties when conducting research in a war-zone, they have already identified one prime suspect: depleted uranium munitions (DU’s). In one of the bloodiest battles of the war the US military shelled Fallujah relentlessly with tons of DU shells killing untold numbers of armed Iraqis resisting the occupation as well as unarmed civilians in 2004. The US military often uses DU’s like those used in Fallujah because they are significantly denser than lead and make for much better armor-piercing rounds. DU’s are essentially made from spent nuclear reactor fuel. Typically, this sort of nuclear waste would be stored securely, probably somewhere far under ground, but in this case it is sold to munitions manufacturers for profit and a small amount is put into each DU round. The US government officially insists that DU’s are perfectly safe, but other independent sources violently disagree.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons was formed in 2003 just before the US siege on Fallujah and represents a coalition of more than 120 NGO’s worldwide that support banning DU’s. According to their website, DU shells release an incredibly noxious dust as they burst that is easily inhaled into the lungs, and furthermore:

From the lungs uranium compounds are deposited in the lymph nodes, bones, brain and testes. Hard targets hit by DU penetrators are surrounded by this dust and surveys suggest that it can travel many kilometres when re-suspended, as is likely in arid climates. The dust can then be inhaled or ingested by civilians and the military alike. It is thought that DU is the cause of a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields.

This directly contradicts the position of the US government,  but is supported by enough evidence that the coalition has convinced the EU’s Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for EU support of a treaty that would ban DU’s. Unfortunately, even if successful, such a treaty will do little to help the people of Iraq generally and the residents of Fallujah specifically as such a treaty would have no bearing on the US. Despite what the US government may claim, the truth is that there is serious reason to believe that the US has used radioactive weapons thousands of times since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki- one DU shell at a time.

All the while when President Obama was speaking nobly of nuclear disarmament in Prague in 2009 or when Ambassador John Roos was attending remembrance ceremonies in Hiroshima this month the US army has been continuing to use DU weapons. Weapons that are very likely to be what are causing babies in Fallujah to be born looking like (warning: images are highly disturbing) this. The damage in Fallujah may not be as immediately visible as a mushroom cloud, but it is present and ongoing. The IJERPH’s study may well be just the first piece of scientific evidence that confirms what many have already suspected for several years: the US military committed at least one war crime in Fallujah in 2004 by using DU’s.

This is incredibly hard for some people in the US to believe as it runs directly contrary to the images of the US military in the mainstream media as heroic liberators in Iraq or at worst misguided heroes. It is impossible to know, but maybe this is why this important news simply hasn’t been reported within the US outside of the independent media. By almost any measure it would seem to be an incredibly significant story, but the corporate media within the US has entirely failed to cover it. Perhaps there are some things mainstream news sources simply can’t see because of their biases or can’t say because of their close proximity to power. This is not conspiratorial or even terribly surprising. In the same way you may not want to trust the Tehran Times for accurate news about popular protests in Iran, our major newspapers may not be the best source for accurate news about US wars. Moreover, while the US media remained  silent the Tehran Times did in fact run a story about the IJERPH’s study. Considering how authoritarian many within the US believe the Iranian government to be as compared to the US this comparison is thought-provoking to say the least. The sad truth is that the people of Iran probably know more about the fallout in Fallujah than most Americans.

Written by Tiresias

August 19, 2010 at 8:13 pm

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Wikileaks’ “Afghan War Diary” as Litmus Test for Media Bias

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On July 25th the organization known as WikiLeaks, a confidential resource for whistleblowers who wish to release secrets to the public,  released tens of thousands of classified documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan War Diary, as it is called provides an unfiltered look at the war in Afghanistan as told by coalition forces on the ground. Not surprisingly, these documents paint a somewhat different picture of the war than what the American public is used to hearing from American journalists and politicians. According to an interview WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange had with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the documents (some of which have not yet been released by WikiLeaks) even reveal dozens of potential US war crimes against innocent civilians. At a minimum The Afghan War Diary reveals numerous civilian deaths, problems with unmanned drones, Pakistan’s possible support of the Taliban, and the corruption and unreliability of Afghan government officials as well as military and police forces.  However,  what is perhaps more revealing than the leak itself, is the opportunity it has provided to gauge media bias.

WikiLeaks did an interesting thing when they decided to release The Afghan War Diary– before going entirely public with the leak they gave three major newspapers a sneak preview: The New York Times in the US, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, and Der Spiegel in Germany. All three papers received the WikiLeaks documents three days before they went up on the WikiLeaks webpage and agreed not to publish anything about them until WikiLeaks’ official release date on July 25th. Two days later Eric Johnson broke a fascinating story in the Huffington Post about how differently The New York Times and The Guardian had covered the leak. In essence, he found that the two papers ran entirely different stories about the same exact material.

Johnson relied on a method called content analysis when comparing the two papers. This method involves both recording the number of instances a certain word or phrase appears in an article as well as determining the broader intention of the text. However, the simple truth is you don’t need a scientific approach to realize the vast differences between the two stories. It’s obvious. All you have to do is look at the most prominent article in The Guardian with the headline, “Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths” versus the most prominent article in The New York Times with the headline, “Pakistan Spy Service Aids Insurgents, Reports Assert.” The difference between the two papers’ coverage of the leak is plain to see: The Guardian focused on civilian casualties and The New York Times focused on the connection between Pakistan and the Taliban. For an interesting example from Johnson’s article:

“Of the twenty times the word “civilian” is used in The Times only nine uses are in reference to casualties resulting from combat operations (four of these are clustered in a single section midway down the page and two were at the hands of Afghan soldiers or police). The Guardian‘s coverage used the word “civilian” 41 times in their primary coverage and 37 of these uses referred specifically to civilian casualties (two cases occurred in each newspaper concerning hypothetical casualties and these have not been included). The difference between The Times and The Guardian is dramatic and represents a ratio of 2:1.”

Johnson goes on to explain that after he factored in the differences in word count between the two articles it became apparent that The New York Times had actually focused seven times less attention on civilian casualties than The Guardian. So, why is there such a discrepancy in the coverage?

Johnson writes that the fact that The New York Times chose not to emphasize civilian casualties, “suggests a political motive to avoid discussing the human impact of the war. This is consistent with the hypothesis that a close association between journalists and American political, economic, and military officials would influence reporters in the direction of those same officials.” In other words, this sort of bias is the inevitable result of journalists and editors constantly rubbing shoulders with (as well as needing to maintain access to) the very politicians they are theroretically supposed to be holding accountable.The New York Times’ own Note to Readers on July 25th reaffirms this hypothesis in that it reveals that the paper’s editors spoke with White House officials prior to making a decision regarding what they would publish.  This sort of voluntary censorship coupled with an article that almost completely omits what many believe to be the primary significance of The Afghan War Diary is disturbing to say the least. It would seem that the United State’s most prestigious newspaper is doing US government officials a favor by trying to garner public support for an increasingly unpopular war.

None of this is to say that The Guardian is a more honest paper. The fact of the matter is that if The Guardian were addressing an issue as central to British politics as the Afghanistan war is to politics in the United States you could probably expect a similar result. While it focused much more on the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even The Guardian’s story dramatically underestimated the number of civilian deaths revealed in the documents. To quote Johnson again:

“In The Guardian‘s article entitled “Logs Reveal Grim Toll on Civilians” they state that the documents show “144 entries in the logs recording…hundreds of casualties.” However, this was only in the so-called “blue on white” events (those cases where US and NATO forces acknowledged firing on civilians). Further analysis of the data show that these are only a small percentage of the overall impact on the Afghan population. In the category labeled High Severity there are 1,539 pages including 50 military reports on each page. A search for CIV KIA (military code for civilians killed in action) among the first 5,000 reports brings a total of 796 hits. In other words, an average of one in six reports contains evidence of a civilian death, and most involve more than one.”

All of this demonstrates the incredible importance of what Julain Assange and WikiLeaks are doing. By releasing actual reports detailing what the war is really like as told by actual reports from coalition forces the American public is empowered to ask not only, why is the war in Afghanistan being spun to us? But also, who’s doing the spinning?

Written by Tiresias

August 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm