Who Uses Weapons of Mass Destruction
From Vietnam to Iraq, the Use of Chemical Weapons by the US and Canada
By Alison Bodine
Depleted Uranium is the Agent Orange of the Iraq War
For the Vietnamese, it started as a grey cloud falling from the sky. In the 10 years between 1961 and 1971, 72 Mllion litres of the herbicide Agent Orange would be dropped on 10 percent of Vietnam. Vietnamese scientists have estimated that as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese citizens were directly exposed to these chemical weapons. Sprayed indiscriminately over Vietnamese people and farmlands, the active ingredient in Agent Orange, dioxin, not only destroyed foliage and the environment, but also has been directly linked to severe health problems of people who came in direct contact and generations of Vietnamese to follow.
“When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the military formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the civilian version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned.”
- Dr. James R. Clary, a former senior scientist at the Air Force Armament Development Lab
For Iraqis, it started in the 1991 Gulf War and has continued in the current Iraq war. From white phosphorus, to the modern equivalent of napalm (Mark 77 firebombs), to thousands of tons of depleted uranium (DU) “Bunker Buster” bombs and armour penetrating bullets, the US-led war and occupation has brought weapons of mass destruction to Iraq.
“Why are we using these weapons? We are poisoning the soldiers. We’re poisoning Iraq. We’re poisoning the world. Depleted uranium is the Agent Orange of the Iraq War”
– March 2008 Winter Soldier testimony of US Marine Matt Howard
Depleted Uranium is a Weapon of Mass Destruction
Depleted uranium is the radioactive by-product of nuclear power used to make death and destruction more efficient and affordable for the occupying forces. DU is denser then lead, and therefore can penetrate surfaces to a greater degree then conventional weapons. After contact, DU bombs create both a depleted uranium oxide dust that is able to be inhaled and a by-product that is water soluble.
Through two wars, the people of Iraq have been bombarded with this deadly weapon. 700-800 tons of depleted uranium was used in the 1991 bombing of southern Iraq. 970 radioactive bombs and missiles were dropped in Iraq during that time.
In the current war and occupation of Iraq that began in 2003, the depleted uranium arsenal has been unleashed over Iraqi people indiscriminately. As early as April of 2003, US/UK forces used an estimated 2000 tons of DU (Christian Scherrer, “DU and the Liberation of Iraq”), mostly in high-population areas of Baghdad during the “Shock and Awe” campaign. After five more years of occupation, the amount of DU sent into Iraq is considerably higher. The US and allies invaded Iraq under the guise of looking for weapons of mass destruction. Internationally, depleted uranium is considered a weapon of mass destruction. In the UN Human Rights Commission 1996 session, they concluded that the use of DU constitutes a crime against humanity. Again in 2002, the Human Rights Commission stated the use of DU shells and bombs by US/UK forces violated numerous international human rights codes and conventions.
Beyond Depleted Uranium
Chemical weapons have also been widely used against the Iraqi resistance. In 2004, this fact was widely publicized after the release of an Italian documentary showing that the US had used white phosphorus in their attack on the city of Fallujah. White phosphorus is a chemical that burns in oxygen, and when it comes into contact with skin, will burn all the way to the bone. Also in use are Mark 77 firebombs, a combination of jet fuel and a gel that means the burning bomb sticks to skin, the modern day equivalent of the napalm used in Vietnam.
Continued War: the Lasting Effects of DU and Agent Orange
The most extensive studies about the effects of exposure to DU and Agent Orange have been performed on the US citizens directly affected - soldiers. Working and poor people that were drafted or joined the military due to the “poverty draft” have faced severe health problems. The same health crisis brought on US soldiers was also dropped on people in Vietnam and Iraq who have not received funds for extensive medical studies or treatment.
After hard fought battles, the Veterans Administration in the US now automatically awards service-connected disability to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange for thirteen different health conditions from certain cancers plus chronic health problems and Type II diabetes. In 1984, corporate defenders of the companies that manufactured Agent Orange lost a lawsuit brought by US victims of exposure to the chemical weapon. They were ordered to pay $180 million to 52,000 sick veterans and families.
Despite the recognition by the government of the US that exposure to Agent Orange causes not only death and disease, but birth defects in children of people exposed, the Vietnamese people have received no recognition of their suffering at the hands of the US during the war. Beyond the initial effects of massive defoliation, destruction of farmland and chemical exposure, Agent Orange is still contaminating soil and fish in Vietnam at an alarming rate. According to the Canadian firm Hatfield Consultants, the level of contamination in Vietnam was 300 to 400 times higher then acceptable levels. This means that Agent Orange continues to bring death and disability to the people of Vietnam almost 40 years after it was last sprayed.
Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have received no compensation. In fact, they have faced defeat in US courts. In February 2008, a US federal appeals court upheld an earlier decision regarding the case of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against manufacturers of the chemical, saying it was not used as weapon of war against the population. Essentially the ruling class said that the people of Vietnam are just collateral damage who do not deserve compensation for suffering brought on by the US. The US has never agreed it has the legal duty to provide funds or assistance to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.
Iraqi victims of depleted uranium used in the Gulf War have also received no compensation. In fact, instead they received instead twelve years of sanctions that severely limited their access to healthcare and medicines to treat the diseases caused by DU. According to studies supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the effects of DU in Iraq, DU causes higher incidences of diseases which are not commonly found in the region including various forms of cancer, an increased rate of miscarriage, deformed babies, and possible damage to hereditary genes that could be passed on for generations. According to studies done by doctors presented by the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in Najaf, Iraq, the rate of leukemia in areas as far as 180 miles from bombing sites has grown 600 percent since 2001.
Depleted Uranium is radioactive, with a half-life of over four billion years. This means that its effects will contaminate Iraq for an unimaginable amount of time, contaminating the food and water supplies and bringing disease and death for generations to come. If the example of the Vietnamese fighting for justice in the case of Agent Orange remains, it can be certain that the people of Iraq will never receive support or compensation for DU contamination.
Canada and Agent Orange
Canada has also had a direct role in the use of chemical weapons as a lasting tool of war. One of seven manufacturers that provided the chemical to the US military, Uniroyal Chemicals, was located in Ontario. In 1966-67, Canada invited the US to test Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, which they did, exposing both soldiers and the community to this deadly toxin. Also, between 1956 and 1984, Agent Orange was used as a defoliator for various New Brunswick public services and its use continued at the CFB Gagetown. Canadian victims of exposure to Agent Orange have engaged in lawsuits against the government of Canada and manufacturers of Agent Orange, but to this day have only received minimum compensation for those affected during US testing in 1966-67, and nothing for those who were exposed in other years.
Death and Destruction at the Hands of Imperialism Does Not Discriminate
The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and depleted uranium in Iraq are not isolated incidents. There has been a systematic use of DU and chemical weapons in the history of imperialist war and occupation: Vietnam 1961-71, Iraq 1991, Bosnia 1995, Yugoslavia/Serbia 1999, Afghanistan from October 2001, and Iraq from March 2003. The testing and manufacture of these weapons has not only affected people in oppressed countries, but working and poor people at home in the US, UK and Canada.
These weapons do not only destroy the infrastructure, environment, and lives of people today, but the lasting effects continue to destroy the lives of the people long after the troops leave. This is not just the exception, but the rule for imperialist war and occupation. The US, UK, Canada and other imperialist countries are constantly trying to find the most efficient and successful ways to carry out their terror against people in oppressed countries, regardless of the effects the weapons may have on humanity or on the environment. The most effective way to end the use of chemical and nuclear weapons is to fight to end war and occupation.
Back to Article Listing