6 August marks the day nuclear weapons were first employed on a mass scale against human populations—this against the city-center of Hiroshima on the Honshu island of the country of Japan in 1945. The explosion of “Little Boy”—the weapon dropped from the U.S. bomber Enola Gay shortly after 8am on 6 August—in the atmosphere just above Hiroshima was immediately responsible for the murder of some 200,000 people, while the longer-term radiation-related deaths (also murders) amount to some 70,000. Upon hearing of the news that the nuclear attack on Hiroshima had been successful, U.S. president Harry Truman reportedly declared the following: “This is the greatest thing in history.” Three days after this world-historical event—an event directed against the residents of Hiroshima, and against humanity—Truman decided to go forward with the atomic-bombing of yet another populated city center—that of Nagasaki, where approximately 80,000 were killed instantaneously, with another 40,000 succumbing to conditions induced by radiation in subsequent years. No one has ever been held responsible for these monstrous crimes; the racism that legitimates such action surely lived on after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as can be seen by reflecting on the assaults visited since August 1945 on Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Chechnya, Gaza, and Iraq, among other sites subject to fascist destruction.
Fortunately enough, not all of these targeted societies have been subjected to the use of nuclear weapons, however horrifying have been the mass-chemical attacks against the Vietnamese and the Kurds and the employment of ‘high-tech’ experimental weapons against Gazan Palestinians—D.I.M.E., fletchette shells, etc. The people of Iraq, however, have been victimized by nuclear attack; nuclear weapons have in fact been employed against them. It should of course be clear precisely who it is that has carried out such this monstrous affront: the U.S. military, the same actor that first employed nuclear weapons against humans 65 years ago. The present nuclear attack against Iraqis has not been prosecuted exactly by the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the exponentially more destructive thermonuclear arms: instead, Iraq has been subjected to the mass-employment of the nuclear waste known as depleted uranium (DU) in munitions expended by the U.S. military in Iraq. Apparently, rounds containing DU pierce armor more readily than do rounds made from alternative materials; Barry Sanders writes1 that, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, restrictions limiting the use of DU rounds in and near populated centers have been lifted, in contradistinction to practice during the 1990-1991 First Gulf War (as terrible as the ‘strategic air campaign’ turned out for Iraqis). Sanders cites reports that estimate that between 100 and 200 tons of DU were used in 2003 alone, and he claims “a good portion” of Iraq’s surface area to be directly “covered” with a “fine film” of DU following its mass-usage by the Coalition of the Willing since 2003.2 In situ exposure to DU is merely one aspect of the problem, given that it seems to be able to be distributed over farther distances via dust particles.
Given the nature of physics and chemistry, it should be unsurprising that significant adverse human-health impacts have been associated with exposure to DU (for DU is a product of uranium-enrichment processes). A 2004 report headed by Dr. Ahmad Hardan predicted that DU-exposure among Iraqis would result in significantly higher rates of infertility, miscarriages, fetal deformation, and such congenital conditions as hydrocephaly and anacephaly.3 Sadly enough, such predictions seem to have been accurate: a letter written jointly by Iraqi and British doctors in October 2009 regarding the situation in Fallujah—a Sunni-majority city that was subject to attack by the U.S. military in April and November 2004 found by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson to have been far graver than the Nazi bombing of Guérnica in 19374—warned that young women there “are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias […].”5 A report released by physicians Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan, and Entesar Ariabi in July 2010—“Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009”—explores these epidemiological problems in systematic fashion. The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,6 examines the alarmingly high cancer and infant-mortality rates seen among the city’s populace since the 2004 U.S. assault. Infant mortality rates in Fallujah (2006-2010) amount to 80 per 1,000 births (for comparative purposes, this rate is about 20 per 1,000 in Egypt, 17 per 1,000 in Jordan, and 10 per 1,000 in Kuwait), and soar to 136 per 1,000 during the year 2009-2010. Observed cancer rates (‘reported’) in Fallujah are significantly higher than those seen in Egypt and neighboring Jordan (‘expected’): cancer rates among young Fallujah residents aged 0-14 is over 12 times higher than comparable rates in these two countries, while leukemia rates among those aged 0-35 is nearly 40 times the expected rate. Brain tumors for all ages are found to be over 7 times the expected rate; breast cancer among females aged 0-44 is nearly 10 times the expected; lymphoma among those aged 0-35 are over 9 times expected rates; all malignancies for all age-groups are found to be 4 times higher than expected rates. As entirely horrifying as such results are, they are perhaps dwarfed by what may well be the report’s most disturbing revelation: among those Fallujah residents aged 0-4—that is, among those born between 2006 and 2010—only 860 males were born to 1000 females, an 18 percent reduction from the expected value of 1,055 males so born. The study’s authors find this “[p]erturbation of the sex ratio” to be “a well known consequence of exposure of mutagenic stress”; it results “from the sensitivity of the male sex chromosome complement to damage,” damage that is advanced by “ionising radiation at low doses and specifically exposure to Uranium.”
It should be remembered that DU, being radioactive, has a half-life of between 4.5 and 4.7 billion years.
It should also be noted that the U.S. Military denies that DU exposure is linked to the various significantly adverse health consequences experienced by those subject to the use of these nuclear weapons. That it then allocates no resources to attempting to ‘clean up’ expended DU—however it is that such a project could be carried out, if in fact it is the case that it could—or to compensating its victims is unsurprising, the limitless horror of such notwithstanding.7 Such utter disregard for human life—Iraqi life in particular—would of course be nothing extraordinary for the U.S., which established and enforced a brutal sanctions regime that killed millions and were rightly described by successive UN administrators as genocidal.8 Such absurd behavior of course has its parallels in the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe, as in dominant treatment of the specter of catastrophic climate change.
Given the highly negative health consequences associated with DU usage, it can be said that its mass-use by the U.S. military in Iraq amounts to what Sanders terms the “willful eradication of the future of a civilization”9; in Mark Gaffney’s estimation, it represents “the ultimate atrocity,”10 for the effects detailed in “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009” will for all intents and purposes likely persist for the entire remainder of human history—and far beyond that, if present threats to human survival are not soon resolved.
The findings shared in Busby et al’s study surely necessitates the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for the suffering experienced by Iraqis, whether they be held to account by means of an official international tribunal or through extra-legal processes—thoughi it must also be recognized that such is of little benefit to those born with life-threatening cancers brought about by the U.S. military. The acute deprivations visited on the people of Fallujah, as on Iraqis generally, calls for such mass-debasement never again to be be permitted or reiterated—the age-old ‘never again.’ Given extant global power relations, however—in addition to the marked absence of a “global self-conscious subject”11 that could effectively oppose such—it is likely that such crimes will in fact be repeated in the future, perhaps in even more brutal fashion than to date practiced by the U.S.
The monstrous barbarism visited on Iraqis moreover shows up the utter depravity of the current U.S. administration—if any further evidence for such were needed—given its refusal to prosecute the members and supporters of the preceding administration; this barbarism also indicts the enterprise of the U.S. military, in addition to the totality of social relations which lend their support to such absolute horrors by ignoring and rationalizing them. No justification exists for the fascism visited by the United States upon Fallujah in particular or Iraq in general; none can. That these historical negations were carried out largely to effect control over hydrocarbon resources12—the very same materials whose contemporary mass-combustion threatens to provoke catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate system that would render-impossible the continuation of life on much of planet Earth—points up the depth of the present predicament, and of the seemingly limitless horror of its fundament.
Knowledge of the barbarism to which the U.S. has subjected the people of Iraq, and those of Fallujah in particular, should surely be taken as a call for humanity to arise, to awaken, as “The Internationale” declares: to work to overthrow barbarism, negation, and domination. Reflection on the fate of Fallujah’s residents should represent a reminder of the imperative of working to prevent similar assaults by imperialist forces on Iraq’s eastern neighbor, however it may be that such could be effected. Herbert Marcuse will be allowed the final word:
“the revolutionary struggle demands the halting of what is happening and what has happened. Before it can give itself some sort of positive goal, this negation is the first positive act. What the human being has done to other humans and to nature must stop and stop radically—only afterwards can freedom and justice prevail.”13
1The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2009)
2Ibid: cf. “Depleted Uranium,” p. 83-92
3Brita May Rose, “America’s Radioactive War,” Counterpunch, 4 November 2004
4The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), p. 37
7“Weapons dust worries Iraqis. US Concerned,” The Hartford Courant, 6 November 2004
8Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010), p. 128-9
9Op. cit., p. 91
10“U.S. Use of Radiological Weapons Calls for an International Tribunal,” 23 August 2007
11Theodor W. Adorno, “Progress,” in Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989)