Helmet of Staff Sgt. William Wee Willie Battle. He served from July 1969 until his death in June 1970. Virginia War Museum.

Love in the Time of Depleted Uranium

By Eric Francis
Planet Waves Weekly

I'M ELATED THAT there's a huge peace protest in London this week, because I've been sick and disgusted about the war and it's the first good news I've heard in months on end, almost a year.

I try not to let it all bother me that much, but in actual fact, in reality, in my heart and gut, I am angry and troubled and often depressed about how dark the situation is, how dark the future of it all is, and by how much sorrow is being made for so many people and so many families here, in Iraq and everywhere else this war is touching and devastating lives.

I'm made nauseous by how many rich businessmen, many who hold public office and are brazenly, directly associated with creating this war, are profiting incalculably from the occupation right in front of everyone's face, murdering and embezzling the resources of a nation in the name of patriotism and freedom. I can barely find the words to express my rage at the media outlets which know this, and which fail to explain it to their readers, viewers and listeners. They in turn fail to make the connections because those connections are being concealed.

I am horrified by the idea that we are waging war on the Iraqi people purportedly in retaliatio for the Sept. 11 attacks even when George Bush reluctantly admitted that there was no connection whatsoever between Saddam and Sept. 11. Worse still, we are creating just the kind of chaos, devastation, pain and fear in which terrorism thrives.

As I learn more about this situation, which I do every day, I am evermore infuriated by the treatment of U.S. troops by their own government: how some 90% have said they're having trouble getting paid, and many are worried about their families, and the outrageous slashing of veteran's benefits. And, for example, how George Bush and his men have declared a press blackout on the return of bodies of more than 400 soldiers who have died serving their country -- as many as were killed in the first several years of Vietnam combined. While Italy welcomed its fallen combat warriors with military honors and an official state funeral, U.S. leaders have not attended one single funeral or service because it would draw media attention to the dismal fact that in war, people die. And people are hurt. I am infuriated by what has been described as the inhumane treatment of the wounded when they return to the United States missing arms, legs, hearing, eyesight, and pieces of their spirit.

And I'm enraged at the silence surrounding all of this, as if it were all some big family secret that we're all supposed to hide under the sofa and ignore the stench of. It's not like people don't have a clue there's a problem. Millions, even in the U.S., poured into the cities on Feb. 15 this year warning of exactly what unfolded over the following nine months. For the first time in my life, I feel like I need protests in the streets to vent my anger, because words won't do it. Persuasion, reasoning, sharing facts and information, sending forwards, making the best writing I can find on the subject available to my readers, all just make me feel more powerless and frustrated.

As a Quaker and as a Christian, I am deeply offended by the attitudes of so many who claim to be followers of Jesus who are supporting this war, preaching its virtues from the pulpits. This in my opinion is the lowest, most cynical kind of hypocrisy, a cold-blooded message to children and the most twisted abuse of people's faith that I have ever personally witnessed. But it's nothing new.

Somehow I get the feeling that it's inappropriate (here in the States) to feel too strongly about any of this, as if to point out any of it breaks the rules, so I'd better keep my damned mouth shut and not intrude on anyone's afternoon or anyone's astrology newsletter with too much of the painful, sick reality that this is a war of personal greed, a war of lies, a war of stupid military planning, a war of ignorance and a war of cold, vicious inhumanity. I'm not supposed to mention that the men of Bush's cabinet remind me of wax museum figures of Nazis who have suddenly come to life, scowling and smirking as they kill and prosper.

I'm supposed to shut up about feeling frustrated, even furious, at how silent we, the supposedly free and supposedly brave people of the supposedly greatest supposed democracy ever, have been since the bombs started falling, compliant even as a constant litany of fraud by the people who started this war is exposed day after day, then forgotten, as if none of it happened. I am incensed that we ignore those lies even as they are told to us. "I try not to think about it," an old lady said to me today at the supermarket as I sat eating my soup, summing it all up in seven words.

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington DC

I am not physically in London this week, but I am very much there in heart and soul. I hope the screaming voices of hundreds of thousands of our cousins in the UK rattles the bulletproof glass of the presidential limousine and shakes the very ground it rides on.

I hope the raging vibes of all those people, tons of young people and everyone on up of every shade, make these guys sweat and have at least one reflective, somber moment as they ride through the city away from crowds for "security" reasons. Security! The world was a heck of a lot safer before bombs started falling, which the world as I know it anyway was against. But no matter. George Bush and Tony Blair and others whose names we don't know conspired grotesquely to betray the excellent work of their own intelligence agencies and the trust of their own people and governments, and to instigate a war that they want to last an entire century. This particular fact comes from the web page of Project for the New American Century, the NeoConservative think-tank and business affiliation that years ago proposed the very turn of events we are now witnessing, and which got Bush into office quite literally on a royal scam.

I hope that Americans are shocked to a sober awakening by the outpouring of British opposition to the war and their support for world peace. Europe at this time in history really is a more intelligent, conscious and humane society than the United States. They have a lot more to lose than we do, and a lot less space to lose it in. Resources are tighter there, and they're used better. There is an understanding of the links between political, economic and ecological issues that pervades every single European or British person I've talked to going back many years. There's a taken-for-granted level of informed awareness in the Olde Country about basic world facts and realities that I am hoping against hope finds some place in the American consciousness. I hope it wakes us up to how the horrid attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (paraphrasing philanthropist George Soros) were hijacked by a bunch of perverse go-for-it guys who have used the grief of the world to launch an agenda they were planning years, probably decades, ago.

On this side of the ocean, two things are missing: anger and perspective. And a third: compassion for the people who are suffering in Iraq, and compassion and respect for the very troops that advocates of the war claim to support, and bash those who favor peace for supposedly not supporting -- another stupid lie. Most of them joined the military because they saw it as their only chance for college, and, after all, we were promised peace when we won the 40-year Cold War. We were promised peace and prosperity. And the second is worthless without the first.

This is not the Vietnam era, when protestors couldn't separate the war from those sent to fight it. They will pay a great price as the next generation of Gulf War Syndrome victims returns home. Just like the Agent Orange vets before them, who today still suffer from chemical injuries to their nervous, immune and reproductive systems. In recent months I have been doing my best to learn the history of Vietnam, a war that was in full force when I was born, and which I had to watch and listen to on television every single night because my father was studying TV as part of his Ph.D. research.

If I told you the story of Vietnam, you might not believe me -- but I'm going to tell you anyway since you're not likely to hear it anywhere else, and since it demonstrates an important point, which is that Vietnam was simply war for the sake of war, fought with poisons, bombs, guns and burning gasoline jelly dumped from airplanes onto people (called napalm). But that came a bit later.

There were actually two Vietnam Wars. Through the late 1940s and 1950s, the French battled the natives in what was then called French Indochina. There was nothing French about this region, no wine or cheese or kisses. It was an attempted European colony in a distant, sovereign country in Asia, and the Vietnamese resisted the occupation with great ferocity. One mistake the French made was failing to understand that the Vietnamese had fought off China, to the north, for many centuries and knew how to wage war against a much bigger, richer enemy. The Americans would make the same mistake and pay for it dearly in lives, resources, credibility and humiliation.

French occupation of Vietnam culminated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This was a standoff between the occupying army and the native people planned for immediately before peace talks were to open in Geneva to settle the (even at that time) long Vietnam War. The French forces of 12,000 fortified a strategically critical jungle airstrip where men and supplies were to come in. Meanwhile, some 200,000 Vietnamese brought in tons of weaponry by hand through dense, trackless forests. Some 50,000 troops were brought in to fight the French, and there were 50,000 more to support them. Somehow the French failed to notice any of this. They fell into a trap. The Vietnamese were prepared to die for their independence, and many did, but they were not prepared to lose. When battle was done, the invaders had succumbed to the Vietnamese onslaught, and the occupation was over. Survivors of the occupying army were taken prisoner of war, and the Vietnamese had won their independence from their would-be colonizers.

The newly freed Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Minh, planned to create a United States-styled democracy. They approached President Eisenhower, but were rebuffed; apparently, the notion of indigenous rule was too much for him, and the temptation of war too great (and politically expedient). When the Geneva peace conference opened, the Americans refused to concede that Vietnam was independent, and would not willingly cede control of their own country back to the Vietnamese. At the Geneva talks, an imaginary line was drawn between the northern part of the country and the southern. Then the Americans installed their own dictator in a client state in the southern part of the country (which they deemed an independent state), hiring mercenary soldiers to fight, shipping in "advisors" and funneling in explosives, weapons and money. It was essentially a new invasion, but it was done quietly, from the inside, CIA-style. And, of course, out of public awareness.

The United States suddenly had two enemies: the people whose country was being occupied in the south, and Ho Chi Minh in the north. Instead of becoming our ally, Ho Chi Minh was forced to turn to China, a Marxist country, for support. Thus was born the myth of "Communist" North Vietnam versus "democratic" South Vietnam. Ho wasn't really a communist and the south wasn't really a democracy and the two weren't really different countries, but if you want a war, you have to have enemies. And in the midst of a concocted civil war, we had plenty of those, as we battled the North Vietnamese Army in the north and the Viet Cong in the south on their own native land -- and it didn't work well.

This situation was incredibly confusing and painful to the American servicemen who were sent there and who fought and died bravely. Everyone was the enemy, even the people we were supposedly fighting for. The easiest place to find out that the Vietnam War was a lie was Vietnam itself. Recognizing the futility of the situation, U.S. troops regularly murdered their own commanding officers, in increasing numbers as the war went on.

Born of the French defeat and nasty American arrogance, plus a whole lot of bullshit fed to the public, the war escalated month after month and year after year. It was cast, for public relations purposes, in the terrifying black-and-white guise of the Cold War, and the "domino theory" was created to justify it. If free, struggling South Vietnam "fell" to the Communists, countries of the world would topple like dominoes, one after the next, till finally the United States would succumb to the evil pink tide. It was a paranoid delusion of the worst kind, and people ate it up.


Vietnam War Memorial, Washington DC

John F. Kennedy, a politically astute, intelligent and relatively humane president, was planning a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam at the time he was assassinated, and was waiting for the 1964 election to be over to get the United States out.

Then came a deeply insecure man named Lyndon Johnson, who fell under the thrall of the Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and CIA and, for the next 10 years, the war raged on and on and on, thousands of tons of poison were dumped on lush forests and a society was shot, crushed, shattered and aggrieved. The nation was divided deeply over it, and that struggle seemed just as real as the one far abroad.

Today, it seems beyond insane that a lie could have grown to such proportions, with millions of Vietnamese shot and poisoned and their land contaminated. But we're watching it happen. The well-documented "yellowcake uranium" lie -- which translates to "look out, a nuclear Iraq is on the horizon" -- was a pure, genuine utter falsehood. There were many, and they continue. Every time Bush opens his mouth to say this is about terrorism, he is lying, and he knows he's lying. In war, there are the reasons, and there are the rationales. Us peons are rarely privileged to know the reasons. The rationales are pure, unadulterated spin. The Vietnam Lie resulted in three million Vietnamese deaths (at the time, not counting the effects of dioxin) and the deaths of 58,000 Americans, most of them teenagers, who were killed and many more poisoned and maimed, and their families and lives shattered. Dioxin, the contaminating poison of the Agent Orange used to strip bare the thick fragrant jungles of the region, sickened and deformed many of the children of exposed parents and can cause birth defects seven generations beyond those horrid days.

Once Vietnam started, it was like a wildfire, which, as we've seen from recent events in California, only requires one careless or mean person to ignite untold thousands of acres and destroy everything in its path. Fire, like war, has no conscience, and it very much has a life of its own. It is endlessly hungry, and it eats life. It doesn't matter how it starts, and it always starts small. Once it's burning, it is nearly impossible to stop. The Vietnam War spread into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, leading the way for new atrocities for many years to come, including the "killing fields" of Pol Pot.

In all, the United States dropped 450,000 tons of bombs on Laos, 430,000 tons on Cambodia, 643,000 tons on North Vietnam and 700,000 tons on South Vietnam. Plus innumerable tons of napalm, and Agent Orange, plus the even more toxic Agent White and Agent Blue (which were banned early on). And we still did not "win" the war. We were still driven back by the spirit of the Vietnamese and the spirit of activists at home, people who dared to get off their ass and speak their mind.

Today we have a big, black, mournful monument in Washington DC to help us remember, but we're all suffering from collective Alzheimer's as we do it all over again. To date, more American soldiers have died in Iraq than in the first ten years of Vietnam combined (1954-1964). This time, the prospect of war is far worse because the world is so much less stable, the environment so much more delicate, the economy so much more fragile. As are our lives. As individuals, we all live so much closer to the brink of sanity and economic struggle, if not ruin. We live in a time when our minds, and creativity, and resources, need to be directed toward healing our families, rebuilding the world, protecting the environment and reinventing society so it does not destroy the delicate balance of life on the planet.

The Agent Orange of our day is called depleted uranium. It is a heavy metal made of the radioactive waste of material used to make nuclear bombs. While the bombs sit at the ready to destroy every city on Earth, thousands of tank-piercing shells wrapped in depleted uranium are fired, sucking the tank's occupants out the other side. The depleted uranium vaporizes radiation that finds its way into every lung cell, into eyes and mouths through dust, contaminating soldiers and children and people selling cloth in markets. And plants and animals and the Earth. It has a half-life of four billion years. That, in scientific terms and human, is the legacy we are creating with our actions, and with our silence, today. ++

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Note, I'm aware this article is not footnoted. I've gotten most of my facts from books on Vietnam, an interview with an Asia scholar, and reading Truthout.org.