Call it Ecocide

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

In the cradle of civilization, young women have become terrified about having children.

This is the news I take with me into Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude and family togetherness: that doctors in Fallujah, the Iraqi city we devastated in two military assaults in 2004, have begun documenting a startling rise in birth defects — about 15 times the pre-invasion occurrence of early-life cancers and brain and nervous-system abnormalities, according to the U.K.’s Guardian.

A group of British and Iraqi doctors have petitioned the United Nations to investigate the situation, which is clearly related to the U.S. invasion and occupation. According to their letter: “In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 newborn babies, 24 percent of whom were dead within the first seven days (and) a staggering 75 percent of the dead babies were classified as deformed.” In comparison, the letter said, in August 2002 — before the invasion — 530 babies were born; six of them died within the first week, with a single birth defect reported.

Young women in Fallujah, the doctors wrote, “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.”

What might be causing this nightmare? The most likely factors are chemical or radiation poisoning, according to the Nov. 14 Guardian article, which noted: “Abnormal clusters of infant tumors have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf — areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.”

Finally, this is just another story about ecocide — the murder of a nation’s ecosystem, both intentionally and as a predictable consequence of military actions — which is the true name for war. When the New York Times and all other mainstream outlets see the need to write about the future ecocide ventures we are now preparing for, or the current ones we are always in the process of throttling down or up, I wish they’d stop using the romantic word “war.” The modern manifestation of this exercise in mutual and collective insanity is so toxic and destructive, its effects cannot simply be absorbed by the human race, the environment in which our lives are possible or even our DNA.

Whatever we think we’re doing — defending ourselves, securing our interests, bringing democracy to the Third World — we are first and foremost committing ecocide, in collusion with our enemies, perhaps, but this hardly reduces our own responsibility for such consequences as widespread PTSD and, oh Lord, birth defects.

The craven defense from the military-industrial sector is that there’s “no proof” . . . no proof that white phosphorous, for instance, or depleted uranium, two of the prime suspects in the Fallujah nightmare, cause birth defects.

There was also “no proof,” for several decades, that Agent Orange, the defoliant containing dioxin, caused harm to American soldiers, much less the Vietnamese (3 million of whom, and/or their offspring, still suffer the consequences of their exposure to it). For 17 years, there was “no proof” that the toxic brew stirred up by Gulf War I — DU, insect repellant, anti-nerve gas medication, smoke from burning oil wells — was responsible for returning troops’ array of horrific symptoms that were known as Gulf War Syndrome. And then, after years of study, stonewalling and damage control, lo and behold, proof, as they say, happened.

And proof will happen in regard to the hell being inflicted by the war on terror, but not now, not while its expansion is being debated. For now, there’s “no proof” that white phosphorous does anything but burn the enemy’s skin off; or that DU munitions, with their extraordinary penetrating prowess and vaporization upon impact, do anything except destroy tanks and promote freedom.

But if we called what we’re doing in Iraq ecocide, maybe we could start tallying up the toxic — including the emotionally toxic — substances we’re pumping into the country’s air and water and earth and sand, and into the psyches of our own soldiers.

There’s no controlling force on earth with less accountability and more impunity than the world’s various military authorities, because their barbaric mandate is sheer dominance over declared or potential enemies, and all moral, social and ecological compunction is thrown into the breach as they pursue their agendas.

Is the endless movement of military traffic across the fragile desert ecosystem potentially harmful? Excuse me, but there’s “no proof” that the ghastly increase in dust storms sweeping across Iraq, turning the Fertile Crescent into the Dust Bowl, as reported in July in the Los Angeles Times, is caused, or even partially caused, by the movement of U.S. military tanks and trucks, which have broken the desert’s fragile crust of sand.

And there’s “no proof” that the lung-clogging, almost daily dust storms — and the toxic and radioactive substances, including the microscopically fine power of spent depleted uranium ammunition, that are mixed in with the blowing sand — have anything to do with the increase in birth defects and early cancers in Fallujah. So let’s wait at least a decade before we call it ecocide.