Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

U.S. Military Lacks Respect for the Environment

“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity."
-- Baltasar Gracian

"Falsehood is cowardice, the truth courage."
-- Hosea Ballou

"I am different from Washington.
I have a higher, grander standard of principle.
Washington could not lie.
I can lie, but I won't."

-- Mark Twain

Few will dispute that our life giving oceans have been harmed by human activities. Fish contain toxic levels of mercury, bottom sediments in harbors around the world are chemical wastelands, dead zones devoid of life are getting larger, fisheries are being exhausted, and consumers are being harmed by the seafood they eat.

Yet even with all this knowledge at hand, the U.S. military, while being marketed by President George W. Bush as the protectors of the world, has been testing weapons by firing radioactive, toxic ammunition made of depleted uranium into prime fishing areas of the coastal waters of the United States.

Depleted uranium (DU) remains radioactive for about 4.5 billion years. That is how old astronomers believe our solar system is today! When a DU round of ammunition hits a hard target, as much as 70 percent of the round burns on impact, creating a huge residue of fine ceramic uranium dust. Spread by wind or water the dust can be inhaled or absorbed into humans, plants and animals, and eventually integrated into the food chain.


Phalanx rapid-fire 20 millimeter gun system. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
The weapon being tested is known as the Phalanx or Close In Weapons System, present on nearly all U.S. Navy combat ships. The guns can fire up to 4,500 rounds of DU shells per minute. Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Karen Sellers told the “Seattle Post-Intelligencer” this week that these firings have been going on since 1977 and fire 400 to 600 rounds per test. The tests take place on both the east and west coasts of the United States,

Depleted uranium has already been implicated in the Gulf War Syndrome that has sickened hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans, many of whom have died. A study by the Uranium Medical Research Center in Canada and the U.S. showed that DU can still be found in the urine of Gulf War veterans nine years after the war.

Sellers went on to say that Navy environmental experts said that depleted uranium dissolves very slowly in the ocean. “It would be too diluted to distinguish from natural background uranium in the sea water,” she said. This is a bold claim, considering that no studies have ever been done to measure the effect of DU in the ocean.

Many environmentalists and anti-war activists are not convinced that these routine tests are harmless and the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action is one of the groups that is contemplating filing an injunction to stop the testing.


Fishing vessels at Fishermen's Port in Seattle (Photo by William B. Folsom courtesy NOAA)
One of the test zones is 25 to 100 miles off the coast of western Washington state, prime fishing areas for salmon, as well as flounder and other bottomfish. Fish living on or near the ocean floor are the ones most likely to build up toxic contamination from material that settles to the bottom.

A number of organizations believe that the depleted uranium used in Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. In November 2002, United Nations experts found radioactive hot spots in Bosnia that resulted from the use of depleted uranium during NATO air strikes in 1995.


Workers at former nuclear weapons production facility Rocky Flats suited up in protective clothing to excavate Trench 1, a former depleted uranium waste burial site. From June 10, 1999 cleanup crews removed 170 drums containing some 30 tons of DU. (Photo courtesy DOE)
Whatever your position on U.S. foreign policy and the Bush administration's desire to invade Iraq, it is impossible to condone the use of a deadly material that will leave a legacy of death behind for literally billions of years.

Depleted uranium affects not only the people of any country we invade, but harms the land, the sea, innocent citizens, and our own soldiers.

How can the lies ever end in an organization like the U.S. military that considers itself exempt from most laws, especially environmental ones?

How can anything be trusted from a government that allows its military to pollute the Earth around the world, putting people and animals at risk regardless of their country of origin?

War not only kills innocent people and damages our souls, but it ravages the Earth’s ecosystems as well. The cost to our future is higher than we will ever know.


1. Visit the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action at: http://www.gzcenter.org/

2. Read more about the pollution threats to fish in another “"Healing Our World” commentary, “Fish – A good neighbor but a dangerous food,” at: http://ens-news.com/ens/jan2001/2001-01-19g.asp

3. The use of depleted uranium had a devastating effect on the people of Iraq. Read more at: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/95178_du12.shtml

4. Read more about the impact the military is having on our environment at: http://ens-news.com/ens/sep2002/2002-09-27g.asp

5. The Center for Defense Information has produced a video on “The Environmental Effects of War.” Get it at: http://www.cdi.org/adm/1251/

6. See an extensive list of environmental impacts by the military at: http://eces.org/ec/population/military.shtml and http://www.cpeo.org/pubs/crme/crme-IX-3.html

7. Find out who your elected representatives are and contact them. Tell them that the military must end its blatant disrespect for environmental concerns. You can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html or your local bookstore. His new book of photographs and thoughts on interconnectedness, “Of This Earth, Reflections on Connections,” is now available. Learn about it at: http://ofthisearth.org. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}