Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

A Vicious Downward Spiral to Destruction

The Military and Nuclear Pollution

Yana M. Bland, Ph.D., Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region

The Mediterranean, where I come from, has been occupied by various foreign military powers for some two thousand years. Before the military invaders came, we enjoyed a three-thousand-year temple age with a guiding creativity motif of the "tree of life" with its interconnected branches spiraling upward. The military age replaced that homage to life by an obsession with territorial power and death-a vicious downward spiral-with militarized states dependent on gross inequalities and violence and these very inequalities and violent repression breeding more violence. Despite important changes, this remains the predominant socio-economic model.

The problem is staggering

War economies with their concomitant technological advances and lack of democracy have accelerated military madness. Now, the size of the problem is staggering. There are, for instance, 400 metric tons of separated plutonium in the world today-most of it in the US and former Soviet military stockpiles. The radioactive half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. One millionth of an ounce of inhaled plutonium oxide dust will cause lung cancer in humans.

Radioactive contaminated waste is transported and dumped, threatening the eco-system and the health of humans. Recently, 25 shiploads of radioactive waste were sunk in the Mediterranean not far from Italy. Seven of them were sunk in the calm sea near densely populated Reggio. Some containers were found to be contaminated with Thorium 238, a radioactive metal. The Attorney General of Reggio is investigating the crime ring responsible, including George Comerio, who is said to have been been paid $1.4 million for every 200 ton container of radioactive waste that he has scuttled.

The Mediterranean is one of the most inhabited areas of the world and the nearly-enclosed sea takes over 200 years to recycle. We are already noting a higher rate of leukemia in fishing ports. The chief engineer of this "scientific" dumping recently attended a course run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the totally undemocratic agency that is supposed to be the international nuclear watchdog.

Instead of focusing on the real problems of nuclear waste disposal and the threat of toxic contamination of millions of people, the US government increases production and proliferation of weapons of death in order to further increase its military supremacy.

Few U.S. citizens have been on the receiving end of such missiles and fearfully destructive weapons. But members of the "Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region," many of whom are refugees from war zones, recognize the escalation of the arms race in the Eastern Mediterranean as a serious threat to peace and to their basic human rights.

The New Arms Race

Despite the end of the Cold War, excessive production and trade in weapons of mass destruction continues. The lame economic excuse that arms exports favor a nation's balance of payments is further undermined by recent "offsetting agreements" that negate the necessity for a buyer to actually pay.

In the past year, the United States has sold millions of dollars of advanced weapons to Turkey.

Table: Selected U.S. Arms Contracts with Turkey, January-December 1995
March 16 Martin Marietta supplies MK41 vertical launching systems, installation support and ancillary hardware. Contract values at $2.9m.
Apr 28 Lockheed won a $55m increase to a contract for 80 F-16 aircraft.
May 3 General Electric won a $37.7 m contract for 10 F110 engines for F-16D aircraft.
May 11 Boeing won a $5.8m contract to supply materials for KC-135 aircraft.
May 23 Raytheon won a $4.5m contract to supply Seasparrow missile systems.
June 5 CFM International won a $512m contract to supply 30 CFM56 engines for KC-135 aircraft./TD>
July 24 General Electric won a $17.1m contract for F-110 engines for F-16D aircraft.
Aug 15 McDonnell Douglas Aerospace won a $15.3m contract to supply Harpoon & SLAM missiles.
Aug 21 Lockheed won a $511m increase to an F-16 aircraft contract.
Sep 29 General Electric: $7.3m contract for 118 combustion cases for GE F-110 engines for F-16C and D aircraft.
Dec 15 US Congress approves a $132m package of 120 ATACMS.
Total value of selective U.S. arms contracts: $1,300.6 million from Arms Trade News Nov 95-Jan 96

The Turkish military has tortured and maimed countless people, killed thousands, and destroyed close to 3,000 villages. Most people know about and sympathize with the plight of Kurdish refugees! But the Turkish government has also repeatedly violated UN resolutions calling for an end its 22 year occupation of northern Cyprus. Yet the U.S. government ratified the sale of $132 million Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Turkey for its own military ends, ensuring continued US access to Incyrlik air base in south central Turkey. Obviously, U.S. military policy is territorial to the point of ignoring blatant human rights abuses to further its own war economy.

Joint Ventures

Not only is there uncontrolled production and trade in arms, long after the end of the Cold War, there are an increasing number of joint military ventures. These result in new centers of military industry and technology, many in flagrantly oppressive and undemocratic states. Recently, for instance, McDonnell-Douglas announced an $18 million joint venture with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and successfully lobbied US Congress to approve the export of Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) to the UAE, in order to clinch (and offset) an F-15 sale. This will significantly raise the level of weapons technology in the region.

Taxpayer liability

To ease the further proliferation of advanced military weapons and technology, the U.S. Congress passed a Loan Guarantee Program in December, 1995 which will underwrite most U.S. foreign military sales and cushion them with a $15 billion U.S. Treasury (Taxpayer) liability. Despite much peace rhetoric, the U.S. government will spend $265 billion dollars on traditional defense programs in 1996. This is almost as much as the rest of the world's combined expenditure on the military, and roughly three times more than any other single nation.

Ossified Strategies

Meanwhile, the "Partnership for Peace," one of the latest euphemisms for the extension of NATO and (therefore US) hegemony, has had the effect of decreasing the peace dividend and increasing the arms race. Between 1992 and 1994, cash-strapped "peace partners" still increased military spending, allowing for inflation, at the following absurd pace: Poland 100%; Hungary 10%; Slovakia 9%; Czech Republic 25%; Romania 690%.

The Pentagon's ossified strategy is based on paranoia and superpower mania. In East Asia, for instance, it maintains a "forward presence" of about 100,000 troops despite the fact that World War II ended 51 years ago. Pentagon policy is to indefinitely freeze relations in the Pacific. The dollar cost is high. In Japan and South Korea, this outdated policy has the effect of strengthening reactionary, narrow-minded leaderships and preventing progress toward equal and peaceful relations with neighboring peoples.

Military Pollution

We are only beginning to realize the toll upon the health of workers and resident communities on and around these monstrous, white-elephant, military bases. People living on the former site of the U.S. Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines are now suffering from miscarriages, genetic disorders, and symptoms of neuro-muscular and respiratory failure. The US continues to deny its responsibility.

Clusters of leukemia, especially fatal to 6 to 10 year olds, have been found in communities surrounding the British air force bases in Cyprus. Similar cases of base diseases and deaths can be substantiated at most overseas bases, with the imperative to clean up or cordon off and compensate. It is part of the military toxic legacy. Even within the borders of the mightiest military power some of the worst toxic time-bombs are now being discovered.

The Pentagon produces one ton of toxic waste a minute.

The Pentagon produces one ton of toxic waste a minute. In the late 1980's the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that the Department of Defense (DoD) was generating some 500,000 tons of toxins annually, more than the top five U.S. chemical companies combined. In April 1993, the DOD reported that it had identified 18,795 sites at 1,800 military installations that showed varying levels of soil and groundwater pollution.

Military installations routinely use hazardous materials in fueling and de-fueling vehicles, fuel boosters, degreasing engines, stripping paint off tanks, jets, and warships, firing off ammunition in maneuvers, spraying flame retardant, storing and disposing of hazardous chemicals and toxic mixtures.

Kelly AFB: A Texas Example

At Kelly Air Force Base (KAB) in the heart of San Antonio, workers were routinely exposed to radioactive contamination. In an open warehouse, the workers cleaned radioactive uranium dust from dummy nuclear warheads. The mortality rate among these workers was unusually high, many of them dying of cancer. At the adjacent Medina base, five known radioactive waste sites were identified between 1950 and 1965; others have not yet been acknowledged.

Depleted uranium was regularly used at Kelly, as a counterweight on aircraft parts, in the manufacture of hypervelocity anti-tank ammunition, and in shielding for radiographic inspection sources, among other uses. Depleted uranium is the residue left when natural uranium has been refined and consists of 99.8% natural uranium U-238, which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and emits alpha particles.

As late as July 6, 1994, during a routine check of scrap metal, a higher than normal radiation reading was traced to aluminum oxide grit used to remove paint and grime from jet engine parts. Grit blasters and eight bags of grit were found to be contaminated. Other items on the base that emitted low levels of radiation included electron tubes, certain metals in aircraft frames, and depleted uranium used as ballast on C-5 aircraft.

Toxic hydrocarbon compounds contained in jet fuel and dangerous fuel additives including tetraethyl lead, benzene, toluene and xylene have a long history at the air force base. Jet fuel exposure has been associated, by government agencies, with kidney and colorectal cancer. It primarily causes depression of the central nervous system and many of the symptoms felt by KAB neighbors: dizziness, headaches, fatigue, depression, muscular weakness, decreased motor functions, hearing loss, and respiratory tract irritation.

Both jet fuel and a commonly used degreasing chemical—trichloroethylene (TCE)—collect in water and will contaminate soil for 20 years or more. KAB admits that plumes of benzene, chlorobenzene, trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene are concentrated in shallow groundwater that has been migrating off base for many years. The EPA currently maintains that TCE is a probable human carcinogen.

Community Health Surveys and Research

Preliminary inquiries reveal a very high rate of cancers, asthma, allergies, dizziness, coughs and headaches among people in the communities near air force bases. Bone malformation, hair loss and high lead levels in children have also occurred near Kelly. The community has asked that a comprehensive health survey be done which I am now working on, thanks to a grant awarded to the Foundation for a Compassionate Society. Simultaneously, we are researching and networking concerning international military pollution, the dumping of nuclear waste, and the effects on economies and health.

Community health surveys are . . . making the connection between symptoms and toxins.

FCS is also working closely with the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition, bringing base neighbors from across the globe in contact with each other and facilitating a community health survey at the former US Grant Air Force Base. Community health surveys are a scientific and sensitive tool for diagnosing community ill-health and making the connection between symptoms and toxins.

Global Demilitarization Fund and Political Action

The Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region meeting in Malta on July 24, 1994 passed a resolution stating:

No defense budget in any country should exceed the budget for education. All nations must commit themselves to a ten per cent reduction in their military spending levels over the next five years. One-fifth of these savings from rich countries and one-tenth of savings from poor nations will go towards the Global Demilitarization Fund. We propose that the money going to the GDF be converted to a UN currency which can be used only for purposes of health, education, and human services.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias Sanchez is championing this cause in the Americas with a "Year 2000 Campaign to Redirect Military Spending to Human Development." He also proposes a Code of Conduct on Arms Sales.

Representative Patrick Leahy D-VT has relentlessly campaigned to restrict US export and use of land mines. Belgium and The Netherlands have just agreed to jointly destroy 393,000 anti-personnel mines at a total cost of $1.3m. Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross has begun an international advertising campaign to build support for a ban on land mines.

Women in the U.S., at least since the first world war, have consistently shown that they favor peace rather than war. If the 1990s is to be the decade of women in politics, we can justly hope that women will be effective in restraining the military monster, in preventing violence in all its Medusa forms, and in safeguarding our environment and health. The huge participation at the Fourth UN Conference on Women in China September 1995 is but a small indication of the depth of feeling and worldwide commitment to demilitarization and de-nuclearization.

Let us make War a Relic of the Past and
Peace the Reality of the Future.

Information on radioactive waste sunk in the Mediterranean is from L'Orizzont (Jan 18, 1996), Valleta, Malta; L'Avvenimenti (Mar 20, 1996), Rome, Italy; and, The Malta Independent (Mar 31, 1996), Valleta, Malta. Information concerning the Philippines is from Nuclear Free Philippine Coalition, Manila, 632-716-1084. Information concerning Kelly Air Force Base is from Cancer Study, Kelly AFB (Mar 2, 1987), School of Aerospace Medicine, Brook Airforce Base, TX; and Committee for Environmental Justice Action, North Kelly Gardens, San Antonio TX 210-299-2666.

Other sources:

Arms Trade News (Dec, 1995; Jan, 1996). Published by Council for a Livable World Education Fund, Washington DC. 202-543-4100.

Yana M. Bland (editor) (1994). Militarism in the Mediterranean. (1995). Health in the Mediterranean. AWMR Conference Series: Malta, TX. 512-268 2220.

Gary Chapman & Joel Yudken (1992). Briefing Book on the Miltary Industrial Complex. Council for a Livable World Education Fund, Washington DC. 202-543-4100.

Peter Gray (editor) (1994). Beyond the Bomb & Nuclear Weapons Clean-Up. Military Production Network: Washington DC.

C. Johnson & E.B. Keehn (1995). The Pentagon's Ossified Strategy. Foreign Affairs. 74 (4), 103-114.

Ed Marvin, S. Legator, & S.F. Strawn (1993). Chemical Alert: A Community Action Handbook. UT Press: Austin.

Renzetti & Curran (1995). Women, Men & Society. Allyn & Bacon: Boston.

Seth Shulman (1992). The Threat at Home Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the US Military. Beacon Press: Boston.

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