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Against the Grain: Media Silence on DU Munitions

Commentator Jim Wittebols
Commentator Jim Wittebols

By Jim Wittebols

Buffalo, NY – Retired Col. David Hackworth is a frequent face on the cable news networks who might best be described as a soldier's soldier. That's because he often speaks out against the Pentagon leadership when it betrays of the men who do the fighting and dying. In this month's segment from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Hackworth takes on FOX news demagogue Bill O'Reilly over chemical weapons in Iraq.

Editor's Note: You will need to click the "listen" icon above for the FAIR segment.

The depleted uranium munitions issue is something that has almost been totally ignored by the U.S. news media. Known as tank busters, DU weapons have radioactive isotopes in the shells which make them hard enough to penetrate tank armor. They release dangerous carcinogens when they vaporize upon hitting their target. The U.S. response to this slowly developing fallout has largely been one of denial and half hearted investigations into Gulf War Syndrome and other health problems those who served in the Gulf war suffered.

Between 300-800 tons of DU munitions were first used in the Gulf War and they continued to be used in the Balkans throughout the 1990's. An inordinate number of cancers among some of the European troops in the Balkans resulted in a call by Germany, Italy, Norway and the European Parliament for a moratorium on their use.

Canadian researchers have found long term contamination of their own Gulf War vets. U-238, one of the isotopes in DU munitions, continues to be found in the urine of those who served in the war. In Iraq, cases of childhood leukemia skyrocketed in the decade after the war.

So, it is that it takes a David Hackworth to stand up to blind patriots like Bill O'Reilly to ask the uncomfortable questions about just how concerned military authorities are for their soldiers' long term health. I know at least one Gulf War Veterans association has come out against another war with Iraq because of the DU and chemical weapons issue.

Unfortunately, the media's timidity in challenging this Administration means that while speculation about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons runs rampant, there is a news blackout on the U.S. weapons stockpiles. This is ironic given that an awful lot of the chemical and biological weapons material obtained by Hussein came from the U.S.

It is too bad that some Gulf War and Vietnam veterans can't present another side to the recruiting propaganda used by the armed forces. But it would be much easier if the media would do their job in exposing the lies and distortions that so frequently come from the mouths of military leaders.

Against the grain, I'm Jim Wittebols.

Commentator Jim Wittebols is a professor of Communications Studies at Niagara University.