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To understand the official military response to the mysterious "pneumonia" breaking out among American troops in Iraq, we have to understand that troops are equipment.
To the unremitting vexation of Donald Rumsfeld and his "network-centric" techno-groupies, troops are articles of equipment whose preparation and maintenance prove troublesome. They have to be coaxed into "service" with Army-of-One-style Madison Avenue pitches and educational bribes, enculturated to discipline and punctuality, taught how to perform their various functions, then kept in the job through a system of economic and psychological rewards. Troops are the only part of the "tables of organization and equipment" (TO&E is the military’s term to describe its units, not mine) that have to be indoctrinated.
There are a couple of troublesome aspects to this for the politicians who control the military. First, troops are not equipment. Second, indoctrination narratives are perishable as circumstances change.
I tend to harp about this, having been military for so long and now being a very politically active leftist, but no member of the armed forces is ever transformed into the unthinking, unfeeling, lethal robot that thrills the right and haunts the left. These men and women start and end as human beings exactly like all of us. They experience the same range of emotions, desire the same outlets for their creativity, seek the same human companionship, and are driven by the same intellectual curiosity. They are not computers that can be programmed. They feel loneliness, awe, pain, lust, confusion, mirth, dread, appetites, and obsessions just like every last one of us, and they exist in the same uncontrollable mix of potentially subversive facts that we do. They are the same combination of goal-directed willfulness and unmanaged acting-out as the rest of us. They are part of the same system as you and me, in which Wal-Mart workers and soldiers are both necessary and expendable. Like the rest of us, they can also get mad when they find they’ve been had.
They have to be given a special status, reinforced by popular media, that equates their subservience to heroism. They are dressed up in crisp uniforms so they can be properly recognized and adored, and rewarded with colorful medals and badges that hang like fetishes all over those uniforms, and convinced that they are serving some sacred purpose even when they are only slaking Wall Street and the Dollar with their blood and sweat.
Troops might be bewildered, as we all are, by ideologies of chauvinism, consumerism, gender, and so on, but they’re still exposed to all that contradictory stuff that life presents them. In fact, troops are often exposed more directly to the charlatan character of official horseshit than the rest of us. As middle class white America comforts itself with the cake-and-ice-cream of ‘liberation’ in Iraq, for example, the troops who are the instruments of this wretched folly are confronted each day with the generalized hostility of an occupied people, and with the glaring fact that their senior officers–whom they’ve been told to trust as leaders–are now professional hucksters assisting with the sale of war to voters and taxpayers.
What troops often haven’t had yet, and what many don’t have until after their tours of duty, is the epiphany that they are equipment. Equipment with an expiration date.
The Department of Defense does not care if a soldier retires and dies three weeks later. In fact, the Veterans Administration bean counters would see that as positive. The Department of Defense does not care if a soldier who was getting out anyway, finishes his or her three or four year hitch, then comes down with mysterious and debilitating ailments, as long as that ailment can plausibly be denied as "service-connected." Note how many millions have been spent by the US government to deny that Gulf War Syndrome existed, and how hard they’ve fought liability for Agent Orange.
Now there is a "pneumonia" breaking out among the troops, which may very well be related to inhalation of microscopic particles of the highly toxic and radioactive depleted uranium, a heavy-metal slag used in another bit of expendable military equipment, US anti-tank ammunition.
The press, as per standing operating procedure, is collaborating with the Department of Defense in completely evading the possibility of DU as a causative agent for the respiratory malady that has already killed two perfectly healthy young men and has dozens of others hospitalized with some on ventilators. CNN’s medical reporter, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has made the claim that the morbidity rate is average for the population, a claim copied directly from the Defense Department playbook. This idiotic assertion, of course, accepts the premise that this is one of the communicable pneumonias we all know and love, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. There are no disease clusters to indicate that an organism is responsible for the problem at all, but this doesn’t stop the spin machine.
Two of the over 100 cases have shown strep, and this is boldly emphasized while the fact that ONLY two have shown strep (which could very well be coincidental or opportunistic infections) is underplayed. And the boilerplate pre-emptive argument against toxic exposure as the source of this outbreak is that there is "no evidence of toxic or chemical exposure." What is not stated is that when the most obvious etiology is deliberately overlooked, the "evidence" is unlikely to appear on its own. The military made its mind up some time ago that DU is not toxic or carcinogenic–flying directly in the face of scientific fact as effortlessly as the military’s political bosses stated the bogus case of al Qaeda-Iraq connections and WMD’s.
The target audience for this kind of chicanery is generally the US civilian population, but in this case it is also the troops themselves. They cannot be allowed to develop a preoccupation about the very dust they are relentlessly exposed to every day, because that might degrade their ability to perform their primary functions.
Whether or not this deadly inflammation is the result of DU or some other environmental hazard, the troops are being exposed to DU and a lot more nasty shit every day, just like the troops from Desert Storm and its aftermath, and they will likely eventually be disabled at more or less the same rates–that would be upwards of 40 percent. Troops have become a target audience for the pneumonia spin, because their expiration dates are any time after Uncle Sam can extricate himself from this tar baby he has encountered in Iraq. Until then, just to cope with this arrogant overreach, Bushfeld is offering bribes all over the world for spare troops and activating the Individual Ready Reserve–a measure normally associated with direct defense of the nation or general war.
In March the sandstorms dead-lined their helicopters. Now something is dead-lining the troops. But the troops are NOT equipment, in spite of what Donald Rumsfeld and his whole techno-fascist entourage might like. We can tell them–and I am telling them–you are being had.
STAN GOFF is the author of "Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book "Full Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is email@example.com.
Goff can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org