Generational Casualties

by STAN GOFF

My grandson was born last December at Womack Army Medical Center, one of the finest medical facilties in the country now. The labor and delivery room was nicer than many hotel rooms. The care and attention was nonpareil. Military medical care — now under idiotic pressure to privatize — is proof that profit is often antithetical to the provision of quality services.

My grandson was born there because his father — my son — was entitled to this quality care as a member of the Army. My son is now languishing in a former palace along the Euphrates River, surrounded by millions of people who don’t want him there, waiting for mail that takes four to five weeks to arrive, keeping an ear attuned for incoming mortars, and gazing at pictures of his son — our grandson — who will not know him when he returns.

My grandson is perfect, and I don’t just say that because I have become a grandparent cliche — which I have, with my office and home both converted into shrines full of baby photos. He is perfect in that he has all his assigned parts, they function in coordination with one another, and his growth and development are proceeding, as the medical folk say, normally. He was born with great lungs and the grip of a longshoreman, he never seems to get sick, and he seems very interested in all people, in all music, in squirrels, and in passing automobiles. He seems to go into a trance when a breeze blows on his face, and he chatters and blows raspberries when he is excited.

I am crazy in love with this child, spoill him shamelessly, have already dedicated a book to him, and I look forward to more grandchildren, having three more kids who are well into their reproductive years.

At a recent Congressional briefing organized by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, ten military family members, myself included, testified about our opposition to Bushfeld’s War. Afterwards, during dinner together, one of the young military spouses told me that she and her husband, now stationed in Iraq, had made a decision not to have children. Since then, those if us involved with the Bring Them Home Now campaign are hearing this more and more from military couples. They are worried about depleted uranium.

My grandson is learning to walk, and he is immensely curious, which makes for a lot of vigilance and work. But he didn’t require massive surgery to survive to his ninth month, nor does he require a battery of experts and specialists like he would if he were born without a thyroid gland, or if he required a drain inserted into his cranial vault, or if his digestive tract were disconnected.

This happens a lot more than it should to Iraqi children, and it may happen to American children born to parents now serving in Iraq. That’s why many couples in the military are now deciding that they will not have children. Here is an excert from a letter on the Bring Them Home Now web site: "My husband and I have decided not to have children. We are afraid that something that we’ve been exposed to in Iraq may cause birth defects. This whole war has turned my life upside down and is even affecting my life years into the future."

For those who are not feint-hearted, you can visit this site where there are some very disturbing images of "extreme birth defects" in Iraq, that are occurring at alarming rates, lest anyone think this is an irrational fear being expressed by these military couples.

I am a big fan of these kinds of images, because the sense of decorum of our so-called press that excludes "offensive" images is a form of complicity. War is offensive. If we are to understand war, we need to see the bodies. People who support it should have to see it. Likewise, if you want to understand the reality of what is going on in the bodies of the troops, you need to see these terribly deformed children. We need to broadcast images of dead people, maimed people, deformed children, including our own dead and maimed and deformed, and we need to do it often. Anything else is denial.

The only people who seem to be denying that depleted uranium may actually be a significant causative agent in these hideous deformities are the governments of the United States and Great Britain, who use DU munitions in Iraq. What a surprise!

But Ross B. Mirkarimi, of the Arms Control Research Centre said, "Unborn children of the region [are] being asked to pay the highest price, the integrity of their DNA." This was a report published in 1992 and largely applied (or so people thought) to Iraqis, so it didn’t seem to matter here, even in many cases to those in the West who were studying DU. Let’s face it, the slow murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, disproportionaly children, by sanctions not only did not arouse American outrage, the US Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright, said — when confronted publicly with the numbers — that it was worth it. (It remains utterly amazing to me that we still talk very little here about how racism underwrites American foreign and domestic policy. But the reality is, people often have to themselves come under attack before they wake up to reality and begin to recognize their shared humanity.)

The military knows damn well that depleted uranium, insecticide-impregnated uniforms, insect repellents, toxic smoke, and the questionable cocktail of inadequately tested immunizations they have given may be dangerous, alone or in combination. They are playing the odds that they can squeeze the necessary three, six, or twenty years out of a troop before all the biomedical chickens come home to roost, then — with the able assistance of the entire US government — deny that they are responsible.

No one I know of ever signed an enlistment contract that said "I herein surrender the integrity of my DNA." But more and more, it seems, that may be exactly what they’ve done. What shall I tell my son if he wants to become the father of a second child?

Show up in DC on October 25th, and show up mean and angry. Goddamn decorum! And mail the images from that website to president@whitehouse.gov.

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 bthn@mfso.org.

Goff can be reached at: sherrynstan@igc.org

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