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In 1951, the entire village of Pont-Saint-Esprit in France went mad. Wracked by physical and psychological convulsions, people stripped themselves or leapt from windows, became violent, thought snakes were knotted inside their bellies or flowers sprouting from their flesh. Seven died, including three suicides. Fifty were placed inside an insane asylum. Baffled by this horror straight out of the Middle Ages, as it was dubbed by a French newspaper at the time, the police thought something was in the flour. It arrested the miller and baker for two months, accused a supplier in Vienna. Only in 2009 did American historian H. P. Albarelli Jr. reveal that this episode of collective madness was the work of our C.I.A., who wanted to test the effects of L.S.D. It did this, I should add, without any complicity from the French government, but when do we ever care about any country’s sovereignty?
That a U.S. agency would unleash a dangerous drug on an unwitting population should not surprise you, there have been many instances of this, that it would poison foreigners is not at all unusual, the only twist here, apparently, is that this was inflicted on a friendly nation.
In the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 399 black men, poor, mostly illiterate sharecroppers, became guinea pigs. While misleading them into thinking they were being cared for by all these nice white doctors, our government withheld treatment just to see how messed up they would become. We even provided free transportation, fed them. This grim joke lasted 40 years. So what if 128 would die from syphilis or related complications, and that some infected their wives or had babies born deformed.
In 1963, cancer cells were injected into 22 patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital, in a study commissioned by the United States Public Health Service and the American Cancer Society. These geezers were dying anyway, their reasoning went, so no consent was necessary. In any case, their bodies rejected the alien cells, so no harm, no foul, I guess.
When fighting a war, we really flaunt our chemicals, and not just on an enemy population but our own soldiers. Take Agent Orange. During the Vietnam War, 12 million gallons of this stuff were sprayed. Most American soldiers served just a year there, yet many would become gravely ill from exposure to a defoliant that could cause numerous cancers, diabetes, ischemic heart disease or multiple myeloma. Veterans started to sue DOW, Monsanto and other companies in 1978, but only in 1984 did they manage to wrest a settlement. Many vets had already died. When a group of Vietnamese victims tried to sue in the same court, with the same judge, he dismissed their case. Millions of Vietnamese have suffered or died from Agent Orange. Half a million babies have been born with horrific birth defects.
Scientific researches had proven that TCDD, a component in Agent Orange, was toxic, yet the Pentagon went ahead and used it in Vietnam. To test its effectiveness, it sprayed some over Panama, even near a lake that provided water for the capital. In 1999, the Panamians finally sued our government for damages. The truth of the matter is, our government will use whatever that is expedient and cost effective, Agent Orange to clear jungles, Depleted Uranium to puncture armor, irrespective of the decades or even centuries long damages caused to whom or whatever gets in the way. Eyeing huge profits, the companies that make these killers are always happy to oblige, since the Pentagon is a very generous spender. It’s easy to be one when it’s using your and my money to stuff into its daddy’s pocket or mistress’ G-string. Sorry, but I always get confused when trying to figure out who’s licking most energetically in this 69 marathon.
Depleted Uranium is radioactive waste. Dr. Rosalie Bertell explains, “DU bursts into flame on impact. It reaches very high temperatures, and becomes a ceramic aerosol […] Ceramic (glass) is highly insoluble in the normal lung fluid, and when inhaled, this ceramic particulate will remain for a long time in the lungs and body tissue before being excreted in urine […] The presence of DU eight years after the Gulf War exposure, means that the internal organs: lung, lymph glands, bone marrow, liver, kidney, and immune system have experienced significant localized radiation damage.”
The First Gulf War lasted just six months, yet a quarter of the 697,000 American troops who participated soon reported symptoms of what became known as “Gulf War Syndrome.” Compared to 114 killed by enemy fire, thousands would perish from Depleted Uranium. As expected, the Pentagon denied everything, and only a handful of congressmen, like Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich, made a fuss. Ignoring the swelling body of evidences against Depleted Uranium, the Pentagon went on to use it in Kossovo in 1999, Afghanistan starting in 2002, and Iraq from 2003 until today.
To punish Fallujah, whose inhabitants had the audacity to kill, burn, then strung up four of our Black Water mercenaries, the United States flattened that city while illegally using chemical weapons. Faced with deformed babies, some born with two heads, the Iraqis have sued the British, since American troops are off limit to litigation. Ah, the irony of invading a country accused of possessing chemical weapons, when it’s us who are unleashing them indiscriminately. Kill ‘em all, let God google through alternative blogs to sniff out the hushed ups!
As with Agent Orange, Depleted Uranium is causing a huge spike in cancers among Iraqis and Afghans, with thousands of babies being born grotesquely deformed. The Uranium Medical Research Center quotes Sayed Gharib of Tora Bora, "What else do the Americans want? They killed us, they turned our new borns into horrific deformations, and they turned our farm lands into grave yards and destroyed our homes. On top of all this their planes fly over and spray us with bullets… we have nothing to lose… we will fight them the same way we fought the previous invaders.”
The words irony and hypocrisy may not exist in the Pentagon’s thin dictionary, but you can’t accuse it of having no sense of timing. The attack against Iraq in 2003 started on the same day as March Madness. (For non-Americans reading this, that’s our collegiate basketball tournament.) It’s shock and awesome, ya’al. This year, it began Operation Moshtarak, designed to secure the poppy fields of Helmand, uh, I mean, to chase out evil Talibans, just moments after the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. I know, I know, the Olympics Truce is just a cutesy myth, but it can’t hurt to have distractions on ice and snow, with frills, triple axels, and an occasional, oh so nice uplifted leg, while we take care of some nasty business in the dessert. The Canadians also participated. Joining “the largest ever helicopter assault involving the Canadian air force,” Captain Mathieu Bergeron of Edmonton gushed, "There are helicopters everywhere. It’s awesome.” It’s too bad the Afghans didn’t send a delegation. A lone athlete could march in carrying a white flag, to a rousing ovation, too, no doubt.
With the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, it appears that the chicken has come home to roost. Our government does not police but has always enabled and abetted these out of control corporations. Now it twiddle its thumbs as British Petroleum dumps nearly a million gallons of Corexit into the ocean. Diluting the evidence, this solution was designed only for public relations, even as it made the situation much worse. Imagine Agent Orange in the water. Thousands of people are already sick, with millions more to come. Also, there is no discussion of how this will affect our neighbors like Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas, not that the people in charge ever gave a damn about foreigners, or our soldiers, or our poor. They can declare you a hero even as they kill you. Look at what happened with the first responders at Ground Zero. Look at what happened to Pat Tillman.
As the government takes over the clean up effort, look for familiar contractors to show up ready to fatten their pockets. We pay to get sick, then pay to feel slightly better. Maybe they’ll even market the contaminated seafood. Coming to a store near you, well oiled and seasoned, Corexit Fish Sticks©. Up yours.
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled for July. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.