8| A Tale of Two Syndromes: Vietnam and Gulf War (excerpt)

The generals plan their high-tech battles so that no one at home sees U.S. troops killed. If GIs die years after the battle—as they would from DU poisoning—the generals hope to limit protest.

John Catalinotto

The Pentagon's use of depleted-uranium weapons brings an important contradiction to the fore: the vast goals of the U.S. military on one hand and its need to minimize casualties among its troops on the other. With DU weapons the Pentagon postpones casualties and avoids responsibility for them.

A Pentagon document outlining its goals, called the Defense Planning Guidance, was leaked and then published in The New York Times on March 8, 1992. The document asserted complete U.S. world military and political domination, and threatened to punish any other nation that even aspired to rival U.S. power. The document implied this list of potential rivals included not only the latest demonized governments but even those major capitalist powers in Western Europe and the Pacific that were always allied to the U.S. as long as the USSR was their common enemy.

Any such broad plan for conquest requires at least some risk by the troops. Yet former Joint Chiefs head Colin Powell has made it clear that his military doctrine in the Gulf War—and it was shared by many of his colleagues—was to limit U.S. casualties for fear of losing political support at home. He would avoid battle unless the politicians could sell the aims of the war to the public. Then the military would go in with overwhelming force, hoping to win quickly and take almost no losses.1

That this could be Powell's public attitude shows how much has changed since World War I. There the first day of the British offensive at the Somme in France in August 1916 cost sixty thousand British casualties, including twenty thousand killed. The battle succeeded only in moving the British lines a few yards forward.2

The generals ordered troops to charge through machine-gun fire and gas attacks without worrying about popular resistance in the cities or disobedience at the front. It took all of three years of that great slaughter to incite revolution in Russia and four years to topple the Germany monarchy.

Times have changed. With vast profits from oil at stake in the Gulf, the Bush administration was prepared to risk many GI lives—but managed to get away with only 147 U.S. troops killed in battle. The slaughter of the Iraqis was one-sided. In Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, the well-publicized deaths of only eighteen troops made the Clinton administration pull out.

That is where DU comes in. This dense material makes shells that penetrate and shields that block. It keeps casualties lower during battle, but imposes them later when the political costs are small.

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The full text of this chapter is available in the book, Metal of Dishonor. Link here for order information.

METAL OF DISHONOR TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

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