These days it’s hard to find an article or discussion of Iraq, whether from a pro- or anti-invasion viewpoint, that doesn’t mention so-called “weapons of mass destruction,” or “WMDs.” From the nuke-Baghdad crowd we might call Christian Jihad, inviting ex-LaRouchies to expound on why we also ought to take out Saudi Arabia and Egypt while we’re at it, all the way over to the liberals who insist that the United Nations ought to be asked to rubber-stamp Washington’s plans, and even to the principled opponents of the New World Empire, everyone seems to agree that either Saddam has, or may have, or is developing, or could develop WMDs, which is universally conceded to be a Bad Thing.
Even those best in a position to know of his capacities, such as former UN chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter (who categorically states that it is impossible for Iraq, following almost eight years of UN-supervised destruction along with more than a decade – continuing even now – of the most stringent and tightly-enforced sanctions regime in history, to have developed WMDs), insist that UN inspectors should be re-admitted, and sanctions should be “smartened,” so that the number of civilian victims is reduced.
Left unexamined in this discourse is the assumption that either the United States itself or the United Nations as a proxy of the US State Department can be relied upon as a safe repository for such weapons. However, even a cursory examination of the history of such weapons and their use, if unencumbered by ideological baggage, would show the folly of such an assumption. (For that reason, such an examination is never undertaken.)
From the only use of nuclear weapons to incinerate people in history, to regular use of them as a weapon of blackmail (mostly against states without them), to the serial use of chemical and biological weapons both in wartime and as an instrument of statecraft during intervals between official wars, the United States government under both Republican and Democratic administrations has demonstrated by its actions that far from being entrusted with a monopoly on WMDs, it should be placed into receivership by the rest of humanity and deprived of any war-making capacity whatsoever, as was done with Japan after World War II.
The argument that the uranium bombing of Hiroshima, and even more so the plutonium bombing of Nagasaki, were military necessities, has generally been discredited by serious historians. Aside from the contemporaneous record of the Truman administration’s excitement with the potential of the new weapon to roll back the Soviet sphere of influence – over two weeks before the atomic attacks on Japan, the first Joint Chiefs proposal to atom-bomb the Soviet Union was presented to Truman, and “Plan Totality,” targeting the 20 largest Soviet cities, was produced shortly thereafter – there are records that indicate the Nagasaki bomb, having a different core than the Hiroshima bomb, was tested primarily for that reason, to make sure it worked.
Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod’s book To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon’s Secret War Plans (South End Press, 1987) notes that the US unleashed its entire atomic arsenal on Japan; it had no more nukes to use in August 1945, rendering moot the question whether it would have used them had it possessed any more, as indicated by the official bombing order. (The firebombing of Tokyo with “conventional” weapons, which caused as many as 200,000 deaths, had been ordered by Gen. “Hap” Arnold earlier in 1945, and had rendered the Japanese capital unsuitable for the intended demonstrator effect of the new weapon, as little was left there but rubble.)
With no more atomic bombs left, the irrepressible Gen. Arnold ordered one last orgy of destruction, a “finale” to the war that would convince Stalin once and for all just how ruthless and vicious the American imperium could be. After the Japanese government had cabled its unconditional surrender in response to the atomic bombings, but before the surrender had “officially” been received, he organized a fleet of over a thousand bombers to attack undefended civilian targets throughout Japan; along with the bombs, the US planes dropped leaflets informing the hapless citizens that their government had surrendered.
Throughout the Forties and Fifties, the Pentagon made constantly more ambitious plans to incinerate the Russian population; as the arsenal grew, the number of proposed targets grew apace. Even the names given to the plans reflected the grim purpose of the designers: Operations Broiler, Sizzle, Shakedown and Dropshot, among others.
These were operational plans, not theoretical constructs; a director in the National Security Council told Truman that the question wasn’t whether, but “when and how” atomic weapons should be used against the USSR. According to NSC-68, the premier Cold War planning document, the only thing preventing an unprovoked US first strike on the USSR during the Forties was fear that the Red Army might overrun Western Europe in response.
By the mid-Fifties, the Soviets had developed their own hydrogen bomb and ICBM as a deterrent, and US intelligence was insufficiently sophisticated to produce an accurate picture of the very small size of the Soviet arsenal, leading to the misperception of a “missile gap” that fueled the Kennedy warmongering candidacy, but also bought the Russians more time to play “catch-up” and deter American aggression.
At the same time as the Pentagon plotted literal genocide against the population of “the enemy” — unlike the Soviet Union, the US refused categorically to rule out a “first strike” — first Truman, then Eisenhower, then Kennedy, and on up through Carter, all used nuclear weapons for purposes of blackmail against other, generally non-nuclear countries. North Korea, Lebanon, Russia and China (before they developed their own nukes) and Vietnam (both under the French and during the Nixon regime) were among the victims.
In 1979, Daniel Ellsberg listed a total of thirty known occasions when the US “used” nuclear weapons, which he compared to the “use” of a pistol in the commission of a crime, “whether or not the attacker actually pulls the trigger.” One can be reasonably certain that the aggressive policies of Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton led to further “uses” of which the public has not yet been apprised.
In 1979, Defense Secretary Harold Brown testified before Congress, and noted that “twice in history, this terrible weapon has been used on human beings,” both times by the US, and that since we refuse to rule out a first strike, the Soviet Union had to take account of that fact in their strategic calculus. He felt this had a salutary effect when it came to getting our way in foreign affairs. As Kissinger once said, to have the advantage “at the highest level” of coercion helps at all lower levels.
By 1995, the Defense Department’s five year plan was openly adopting the Nixon “madman” theory, which held that it was useful to project the image of the United States leadership as violent, petulant and irrational, and armed to the teeth with nukes and other WMDs – that’ll make ’em think twice before they cross us, whoever “they” are.
Now, of course, the Bush Redux administration proposes using “earth-penetrating” nukes on the battlefield against non-nuclear states as officially announced policy, as well as abrogating the ban on missile defense in order to free us up to attack countries with smaller arsenals.
Not that the present administration is really breaking new ground; the first Bush administration lowered the threshold of nuclear war by blurring the boundaries between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons, when it pioneered the use of depleted uranium weapons in the Gulf slaughter (as well as fuel-air explosives that cause firestorms of a similar magnitude to those created by small nuclear devices), and Clinton used them against Europeans during the 1999 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia.
Even the 38-year-old ban against nukes in space is slated to be discarded in the drive to enforce the global Godfather’s will: calling for preserving and widening the gap between the global “haves” and “have-nots,” the US Space Command’s website advocates that the US place weapons platforms, either laser-based or nuclear, in space in order to dominate the rest of the earth. The head of the Space Command when the website was constructed, Richard Myers, is now the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking military officer in the United States.
When it comes to proliferation, of which the US indignantly accuses China, the US also has less than clean hands. From helping the Israelis and apartheid South Africa to acquire nukes, to storing weapons in South Korea and Japan (in violation of the latter’s constitution), to offering the French two atomic bombs in 1954 for use at Dien Bien Phu, to arming Great Britain and helping India and Pakistan acquire the know-how to produce their own atomic weapons, the US has been far more irresponsible in its policies than any of the other nuclear powers.
The height of hypocrisy is shown when the US attacks China’s sharing technology with Pakistan, when the Reagan administration itself tacitly approved the latter’s nuclear program as quid pro quo for its support of the US’s mujahedeen terrorists in Afghanistan. On a similar note, it was Donald Rumsfeld who delivered the infamous “golden spurs” to Saddam Hussein as a token of Ronald Reagan’s regard at the time Hussein was gassing the Iranians with WMDs, and Rumsfeld again who as a board member of the giant Swedish-Swiss engineering firm Asea Brown Boveri, in 1996 approved the sale of nuclear technology to North Korea, which he now denounces for using the technology he sold them for their own strategic purposes.
Turning to biological and chemical weapons, recently evidence was unearthed that confirmed that the US used both in the Korean war, as the Chinese and North Koreans had long charged to bitter US denials. In an article titled “Beyond a reasonable doubt” in the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Weekly (April 6-12, 2000, no. 476), Faiza Rady writes that:
Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, two Canadian historians who spent five years investigating declassified archives in China, Canada and the US – in addition to conducting extensive interviews and field work – concluded that the US had been actively developing biological weapons since the end of World War II. According to the two historians, the US tested these weapons by bombing parts of North Korea and China with anthrax, encephalitis and other diseases in early 1952.
In addition to spreading killer diseases, the US military also used POWs as human guinea pigs to test the effectiveness of germ warfare in a “controlled” environment. According to a United Press report published on 18 May 1951, a group of US scientists injected 1,400 North Korean POWs incarcerated on Koje Island with various germs. As a result, 80 per cent of these POWs were infected with an unknown disease.
Rady quotes Stephen Endicott that â€œFor reasonable people, we think weâ€™ve established documentation beyond a reasonable doubt,” adding that:
The documentation includes the testimony of Dr. John Burton, the former head of the Australian Foreign Affairs Department, who went to China in 1952 to investigate the allegations of biological warfare. Burton wrote in a letter to Endicott in April 1977: â€œWhen I returned, Alan Watt, my successor at the Foreign Affairs Department, informed me that he had demanded answers from Washington and was told that the United States had indeed used biological arms in Korea, but only on an experimental basis.”
In 1984, a Cuban-American who had headed the CIA-created terrorist group Omega 7 testified in court that his group, supplied and trained by the CIA, had sowed germs and other biological agents over Cuba shortly before an outbreak of hemorrhagic Dengue fever on the island, resulting in the deaths of 158 civilians, mostly small children, and the hospitalization of 116,000. Around the same time, an epidemic of African swine fever, previously unknown in Cuba, virtually wiped out the Cuban swine population.
There is also evidence, broadcast in a special investigative report on CNN in 1998, that the United States used nerve gas during its attack on Laos as part of its escalation of the Vietnam war. While the television producer subsequently apologized under pressure for the report, no genuine refutation was ever presented, and the investigative reporters stand by their story, which was bolstered by interviews with dozens of participants and military officers and confirmed by Admiral Thomas Moorer.
This is aside from its undisputed and uncontroversial use of napalm jelly, along with vast amounts of dioxin-based Agent Orange and other toxic pesticides and chemicals in its destruction of Southeast Asia throughout that conflict, “draining the sea,” as the military termed it.
The US military has also recently admitted testing nerve gas, including Sarin, Tabun (used in the Tokyo subway attacks), and VX, on the British, Canadian and United States populations during the Fifties, in Suffolk, Alberta, and Hawaii and possibly Alaska respectively.
The US not only helped Saddam Hussein acquire the ingredients he needed to manufacture chemical and biological weapons in the Eighties; the Defense Department helped him with precise targeting of the Iranian enemy, even while officially and hypocritically condemning the attacks.
According to a 1994 Congressional report following an investigation, the Bush administration continued to supply the Iraqi dictator with the basics for bioweapons until a few months before the invasion of Kuwait.
When the US targeted the industrial and health substructure of Iraq for destruction in 1991, it was with the full knowledge, admitted in government documents of the time which are now available on the web, that it would cause mass epidemics.
The sanctions that followed the cease-fire and have remained in effect ever since are the harshest ever leveled in history, and have prevented the rebuilding of the health system – once the most extensive and modern in the Arab world – thus contributing to the maintenance of a regimen of what is biological warfare in all but name. Since the sanctions were imposed with the official imprimatur of the United Nations, the UN is complicit in a campaign of biowar that has claimed the lives of close to two million Iraqi civilians, many of them children under five, as the World Health Organization reported in 1996.
The US Secretary of State at that time, Madeleine Albright, stated publicly that the price the Iraqis paid was “worth it” to show US resolve. More recently, as the Iraqis, aided by “sanctions-busting” and a bountiful harvest, have begun to reduce the level of malnutrition and dehydration that has devastated its population, the US has introduced a scheme of “retrograde pricing” to discourage the oil industry from participating in the “oil for food” program, thus reducing the availability of the money necessary to sustain the improvements.
Without going so far as Alexander Cockburn, who believes that every country should have at least one nuclear device to discourage the depredations of the great powers, I would put forth the proposition that it is far less dangerous to contemplate WMDs in the possession of a brutal but rational dictator like Saddam Hussein, who at most harbors only regional ambitions and certainly knows the consequences were he ever to try to attack his neighbors with such weapons, than to allow their continued possession by a collection of hubristic psychopaths of overweening pride, a vastly inflated sense of self-importance, no experience with being on the receiving end of total war, and a vaulting and unlimited vision of refashioning the globe and modern history in their own image.
This latter group, booted and spurred and lashing the horses of the apocalypse toward the abyss, consists of the terroristic thugs and war criminals who have long made up the government of the United States, now styling itself the “world’s only superpower,” and openly lusting for empire.
Ron Reed is an unrepentant Sixties activist and avid student of history, presently living in Dillingham, Alaska, and working on getting his secondary teaching certificate. Email: [email protected]