Dumb Commentary on the Iraq War

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
First-time Visitors: Please visit Site Map and Disclaimer. Use "Back" to return here.


I find it a lot easier to respect anti-war protesters in the Iraq War than I did in the Vietnam War. First, whether you support the war or not, there is no arguing that there are some fearful risks involved. Second, the anti-war people seem to have learned from the mistakes of the past and (so far) are being careful to distinguish between opposing the war and attacking the troops.

I can't keep up with the flood of dumb comments being made about the war, but my wife gets regular e-mails from a guy who is hooked into some of the most quintessentially dumb people around. So here's a sample. My own comments are in blue.

Thorne Anderson

Some of you have written to me with concerns for my safety in Iraq, but this was easily one of the safest assignments I have taken. In all my time in Iraq , in spite of an intense awareness of the threat of an impending attack by the United States, I never met a single Iraqi who had a harsh word for me. Iraqis are very good at distinguishing between the U.S. government and a U.S. citizen. 

Of course he was perfectly safe in Iraq! He's singing the party line. Then he comes to the West, where he is free to dissent with complete safety. Now if he were to try it the other way round.....

I did some work for Newsweek and Time magazines while in Iraq, but that kind of work has really become secondary for me. I do what I can to influence (in admittedly small ways) what kinds of stories those big magazines do, but ultimately their stories are nearly worthless at confronting the inhumanity of American foreign policy in the Middle East. 

For anyone who has lamented the mass media's obvious political bias toward the left, hearing people complain about the "corporate media" being in thrall to the right is simply music to the ears. When I hear complaints like this, I am reasonably sure the universe is unfolding as it should.

What many people don't realize is that the U.S. is already at war in Iraq. I made two trips last month into the "no-fly zone" created by the U.S. with Britain and France in southern Iraq. Actually it would be better named the "only we fly" zone or the "we bomb" zone. 

Absolutely. We patrol it and the Iraqi air forces stay out. That's how it works. No apology.

While the U.S. prevents Iraqi aircraft from entering the region, it does nothing to prevent or even to criticize Turkey (a U.S. ally) from flying into northern Iraq on numerous occasions to bomb Kurdish communities there. 

Complex stuff. The Kurds in Iraq are under U.S. protection but the Turkish PKK, a Marxist guerilla organization on a par with the infamous Sendero Luminoso, is no doubt using Iraq as a sanctuary.

It is estimated that U.S. bombing has killed 500 Iraqis just since 1999. Actually I believe that number to be higher if you take into account the effects of the massive use of depleted uranium (DU) in the bombing. The U.S. has dropped well in excess of 300 tons of this radioactive material in Iraq (30 times the amount dropped in Kosovo) since 1991.

DU is fast becoming the darling of the environmental and pacifist lunatic fringe.

DU is depleted uranium. It's uranium metal from which the U-235 has been removed for use in reactors or weapons. The remainder, U-238, has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, meaning it's not especially radioactive. In fact, since U-235 has a half life of only 700 million years and has been removed from DU, DU is slightly less radioactive than natural uranium.

Uranium has a density of 19 grams per cubic centimeter, almost that of gold and nearly twice that of lead. The only other fairly inexpensive metal of that density is tungsten, but DU is cheaper since it's a leftover from other processes. DU is used when you need a lot of mass in a small space: counterweights for aircraft control surfaces, for example. Or anti-tank ammunition. (How come nobody complains about the radiation hazard after an airliner crash? Simple ignorance?)

Uranium is present in the earth's crust to the extent of about 5 ppm by weight. That means 300 tons of DU is equivalent to the amount of uranium in 60 million tons of rock and soil. A cubic meter of rock or soil is about 1.3 tons, so we'd find 300 tons of uranium in about 45 million cubic meters of rock or soil. That's the top meter of 45 square kilometers or the top centimeter of 4500 square kilometers. Since the DU is spread out over thousands of square kilometers, the military contribution of DU is a small part of the natural environmental uranium. On the other hand, elemental uranium is more soluble than uranium in minerals. The main hazard will be chemical, not radiological.

Since U.S. Bombing began in Iraq ,cancer rates have increased nearly six fold in the south, where U.S. bombing and consequent levels of DU are most severe.

Gee, that's also the area most likely to be contaminated by residues from chemical warfare with Iran, isn't it?

But the most lethal weapon in Iraq is the intense sanctions regime. The toll of the sanctions is one of the most under-reported stories of the past decade in the U.S. press. I have seen a few references to the sanctions recently in the U.S. press, but invariably they will subtly discredit humanitarian concerns by relying on Iraqi government statements rather than on the statistics of international agencies. My careless colleague at Time Magazine, for example, recently reported that "the Iraqi government blames the sanctions for the deaths of thousands of children under the age of five." That's simply not true. The Iraqi government, in fact, blames the sanctions for the deaths of *more than a million*children under the age of five. But lets put that figure aside, for there's no need to rely solely on the Iraqi government, and let's refer instead to UNICEF and WHO reports which blame the sanctions directly for the excess deaths of approximately 500,000 children under the age of five, and nearly a million Iraqis of all ages. 

Let's run the numbers here. Iraq's population has increased from 18 million in 1991 to about 23 million in 2003. An increase of more than 40% in twelve years hardly points to mass privation.

Also, UN demographic data put Iraq's death rate at 6-7/1000. This is well below the U.S. figure of 9, reflecting not so much better health as a rapidly increasing young population. Death rates for truly impoverished societies include Chad: 17, Burkina Faso: 20; Rwanda: 20, and Bangladesh: 11.

Using the UN death rate, we can estimate that about 130,000 people die in Iraq annually and that there have been a total of roughly 1.5 million deaths from all causes - especially natural causes - since 1991. So figures of half a million to a million excess deaths from the sanctions are simply made up out of thin air.

Around 4,000 children die every month from starvation and preventable disease in Iraq-- a six-fold increase since pre-sanctions measurements.

"Preventable" is the word. All Iraq ever had to do was comply with U.N. demands. And let's not pretend Iraq is a have-not country. It's self-sufficient in energy and certainly capable of manufacturing most of its own drugs. It has abundant water and there is no reason it cannot supply enough food for everyone. A nation capable of building Scuds and knock-off T-72 tanks is certainly capable of building whatever infrastructure it needs to supply its own humanitarian needs.

Charley Rees, March 7 , 2003

I am not setting out to bash Israel, (It's not cool to be both a liberal and an anti-Semite, but you can get away with it by doing it this way) but merely to point out undeniable facts that most of the America media and American politicians studiously ignore. Is it too difficult for Americans to grasp that the United States has a blatant double standard and that the people in Arab countries justifiably resent that double standard? 

No double standard at all. We're also close allies of Turkey, which is imperfect, but democratic and not actively harboring terrorists. If, say, Tunisia were to become as democratic as Israel, and be the target of active attempts by Libya and Algeria to destroy it, we'd support Tunisia just as aggressively.

The Arabs do not expect or demand that the United States become the enemy of Israel. 

This guy seriously needs to see his supplier of recreational pharmaceuticals for a very long talk about quality control. Does he ever read the newspapers?

They recognize the close ties between the two countries. All they ask for is simple fairness. It's not fair to threaten Iraq with war for allegedly violating U.N.  resolutions while protecting Israel from any consequences for violating more U.N. resolutions. It's not fair to go to war to undo the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq while condoning the continued occupation by Israel of portions of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. 

Sure it is. Kuwait was no threat whatever to Iraq; the invasion was a land and resource grab, pure and simple. Israel will give back occupied territory when it is secure, and we know that from past behavior. After all, it gave back the Sinai.

It's not fair to threaten Iraq and Iran about weapons of mass destruction while remaining silent about those possessed by Israel. It's not fair to harp on the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein while rationalizing the crimes committed by Israel. Do you realize that in just the past week, as of this writing, the Israelis have killed 33 Palestinians? 

The logic here: You can't condemn me for deliberate genocide of thousands because you've killed 33 people in military operations.

Do you realize that if the United States announced that its policy is to rid the entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, including those possessed by Israel, that the United States would receive the overwhelming support of the Arab world?

Sure it would.  The support would be even more overwhelming if we disarmed Israel entirely. If we offered the weapons of mass destruction to the Arabs, would they decline?

Fairness was once the characteristic of the American republic. It consists simply of doing exactly what our great founder, George Washington, recommended: treat all countries the same, showing neither favoritism nor enmity to any. Moreover, he pleaded, do not involve yourself in other people's feuds and quarrels. And finally, he warned against the evils of foreign influence in our domestic affairs. Every single foreign-policy problem we face, including the threat of terrorism, is a result of violating those three admonitions.

Wow. Let's go back to isolationism. Should we really have treated England and Nazi Germany equally 60 years ago, or Japan and China? Why were people like Rees pressuring the U.S. to boycott South Africa a few years back?

We don't treat all nations the same

Because not all nations are the same.

We do involve ourselves in other people's quarrels 

Only a few years ago we were hearing complaints that the West did nothing to interfere in Rwanda.

President Bush fancies himself a Christian. It's too bad he isn't, but then most Christians would not be recognizable to Christ if he returned to Earth. Peace, love and justice are not very fashionable in many Christian circles these days. Many of them prefer war, provided they don't have to fight it.

I only comment here for the sake of completeness. The tactic of redefining "Christian" to mean "nice person" or "pacifist" has been demolished so many times to no effect that one more time will hardly make a difference. I just point out that Christ never, at any time, spoke out against the Roman military occupation of Palestine, and that the only group of people that are invariably described in complimentary terms in the New Testament are Roman soldiers. 

And speaking of double standards, the Koran says: [17.104] "And We said to the Israelites after him: Dwell in the land: and when the promise of the next life shall come to pass, we will bring you both together in judgment."

So according to the Koran, which Israel's enemies purport to believe, God gave the land to the Israelites. Not only do Arabs have no right to try to take it away from them, they never had any right to be in Israel in the first place. 


Return to Pseudoscience Index
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 24 March, 2003,  Last Update 02 June, 2010

Not an official UW Green Bay site