Maps of DU dropped in Kosovo:

Editorial: Radiation as a weapon
An editorial
August 14, 2001

Most Americans remain unaware that, a decade ago, this country's military deployed one of the most horrific new weapons since atomic and hydrogen bombs were developed.

That weapon was the depleted uranium (DU) projectile, a radioactive device designed to expose military personnel and civilians to toxic substances that could ultimately undermine their health or kill them. The DU projectiles were used during the Persian Gulf War, as a weapon against the Iraqis.

But they have turned into a nightmare not just for the people of that country, but also for the American servicemen and women who handled these irresponsible weapons. A decade after the end of the war, according to groundbreaking reporting in the Japanese press, adverse health effects from DU exposure continue to crop up among military personnel and civilians in Iraq where the fighting took place, and among U.S. and British veterans and their families.

"As I traveled through the U.S., UK and Iraq to cover this story, I was confronted at every turn by the sad and frightening specter of 'discounted casualties' - people exposed to depleted uranium and other toxic substances, and now tormented by leukemia and a whole array of chronic disorders," wrote Akira Tashiro, a Hiroshima-based senior staff writer for Chugoku Shimbun, one of Japan's most respected daily newspapers.

Tashiro's research has been gathered into an important new book, "Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium." And Steve Leeper - the son of former Wisconsin state legislator and Madison peace activist Midge Miller - has been working hard to bring the book and the issues it addresses to the attention of Americans.

Leeper's interest in issues of nuclear weapons and radiation led him to work in Hiroshima on peace issues. He knows Tashiro and his research well. And he will discuss depleted uranium in an important dialogue at 7 tonight at the Friends Meeting House, 1704 Roberts Court.

Leeper makes the case that the United States ought to take the lead in the international struggle to ban the use of depleted uranium in weapons - not merely for the sake of other countries, but for the sake of our own soldiers. Yet so far U.S. officials have spent much of their time attempting to obscure the reality of the threat posed by DU projectiles.

In 1993, Congress passed a bill authored by U.S. Rep.Lane Evans, D-Ill., ordering the Pentagon to research the effects of inhaled, ingested, and embedded DU on Gulf War veterans' health. Yet, while the Pentagon belatedly admitted in 1998 that "thousands" of Gulf War veterans may have "unnecessarily" inhaled or ingested DU dust because no warnings or protective clothing had been issued, serious research has been delayed.

The truth is that the research has been done. Akira Tashiro's comprehensive book, and the insights of activists such as Steve Leeper, tell us that the time has come to ban these horrific weapons.

Published: 8:52 AM 8/14/01