July 13th, 20005. The Role of Hiroshima
"Have you heard of depleted uranium weapons?"
In November 1999, before I had begun full-scale
coverage for this issue on DU rounds, I asked
this question of A-bomb survivors and Americans
living in Hiroshima. Unfortunately, most
had never even heard the term. Even those
who said "I've heard the word in connection
with Okinawa," knew virtually nothing
about the actual situation.
For the last ten years I have been writing articles about the victims of radiation since Hiroshima and Nagasaki and on other nuclear issues around the world. During that period I had no particular interest in DU weapons. It was only while I was pursuing these stories and learning about the effects of DU on human bodies and the environment that I came to realize how truly inhumane these weapons are.
While Hiroshima has been telling the world about the consequences of the atomic bombing and appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons, we have learned that vast numbers of radiation victims around the world are suffering the effects of nuclear testing, accidents at nuclear weapons plants and nuclear power accidents, and so on. Now we are learning about the many more radiation sufferers who have been exposed to radiological DU weapons.
Hiroshima residents, including physicians
specializing in treatment of the radiation
exposed, have visited the contaminated disaster
sites around the Chernobyl nuclear power
plant in Ucraine and Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan,
the former Soviet Union's nuclear testing
site. These groups are developing ties with
affected people through medical treatment
and other forms of support.
Must we refuse to bring into the ring the people exposed to radiation and the medical personnel treating them in Iraq?
They are reeling from the double blow of this exposure and the economic sanctions. While covering this story in Baghdad, I met around 50 foreign visitors, mostly Americans. One was former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark (72), who played a key role in the US civil rights movement in the 1960s. They were in Iraq to deliver medical supplies purchased with $4 million collected by the grassroots group International Action Center (IAC) headquartered in New York City.
Clark told me, "What is important is humanitarian relief. Americans, who have the greatest responsibility for the suffering in Iraq, and other people around the world need to know what is happening in this country. They need to tell others and we all need to work to get the sanctions lifted."
The US government has propagated the image
of Iraq as "a rogue nation." Clark
pointed out that direct contact reshapes
our mistaken image of them and theirs of
Clark expects support from the atomic-bombed cities and the atomic-bombed country of Japan: "Based on the atomic bomb experience, the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or anywhere in Japan, can convey to the Iraqis better than we can the horror of nuclear weapons and messages of peace. I urge you to actively take on this role."
We may not have the IAC's ability to collect millions of dollars to buy medicines and medical supplies, but various kinds of assistance are possible if people unite behind the effort and the city and prefecture cooperate. For example, one or two Iraqi cancer physicians could be invited to train at institutions that treat atomic bomb survivors in order to research radiation effects.
We can demand that the Japanese government lift economic sanctions on Iraq, that it urge the US government to do the same. We can connect our efforts with the demands of US and British veterans-who learned about the effects of DU when they sacrificed their precious good health-for a ban on the manufacture and use of DU weapons. We can tie up with grassroots movements around the world.
The International Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Land Mines concluded in December 1997 called land mines an "inhumane weapon." Late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, an enthusiastic backer who was foreign minister at the time, signed the treaty himself in Ottawa, Canada.
DU penetrators are no less inhumane. Though they work without nuclear fission or fusion, they are nevertheless radiological weapons using the same radioactive materials as atomic bombs.
Just as we are bound to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons, no less are the government and people of the atomic-bombed country of Japan bound to speak out and take strong action to ban DU weapons. I ask the atomic bombed cities to launch this initiative.
=Feature series end=
Ramsay Clark delivers medicines to Iraq's Ministry of Health. "Even when fought with conventional weapons, wars are the greatest destroyer of the environment."
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