Dr. Bernard Lown
Medical Concerns of Iraq and the likely effect of the "collateral
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you as we begin a new year with
the fear that another attack on the beleaguered people of Iraq is imminent,
and, like you, I'm outraged.
Prior to the first Gulf War, IPPNW informed all within ear shot that war
would be an unthinkable calamity. We warned that coating the sands of Arabia
with blood, creating millions of refugees, and crippling a nation was no way
to secure peace and justice in the Middle East. "Victory," we forecast,
would destabilize an already volatile region, stimulate proliferation,
foment the growth of religious fundamentalism and terrorism, and make
Americans persona non grata throughout the Muslim world. An even more
sinister aspect of the Gulf War would be the legitimization of the use of
violence to settle international disputes in the post-Cold War world. Our
predictions, if anything, were understated.
Twelve years ago, American military power reduced to rubble a country
with a gross domestic product equal to that of the state of Kentucky. While
allied casualties were miraculously low, hundreds of thousands of civilians
perished. Untold numbers of survivors overwhelmed Iraq's limited medical
resources leaving many of the wounded and traumatized without adequate
health care. With sanitation and water purification facilities deliberately
destroyed, outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid,
malaria, polio, and hepatitis ravaged the population. In short, the Gulf War
was an unmitigated health catastrophe.
Yet the Gulf War was not just another carnage. It was intended to
rehabilitate war as the proper means for enforcing global order. A new era
was opened of high-intensity warfare using modern conventional weapons with
devastating results. The military strategy was vastly different from
Vietnam. No more body counts or napalmed children. Avoided were the acres of
rubble of WWII. No images of Dresden, Tokyo, or Leningrad to wrench emotion,
mobilize moral outrage, or evoke sympathy. It was a "techno war." During 43
days of war, the US and its allies dropped 88,500 tons of bombs, the
equivalent of nearly seven Hiroshimas. While 70% of the new "smart bombs"
were off target, sanitized media coverage focused on the high-tech wizardry
of the aerial blitzkrieg. Televised images defined the war as a game,
fostering the illusion of safe, bloodless playing fields while a Third World
country was being dragged back to the last century.
Appallingly, the delusory belief that overwhelming military force can
solve the world's problems is now official US policy. Worse still, the Bush
Administration has sanctioned mere threat perception as sufficient
justification for waging unilateral "preventive" war, propagandized as an
essential element to defeating terrorism and to ensuring peace. Nearly 2,000
years ago, the Roman historian Publius Tacitus saw through the rhetoric,
"They make a wilderness and call it peace."
IPPNW is once more sounding a global medical warning of a humanitarian
catastrophe in the making. Should America wage war on Iraq, again the cost
will be borne primarily by the innocent. An assault on Saddam Hussein will
be, in real terms, an assault on the people of Iraq. Still suffering from
the first Gulf War and more than a decade of economic sanctions, ordinary
Iraqis - especially the very young, the infirm, and the elderly - will be
far more vulnerable to this new assault than they were in 1991. As
documented by our British affiliate, Medact, in the newly released IPPNW
report, Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on
Iraq, the death toll could mount to more than 200,000 deaths.
A new Gulf War will shatter what remains of Iraq's economic and civilian
infrastructure, demolishing simultaneously the interlinked health services.
It will leave behind unspeakable environmental degradation with profoundly
adverse health effects. IPPNW projects an additional 200,000 victims dying
in the post-war aftermath.
Hordes of displaced persons and floods of refugees will subsist in
unavoidable squalor. Dumbfounding psychological trauma, like a distorting
genetic mutation, will wreak havoc in human behavior into future
generations. Such conditions serve as incubators of disease, pestilence, and
hatred. Rather than stopping terrorism, a new Gulf War will incite new acts
of desperate revenge.
The ever-threatening possibility of a so-called conventional war
escalating to the use of nuclear weapons is real. If US forces encounter
determined resistance which claim substantial American casualties, the
Pentagon is ready to resort to nuclear weapons. The Orwelian language
justifying such a dreadful eventuality comes in the nuke-speak of
"bunker-busters." For its part, the Bush Administration has just declared
that it "reserves the right to use all of our options," including genocidal
nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are used - by the US or by Israel or by
Britain - the help that medicine can render to the countless victims will be
utterly trivial in mitigating human suffering.
Thus IPPNW's mission is the practice of preventive medicine of the
highest order. We cannot be merely appendages to military machines left to
cope with maimed bodies and broken spirits. We cannot sit on the sidelines
as helpless spectators to an unfolding tragedy of untold misery and death.
Compelled by our sworn duty to protect life we are demanding alternatives to
war. Simply stated, when a disease cannot be cured, it must be prevented.
American policy is not preordained. It can be contested and changed - in
the coffee shops, the living rooms, and the papers of towns small and large
across this great country. Politicians do not respond to moral imperatives,
but to the clamor of their constituency. You and I - we are the
decision-makers. Together we can meet the challenge and speak out against
this injustice, and change the wayward immoral course.
I urge you to order a copy of IPPNW's Collateral Damage report for
yourself - and to send copies to your representatives in Congress. Demand
that they publicly renounce war on Iraq and support UN weapons inspections.
Help us spread the word still further. Talk to your friends, your
congregation, your editorial board about the impending humanitarian
catastrophe and the portentous direction of US war-making. Visit IPPNW's
website at www.ippnw.org to see what others around the world are doing to
prevent this senseless war.
Bernard Lown, M.D.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985 Nobel Peace
727 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel (617) 868-5050
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