Rokke, whose first experience of war was Vietnam in 1967, said that Gulf War Syndrome, a permanent effect of war, was a "large incidence of 'friendly fire.'" The causes are exposure to DU munitions, low levels of chemical and biological warfare agents and smoke from the burning oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait, and a wide variety of toxic chemicals. Military personnel experienced compromised immune systems after being given up to eight shots at a time, including the never-approved anthrax vaccine. The government denies the existence of Gulf War Syndrome because it doesn't have the money to take care of all of the victims, Rokke said. More than 221,000 Gulf War I veterans are on permanent disability, and more than 10,000 veterans have died, Rokke said. Veterans' children, born since the war, show an increased incidence of birth defects and learning disabilities.
Rokke explained the attraction of DU munitions. "It's like playing darts, except that it's ten pounds of solid uranium. This thing comes out of the gun, flies through the air, and catches fire immediately. You fire a DU round at a vehicle, at a building, at a bunker, and they're destroyed." DU munitions were shot from Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and were present in cluster bombs and landmines. They blew up anyone in their path, including enemy soldiers and small children. DU is now also used in bunker buster bombs, machine gun rounds, and parts of cruise missiles.
Problems began occurring. It took Rokke and his team three months to clean 24 Abrams tanks, destroyed by friendly fire. In the process, he and his team developed respiratory symptoms and rashes. Rokke said that he has been trying, since then, to get medical care for his team and himself, with little governmental cooperation. In 1994, Rokke was asked to direct the army's DU project in Nevada, where they discovered that protective devices didn't work. "During Gulf War I, people wore gas masks and still smelled it and tasted it (uranium particles) . The particles were going right through the filters."
A destroyed tank equipped with DU munitions is "a toxic wasteland. But we found out how much contamination, how you clean it up, and we wrote up the procedures," Rokke said.
In 1996, Rokke went to work at the Edwin R. Bradley Radiological Laboratories, at Fort McClellan, Alabama." The job "didn't last long because I kept adding proper education, medical care, and environmental cleanup." At the same time, the United States developed "Project SHAD" or "Shipboard Hazard and Defense." It involved testing biological and chemical germ warfare agents on U.S. naval crews and marine personnel.
"Did we just go to war because Saddam Hussein and Iraq used chemical and biological agents on their own population? We knew that, in 1990, Iraq did possess chemical and biological weapons. We knew that because the United States gave the weapons to them. We kept the receipts." The U.S. military blew up those weapons during the 1991 war. "Hey, guess what?" Rokke said. "Project SHAD was the deliberate use of chemical and biological munitions on U.S. citizens. And it's still going on." Rokke said that the U.S. government continues to deny the dangerous effect of DU munitions. Another reason for the recent war was to prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons. Yet, Rokke pointed out that the United States, which signed the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has given tactical nuclear weapons to Australia. "How many people know that we want to take tactical nuclear weapons and warheads to Auckland, New Zealand?"
Rokke charged that the government has engaged in an elaborate system of denial. U.S. officials told a reporter in 1998, "army regulations are not applicable to soldiers in combat" and "overexposure is not applicable to the deployed army." All references to his team's research has been excised from the Pentagon's website. The last time that Rokke was tested at the DU medical project in Baltimore, Maryland, was in 1999. "They found all kinds of problems and they sent me back home. And that's the last I'd heard from them. The doctor does not return my phone calls or my doctor's phone calls."
But Rokke said, "When you use uranium munitions, you contaminate air, water, and soil and the military has confirmed that it makes the food and water unusable. There is no safe level of low-level radioactive exposure."
Chemistry does not create better living, despite the 1960s advertisements, Rokke said. And it doesn't create better wars. "The lesson from Gulf War I illness is the fact that extremely healthy individuals, when they have complex exposures to chemical, biological, and radiological sources, are going to get sick," Rokke said.
Rokke, a warrior for many years and who now works as a substitute teacher, said that he would still fight to protect his country. But he added, "War is a toxic wasteland. We've got to start living together and talking or we're going to contaminate everyone's soil. I'm a warrior but I'm here to tell you that war is obsolete." by Alice E. Gerard
Soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf are suffering the ill effects of depleted uranium (DU) munitions exposure, said former U.S. Army Reserve Major Douglas Rokke on July 21 at the Buffalo-Erie County Historical Society. "We've had kids dying of respiratory problems in the last few days. One was from my hometown, 20 years old."