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Features - Gulf War Aftermath
simon skinner

With a reported two veterans a month committing suicide, The Gulf War and its after effects just won't go away. But how much about this conflict do we really know? How many casualties were there? And I'm not just talking on "our" side. On 60 minutes in 1996, Madeleine Albright, questioned on US foreign policy in the Gulf, answered the concern that perhaps some half a million Iraqi children may have died from sanctions, by declaring,"this is a price we feel we are willing to pay"

Note the royal "we" there. To be fair, there was, at that time, international support for sanctions but the airstrikes which followed were only approved by the US and Britain. It is interesting that the two main economic world powers, Germany and Japan, supported the offensive financially but refused to send troops. Could it be that, to quote George Bush, "the new world order" of the US and lapdogs Britain sniffing up the rear were protecting their oil rich profits and mega rich Saudi oil barons rather than showing concern for the Kurds? As political commentator, Naom Chomsky has pointed out,

"There is only one other major source of capital in the world, besides Germany and Japan and that is petrodollars - the colossal profits from energy. The big energy companies are overwhelmingly US and British. The US government does not want prices to go any lower because its economy relies heavily on recycling petrodollars from other countries."

Ever feel like you've been suckered? It was hard to get that worked up over the Gulf War because of the way the media were either blocked from covering it properly or (depending on your politics) were manipulated into showing a kind of "virtual war" whose unreality made it more of a video game and / or entertainment. Who was the Hollywood producer who said, "too much reality is not what the people want?" This quotation is often paraded as a quip but it has deep, political / cynical undertones if examined properly. Baudrillard in his infamous essay, 'The Gulf War Did Not Take Place' made the post-structuralist point that for most of us in the western world the war "existed" only on television. For it to be real we do have to see some dead bodies and charred ruins but what did we get… CNN reporters standing by hotel swimming pools "reporting" on air strikes in the distance - which anyone could describe if it was happening over their shoulder - and rehashing rumours that they'd picked up presumably through local radio or Reuters' wires. Baudrillard's point (which is often lost - he didn't actually mean there was no war - study the language) is that for something to be real it needs to be located in a familiar geography. How many of us can name battlefields in the Gulf War? How many soldiers and personalities, apart from media hound, Stormin' Norman, who was just an Uncle Sam apologist anyway, can you list?

Much has been made of Gulf War syndrome, though it has yet to get official status as a "syndrome", with so many of the veterans committing suicide or experiencing chronic lethargy, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and a worrying percentage of ex-servicemen and women seeming unable to hold down the most basic of jobs, what's going on? Nothing with pressure, seems to be the pattern, they can't handled pressured environments. Why not? Most of the research and reporting, thus far, there are still tests going on at King's College, London - have tried to find a link between exposure to chemical weapons and / or the aftermath of when soldiers went in to "clear up" dumps or factories where chemical weapons were stashed. We know Saddam Hussein had these weapons, as we'd sold him most of the equipment to make them. But soldiers who were nowhere near these sites had similar "coming home" symptoms. None of these illnesses have yet to be directly linked to depleted uranium (which the MOD says there is no evidence British troops were exposed to) or pesticides, vaccines, oil fires. Indeed the Presidential Advisory Committee (CAP) in the US reviewed over two years the findings of all reports and hearings (cost - three million dollars) and claimed the aforementioned dangers I've listed were "unlikely to be the cause of the veteran's illnesses." Stress keeps coming up as the main cause, which though sounding a bit unlikely and legally convenient, the syndrome has yet to develop sufficiently or mutate individually for it to be that different from the after affects of any war. Perhaps, pre-Internet we never heard about the problems ex-military personnel have re-entering the workplace, although it's there in the fiction of Hemingway etc. Maybe we weren't allowed to hear it. All servicemen and women have to sign an Official Secrets document preventing them going to the press with any detail from actual combat zones, so as to protect future missions or secret agents in the field, and as we don't have a freedom of information right in this country and a legal system with judges who decide who can and can't speak at certain times it seems the Internet is there, once again, to fill in the blanks.


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