As society advances in technology, wars and battles become even deadlier. It could be the increased speed of a bullet, more precise spy satellites, or the development of a more powerful bomb. But what is overlooked most times are the development, production and use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.
When countries develop these weapons, they make sure that they will kill their enemy. During the Persian Gulf War, the seriousness of these gruesome killers was basically overlooked. This overlook proved to be costly and deadly. The American government sent its soldiers into the Persian Gulf War knowing that there would be chemical and biological weapons used.
There were many reasons for the start of the Persian Gulf War. Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, wanted not only supreme power over his land but also supreme power over neighbouring countries. Iraq desired oil. Iraq set its eyes on one such neighbour. Iraq annexed Kuwait and took control of 24% of the oil supply for the world and was headed to Saudi Arabia next (“The War” 2).
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This meant that Saddam Hussein would possibly hold the world in an oil monopoly. The start of the Persian Gulf War was based on religion and Saddam Hussein’s cruel leadership (1). Saudi Arabia soon feared that their oil fields would become Saddam’s next target. They called on the United States for protection against Saddam (1). The United States issued a fair warning to Saddam to remove his military from Kuwait. Iraq did not comply with the set removal deadline of January 15, 1991. This brought about Desert Shield (the buildup of troops), which eventually led to the main attack to free Kuwait’s, better known as Operation Desert Storm (1). The start of the Persian Gulf War led Iraq into starting a new NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) program.
Iraq’s NBC program was not just fueled by the Persian Gulf War. Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq brought about programs for the storage and manufacturing of NBC agents. Secret facilities hidden in the desert and underground facilities were used for the storage of NBC agents. It was only under Saddam Hussein’s rule that Iraq began to produce NBC weapons (Allen 44). The weapons developed had been used long before the Persian Gulf War.
Iraqi’s were known to use chemical and biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War (Grossman 66). “By 1990 there were said to be five chemical weapon research laboratories, six chemical production sites, and five factories for filling warheads” (Allen 47). As Iraq’s hostility towards other nations grew, so did the development of NBC agents.
In 1990, Iraq gave the NBC weapons program main priority (Allen 46). Iraq continued this program clear into the Persian Gulf War. At the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, Iraq had in its possessions about 2,000 to 4,000 tons of chemical agents (49). Iraq wasted no time in using these weapons, either. On the first night of bombing, reporters covering the war found out that the SCUD missiles exploding behind them had contained chemical warheads (153).
In a report released in August of 1995, UN inspectors concluded that Iraq was capable and did use biological and chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War (Yetiv 84). “Iraq documents released in August of 1995 showed that Iraq had at least twenty-five missile warheads carrying about 11,000 pounds of biological agents, including germs that cause Anthrax, and Botulin poisons, highly deadly potions that kill by destroying the ability to breathe” (84). Iraq’s products of the NBC program were put to definite use during the Persian Gulf War.
The biological and chemical agents used by Iraq in the Persian Gulf War were harmful and deadly to all who had been exposed to them. Numbers of chemicals stored at the beginning of the war would vary drastically from the numbers stored at the end of the war. “The Iraqi government would admit to having a chemical weapons stockpile at the end of the war that included 280 tons of Mustard Gas, 75 tons of Sarin, and 500 tons of Tabun, plus 1,481 artillery shells and bombs containing chemical warheads for the modified SCUD missiles (other chemicals were undoubtedly destroyed during the war)” (Allen 49). Possible biological agents used in the Gulf War that could have affected soldiers were Anthrax, Brucellosis, and possible viral or DNA altered organisms (Ritchie 1). Possible chemical weapons used in the war were nerve agents, such as Sarin and Soman, and Tabun blister agents, such as Mustard Gas and Lewisite (1). “Mustard gas is a known mutagen and may be a human carcinogen (cancer causing agents) too” (“No Subject Line (Mustard Gas)” 1). Iraq, knowingly, unleashed these deadly killers that spread their devastation across hundreds of miles of land.
The agents had to spread over far distances to cause so many soldiers to contract Gulf War Syndrome. Many factors played on how the agents quickly moved around the environment. Since chemical warfare agents are four to six times heavier than the air, it means that the released agents would stay very close to the ground (Tuite 1). The weather had been ideal for the Iraqi’s defense. A low level jet stream at night may have trapped vapor created by the chemicals during the heat of the day (6-7). The low level jet stream brings in cloud cover, which makes it more difficult for the chemicals to escape into the atmosphere.
Also, a stationary frontal pattern (a stalled weather system) was over Iraq during the invasion and winds may have carried chemical and biological fallout across the open land (6). These weather conditions were ideal in the agents’ purpose, which was to affect many soldiers. Since the cloud cover was present, the soldiers faced unknowingly deadly breathing situations. Elements that soldiers were exposed to under these conditions were “toxic swamps of oil fires, chemical clouds from weapons factories that had been blown up, and jet fuel exhaust” (Regush 1). The news of the spreading of the agents led to a heightened state of alert by soldiers.
Alarms and sirens went off on agent detecting devices notifying soldiers that there must have been a presence of some form of chemical or biological agent around them in the environment. When the troops came over to Iraq, they also brought along detection devices, foreshadowing the possible use of chemical agents by Saddam. Chemical reaction devices used by the troops positively identified traces of chemical agents in the air (Bernstein 3). Other countries bad brought similar devices along with them. Czech troops detected ahead of time (before the invasion of Kuwait which involved American soldiers) a strong presence of chemical agents in the air (Tuite 3). “The DoD (Department of Defense) has labeled the Czech detection of chemical agents as ‘credible’ and ‘reliable’, but not confirmed because the wind was allegedly blowing in a different direction than stated by them in their report” (10). While in the field, many alarms had also been sounding off from the US troops equipment before the invasion had begun (3).
Chemical agents were not the only agents to be detected. There were several reports citing the detection of nerve agents on the detection kits as well (15). It only takes “one-thousandth of the amount of nerve agent in the air to set off the alarms over an extended period” (Bernstein 3). Unbelievably, soldiers were told to ignore the many alarms going off for the nerve agents because it was not enough to harm them (3). These alarms had been sounding off all night long. The United States also used special satellites in outer space to collect data about the conditions in Iraq. Locations, dates, infrared imaging from these satellites, and scientific information, all provided proof of the existence of these chemical and biological agents in Iraq (Tuite 3). There would be more supporting evidence found to back up the presence of the agents as well. “Iraqi documents captured by US and British forces “proved that the Iraqis planned and executed chemical and biological attacks against soldiers (Bernstein 4). However, the detection of these agents could not prevent their mission of sickness and death.
The effect that the chemicals had on the soldiers was Gulf War Syndrome. The symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome for the soldiers were debilitating and deadly. Gulf War Syndrome can mainly be described as follows: fatigue, memory loss, muscle pain, insomnia, and skin conditions that varied in severity” (Yetiv 188). These symptoms were almost immediate and did not take a long time to make themselves known to the human body.
After the bombings of chemical weapon storage and production facilities (most notable was at Khamisiyah), there were reports of “flu-like illnesses, rashes, and large, unexplained…die-offs of animals in the desert” (Tuite 14). Evidence shows that American soldiers were exposed to chemical and biological agents “from the aerial bombings of Iraqi chemical warfare agents research, production, and storage facilities by coalition (allied) forces” (1).
The number of Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome is, by far, not a small one. Roughly 700,000 Gulf War veterans are currently suffering from Gulf War Syndrome (Regush 3). And the numbers keep growing. It is not just American soldiers either. Canadian, British, and Australian soldiers have also reported the same symptoms that American soldiers have described (Grossman 121). Some severe symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome are “sleep problems, short-term memory loss, chronic fatigue, rashes, aching joints, headaches, abdominal pain, sensitivity to bright light, blurred vision, loss of focus, diarrhea, and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS)” (Ritchie 3).
Other soldiers reported large blisters, bleeding gums, cancers, and even death among colleagues (Grossman 2). Many tests have been done on those veterans who are suffering from Gulf Warn Syndrome. The blood of the veterans affected with Gulf War Syndrome contains toxic materials not normally found in the human bloodstream (Regush 2). These agents soon became the main suspect in one of the most debated war illnesses.
The main causes of Gulf War Syndrome are believed to be the biological and chemical agents that the soldiers were exposed to during their tour of duty in the Gulf. Much research has been put into identifying the cause or causes of Gulf War Syndrome. Veteran David Banks brings up the point of other countries’ soldiers suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and noted that British soldiers also had a role in detecting the agents during the war (Banks 1-2). Britain has also reportedly had the same problems in identifying a cause or causes. Another veteran, Dan Ebker, has experienced post war traumatic syndrome as described above (Ebker 1). Much research has been put into identifying the cause. Chemical poisoning was found to be a main link to Gulf War Syndrome (Yetiv 117). A study by researchers would also find that Gulf War Syndrome might have been caused by Pyridostigmine, a drug used on soldiers for anti-chemical warfare reasons (117).
There is also another strong lead to follow as a cause of Gulf War Syndrome. Towards the end of the war, Saddam Hussein lit all of Kuwait’s oil fields on fire. A strong possibility for the cause of Gulf War Syndrome is the mixture of toxic chemicals such as insecticides, pesticides, experimental drugs used on soldiers, and the choking soot from the burning oil fields in Kuwait (Bernstein 1). As stated before, there had been an adequate amount of cloud cover up to trap in these harmful toxins. With no place to go, they saturated the air that the soldiers, as well as civilians, breathed into their lungs. The soot probably coated their lungs and caused respiratory problems (Regush 1). But with so much evidence backing a cause, the government repeatedly denied any presence or use of chemical and biological weapons. This was a blow to the veterans who were suffering severely.
Veteran William Carter, an M1A1 Abrams tank driver, is one of the hundreds of thousands of Gulf War Syndrome sufferers being called a liar and a veteran who is just “stressed out” from the war by his own American government. During his tour of duty in Iraq, there had always been knowledge in the back of his head that there could be a possibility of a chemical or biological attack from Saddam. He says that while he was in the Persian Gulf, his company NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) Sergeant informed the troops sufficiently on Saddam’s deadly arsenal (Derewjanko 2).
They had also been informed on procedures in case of an attack. The war went on as usual until the last battle he served in. On the way back be had felt sick, just like symptoms previously described. But William was in for a more brutal battle ahead. He describes the way he was treated when he went to receive medical attention:
“I reported these conditions to the Battalion Physician’s Assistant when I was out processed from my unit in Germany. He said that ‘I was making up’ all of the symptoms that I was complaining of and that I was just very stressed out from the war” (1).
William Cramer remembers all the battles he has gone through with Gulf War Syndrome.
“I have blacked out several times, had really bad headaches, ended up in the emergency room a few times from different problems that I never had before being in the service, and have also had different rashes that were very difficult to treat” (4). When William sought treatment at his regional VA (Veterans Administration), they also said that it was all just in his head (Cramer 9). He also remembers his buddies that were with him in battle.
He says that many of his old friends that were with him during combat are now suffering from different types of cancers and Parkinson’s Disease (Derewjanko 1). After many veterans like William Cramer have come forward, the American government has been forced to supply their soldiers with legitimate answers to their ailments.
The United States government has had to put much time and research into investigating the existence of Gulf War Syndrome and its causes. It has, not so surprisingly, admitted to destroying key evidence in the backing of the use of chemical and biological warfare as well. The American government appointed James J. Tuite, III as the chief investigator on the legitimacy of Gulf War Syndrome for Congress (Bernstein 3).
He brought many of his findings in a full report before Congress. During Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome, former Senator Don Riegle (D-Mich.) said “British and US troops made at least 21 positive tests for agents,” and he accused the US military and government of covering up the facts (2). Amazingly, the government did not deny this strong accusation.
The American government admitted to destroying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons logs that noted every positive test for an NBC agent in the air (7). Other logs were still intact, but only covered a small portion of the war. NBC logs that were recorded by General Norman Schwarzkopf were released under the request of Gulf War veterans and the Freedom of Information Act and showed a heavy presence of chemical agents.
These logs, unfortunately, only documented seven days (3). “The logs also revealed chemical injuries to American GIs, discoveries of Iraqi munitions dumps, the fallout from allied bombings of Iraqi chemical supply dumps, and chemical attacks on Saudi Arabia” (Bernstein 3). These all were damaging to the government’s cover-up but were a victory for the veterans. The evidence proved that the illnesses and symptoms they were experiencing were not just in their heads. Many possible causes are still being discovered that also back up the veteran’s statements and proved the government wrong.
The use of chemical and biological agents by the Iraqi military brought about a debilitating sickness to America’s soldiers known as Gulf War Syndrome. This is a result of the continued advancement of world militaries and their leaders. Sicknesses like Gulf War Syndrome are brought about by a country’s increasing desire to not only win the battles but also win the war. What people do not take into account are the effects these advancements will have on human life.
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1991 Persian Gulf War.” Chronicillnet. 1996
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Yetiv, Steve A. The Persian Gulf Crisis. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997
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