|Of those stationed in the theater, including after the conflict, 221,000
have been awarded disability, according to a Veterans Affairs (VA) report
issued September 10, 2002.>
The War Against Ourselves
An Interview with Major Doug Rokke
Doug Rokke has a PhD in health physics and was originally trained as a
forensic scientist. When the Gulf War started, he was assigned to prepare
soldiers to respond to nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, and sent
to the Gulf. What he experienced has made him a passionate voice for peace,
traveling the country to speak out. The following interview was conducted by
the director of the Traprock Peace Center, Sunny Miller, supplemented with
questions from YES! editors.
QUESTION: Any viewer who saw the war on television had the impression this
was an easy war, fought from a distance and soldiers coming back relatively
unharmed. Is this an accurate picture?
ROKKE: At the completion of the Gulf War, when we came back to the United
States in the fall of 1991, we had a total casualty count of 760: 294 dead,
a little over 400 wounded or ill. But the casualty rate now for Gulf War
veterans is approximately 30 percent. Of those stationed in the theater,
including after the conflict, 221,000 have been awarded disability,
according to a Veterans Affairs (VA) report issued September 10, 2002.
Many of the US casualties died as a direct result of uranium munitions
friendly fire. US forces killed and wounded US forces.
We recommended care for anybody downwind of any uranium dust, anybody
working in and around uranium contamination, and anyone within a vehicle,
structure, or building that's struck with uranium munitions. That's
thousands upon thousands of individuals, but not only US troops. You should
provide medical care not only for the enemy soldiers but for the Iraqi women
and children affected, and clean up all of the contamination in Iraq.
And it's not just children in Iraq. It's children born to soldiers after
they came back home. The military admitted that they were finding uranium
excreted in the semen of the soldiers. If you've got uranium in the semen,
the genetics are messed up. So when the children were conceived-the alpha
particles cause such tremendous cell damage and genetics damage that
everything goes bad. Studies have found that male soldiers who served in the
Gulf War were almost twice as likely to have a child with a birth defect and
female soldiers almost three times as likely.
Q: You have been a military man for over 35 years. You served in Vietnam as
a bombardier and you are still in the US Army Reserves. Now you're going
around the country speaking about the dangers of depleted uranium (DU). What
made you decide you had to speak publicly about DU?
ROKKE: Everybody on my team was getting sick. My best friend John Sitton was
dying. The military refused him medical care, and he died. John set up the
medical evacuation communication system for the entire theater. Then he got
contaminated doing the work.
John and Rolla Dolph and I were best friends in the civilian world, the
military world, forever. Rolla got sick. I personally got the order that
sent him to war. We were both activated together. I was given the assignment
to teach nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare and make sure soldiers
came back alive and safe. I take it seriously. I was sent to the Gulf with
this instruction: Bring 'em back alive. Clear as could be. But when I got
all the training together, all the environmental cleanup procedures
together, all the medical directives, nothing happened.
More than 100 American soldiers were exposed to DU in friendly fire
accidents, plus untold numbers of soldiers who climbed on and entered tanks
that had been hit with DU, taking photos and gathering souvenirs to take
home. They didn't know about the hazards.
DU is an extremely effective weapon. Each tank round is 10 pounds of solid
uranium-238 contaminated with plutonium, neptunium, americium. It is
pyrophoric, generating intense heat on impact, penetrating a tank because of
the heavy weight of its metal. When uranium munitions hit, it's like a
firestorm inside any vehicle or structure, and so we saw tremendous burns,
tremendous injuries. It was devastating.
The US military decided to blow up Saddam's chemical, biological, and
radiological stockpiles in place, which released the contamination back on
the US troops and on everybody in the whole region. The chemical agent
detectors and radiological monitors were going off all over the place. We
had all of the various nerve agents. We think there were biological agents,
and there were destroyed nuclear reactor facilities. It was a toxic
wasteland. And we had DU added to this whole mess.
When we first got assigned to clean up the DU and arrived in northern Saudi
Arabia, we started getting sick within 72 hours. Respiratory problems,
rashes, bleeding, open sores started almost immediately.
When you have a mass dose of radioactive particulates and you start
breathing that in, the deposit sits in the back of the pharynx, where the
cancer started initially on the first guy. It doesn't take a lot of time. I
had a father and son working with me. The father is already dead from lung
cancer, and the sick son is still denied medical care.
Q: Did you suspect what was happening?
ROKKE: We didn't know anything about DU when the Gulf War started. As a
warrior, you're listening to your leaders, and they're saying there are no
health effects from the DU. But, as we started to study this, to go back to
what we learned in physics and our engineering-I was a professor of
environmental science and engineering-you learn rapidly that what they're
telling you doesn't agree with what you know and observe.
In June of 1991, when I got back to the States, I was sick. Respiratory
problems and the rashes and neurological things were starting to show up.
Q: Why didn't you go to the VA with a medical complaint?
ROKKE: Because I was still in the Army, and I was told I couldn't file. You
have to have the information that connects your exposure to your service
before you go to the VA. The VA obviously wasn't going to take care of me,
so I went to my private physician. We had no idea what it was, but so many
good people were coming back sick.
They didn't do tests on me or my team members. According to the Department
of Defense's own guidelines put out in 1992, any excretion level in the
urine above 15 micrograms of uranium per day should result in immediate
medical testing, and when you get up to 250 micrograms of total uranium
excreted per day, you're supposed to be under continuous medical care.
Finally the US Department of Energy performed a radiobioassay on me in
November 1994, while I was director of the Depleted Uranium Project for the
Department of Defense. My excretion rate was approximately 1500 micrograms
per day. My level was 5 to 6 times beyond the level that requires continuous
But they didn't tell me for two and a half years.
Q: What are the symptoms of exposure to DU?
ROKKE: Fibromyalgia. Eye cataracts from the radiation. When uranium impacts
any type of vehicle or structure, uranium oxide dust and pieces of uranium
explode all over the place. This can be breathed in or go into a wound. Once
it gets in the body, a portion of this stuff is soluble, which means it goes
into the blood stream and all of your organs. The insoluble fraction
stays-in the lungs, for example. The radiation damage and the particulates
destroy the lungs.
Q: What kind of training have the troops had, who are getting called up
right now-the ones being shipped to the vicinity of what may be the next
ROKKE: As the director of the Depleted Uranium Project, I developed a
40-hour block of training. All that curriculum has been shelved. They turned
what I wrote into a 20-minute program that's full of distortions. It doesn't
deal with the reality of uranium munitions.
The equipment is defective. The General Accounting Office verified that the
gas masks leak, the chemical protective suits leak. Unbelievably, Defense
Department officials recently said the defects can be fixed with duct tape.
Q: If my neighbors are being sent off to combat with equipment and training
that is inadequate, and into battle with a toxic weapon, DU, who can speak
ROKKE: Every husband and wife, son and daughter, grandparent, aunt and
uncle, needs to call their congressmen and cite these official government
reports and force the military to ensure that our troops have adequate
equipment and adequate training. If we don't take care of our American
veterans after a war, as happened with the Gulf War, and now we're about
ready to send them into a war again-we can't do it. We can't do it. It's a
crime against God. It's a crime against humanity to use uranium munitions in
a war, and it's devastating to ignore the consequences of war.
These consequences last for eternity. The half life of uranium 238 is 4.5
billion years. And we left over 320 tons all over the place in Iraq.
We also bombarded Vieques, Puerto Rico, with DU in preparation for the war
in Kosovo. That's affecting American citizens on American territory. When I
tried to activate our team from the Department of Defense responsible for
radiological safety and DU cleanup in Vieques, I was told no. When I tried
to activate medical care, I was told no.
The US Army made me their expert. I went into the project with the total
intent to ensure they could use uranium munitions in war, because I'm a
warrior. What I saw as director of the project, doing the research and
working with my own medical conditions and everybody else's, led me to one
conclusion: uranium munitions must be banned from the planet, for eternity,
and medical care must be provided for everyone, not just the US or the
Canadians or the British or the Germans or the French but for the American
citizens of Vieques, for the residents of Iraq, of Okinawa, of Scotland, of
Indiana, of Maryland, and now Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Q: If your information got out widely, do you think there's a possibility
that the families of those soldiers would beg them to refuse?
ROKKE: If you're going to be sent into a toxic wasteland, and you know
you're going to wear gas masks and chemical protective suits that leak, and
you're not going to get any medical care after you're exposed to all of
these things, would you go? Suppose they gave a war and nobody came. You've
got to start peace sometime.
Q: It does sound remarkable for someone who has been in the military for 35
years to be talking about when peace should begin.
ROKKE: When I do these talks, especially in churches, I'm reminded that
these religions say, "And a child will lead us to peace." But if we
contaminate the environment, where will the child come from? The children
won't be there. War has become obsolete, because we can't deal with the
consequences on our warriors or the environment, but more important, on the
noncombatants. When you reach a point in war when the contamination and the
health effects of war can't be cleaned up because of the weapons you use,
and medical care can't be given to the soldiers who participated in the war
on either side or to the civilians affected, then it's time for peace.