We Really are Living on the Dark Side of the Moon
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
September 30, 2003
My friend Ben emailed me from Vancouver: "Dear Barbara, What happened to you? You've become cynical. Why not look at the positive things happening in our world. Especially in the environment. There are so many good things happening out there."
So I decide to try to view things through Ben's eyes, to look for, as he calls it, the green shoots of change in our world. The same day I opened the Independent and the headline "Pentagon spends millions seeking environmentally friendly bullets" jumped out at me.
Of course. All that toxic lead, just lying around in hotspots like Iraq, can't be good for the environment. Perhaps Ben was right.
The article quoted Bob DiMichele, spokesman for the US Army's environmental centre. With lead bullets, he said without the slightest hint of irony, there is a cost in terms of human safety. Mr DiMichele called it green ammunition, one that can kill you or that you can shoot a target with and that's not an environmental hazard.
I felt Ben's optimism wavering. It's the kind of news that makes you wonder if you're inside some kind of altered reality. A place of profound cognitive dissonance where a lead-free green bullet is described as frangible and extolled as environmentally sound and the vice-president of the company who gained the Pentagon's US$5 million ($9.6 million) contract can say, also without irony, that if lead were not toxic he would not be having this conversation.
But the disconnect goes deeper. On the first day of the war against Iraq the US was reported to be dousing Iraqi lines with napalm. Washington denied it. They were adamant that napalm had not been part of their arsenal since 1993. But napalm's first cousin the MK-77 firebomb was - and five months later the colonel, who made the first denial, said if he'd been asked about MK-77s, he would have confirmed their use.
And the difference between these two devices? According to the Pentagon, while the new mixture still coats its victims bodies in fuel gel before igniting, causing untreatable third degree burns, a la Vietnam, it's less harmful to the environment.
"This additive has significantly less of an impact on the environment," said Marine spokesman Colonel Michael Daily.
Well that makes sense, first a PC bullet and now a PC version of Agent Orange. Especially in light of the ongoing disastrous effects of the chemical spraying in Vietnam. A report in the Guardian by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy exposes horrendous deformities three generations after the country was defoliated. They reveal that more than 650,000 people today suffer from an array of baffling chronic conditions while another 500,000 have already died.
But sadly the PC approach to warmongering is not across the board. In the breakdown of law and order since the invasion the of Iraq, the US has failed to prevent things such as the expected biological disaster from the releasing of thousands of flies known as chrysomya bezziana (screw worms) which were bred by Iraq's Nuclear Authority. Or the inadvertent looting of radioactive yellow cake by impoverished civilians who saw the storage barrels as ideal water and milk containers. Or the looming medical disaster for the people of Iraq from radioactive depleted-uranium (DU). Even a DU bullet fragment no bigger than a pencil eraser produces levels 1000 times the normal level of radiation and over 75 tons of DU is reported to have been dropped on Iraq.
And then, last week, Iraq was put up for sale. Defoliated now of its infrastructure, its morale, its educated and competent people and all impediments to the new regime of a perfect free-market economy, the US announced that all 192 state companies will be sold to foreigners, income tax will be introduced for the (local) workforce and the entire country opened to unlimited foreign investment.
Like new owners everywhere, they'll no doubt set about renovating, stripping out what's left of the old and decorating in their own style. And the previous owners, the Iraqis who will become no more than serfs in their own country? No one's even bothered to do an official body count yet so it seems unlikely the negative realities of their new lives will make even a news item, let alone a headline.
So I'm sorry Ben, I tried, but the green shoots just didn't stand a chance. Not against a world that describes bullets as frangible, that turns the human suffering of napalm into a plus for the environment, that destroys and steals a country under the guise of liberating it.
When I was a teenager, I loved the Pink Floyd song “Us and Them.” It caused in me an inexplicable ache. Today that ache is back. I'm cynical yes, but my cynicism is no match for theirs. We really are living on the dark side of the moon.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/.