Frida Berrigan

What it's like running for office in the age of Donald Trump and climate change

“YES!” he yelled, thrusting his fist in the air. “We get to live in the mayor’s house!” My son’s reaction when I told his two sisters and him that I was running for mayor of our town became the laugh line of my campaign. But in real time, I had to burst his bubble. “Oh Seamus,” I said, smiling, “the mayor just lives in his own house. There is no ‘mayor’s house.’ If we win, we’ll keep living in our house and it will become the mayor’s house.”

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What It’s Like To Grow Up With the Constant Threat of Violence

Guns. In a country with more than 300 million of them, a country that’s recently been swept up in a round of protests over the endless killing sprees they permit, you’d think I might have had more experience with them.
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.“

As it happens, I’ve held a gun only once in my life. I even fired it. I was in perhaps tenth grade and enamored with an Eagle Scout who loved war reenactments. On weekends, he and his friends camped out, took off their watches to get into the spirit of the War of 1812, and dressed in homemade muslin underclothes and itchy uniforms. I was there just one weekend. Somehow my pacifist parents signed off on letting their daughter spend the day with war reenactors. Someone lent me a period gown, brown and itchy and ill-fitting. We women and girls spent an hour twisting black gunpowder into newspaper scraps. I joked that the newspaper was anachronistic — the previous week’s Baltimore Sun — but no one laughed.

A man came by with a long gun, an antique, resting on the shoulder of his jerkin to collect our “bullets” and he must have read the gun terror written on my face.

“Wanna give it a try?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, stumbling to my feet, pushing my gown out of the way, and trying to act like I didn’t have broken-rifle patches, symbols of the pacifist War Resisters League, all over my real clothes. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I took the heavy weapon in my way-too-small hands. He showed me how to wrestle it into position, aim it, and fire. There were no bullets, just one of my twists of powder, but it made a terrifying noise. I shrieked and came close to dropping the weapon.

And there it was: the beginning, middle, and end of my love affair with guns — less than a minute long. Still, my hands seemed to tingle for the rest of the afternoon and the smell of gunpowder lingered in my hair for days.

Got Guns?

One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns. So how strange that, on that day in the late 1980s, I saw a real gun for the first and last time. I grew up in inner city Baltimore. I’ve worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters all over the East Coast and stayed at dozens of Catholic Worker Houses around the country —Providence, Camden, Syracuse, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — every one in a “tough” neighborhood. I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the mid-1990s, before you could get a $4 coffee or a zucchini scone on Van Brunt Street, before there was an Ikea or a Fairway in the neighborhood. All those tough communities, those places where President Trump imagines scenes of continual “American carnage,” and I’ve never again seen a gun.

Still, people obviously own them and use them in staggering numbers and in all sorts of destructive ways. Sensing that they’re widespread beyond my imagination, my husband and I have started asking the parents of our kids’ school friends if they own guns when we arrange play dates or sleepovers. We learned this from the father of a classmate of my 11-year-old stepdaughter Rosena. The dad called to make the arrangements for his son to come over after school. We talked logistics and food allergies and then he paused. “Now, I am sorry if this is intrusive,” he said, “but I do ask everyone: Do you keep guns in your house?” He sounded both uncomfortable and resolute.

I almost choked on my urge to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” In certain odd corners at least, my last name, Berrigan, is still synonymous with muscular pacifism and principled opposition to violence and weaponry of just about any kind, right up to the nuclear kind. But that dad probably didn’t even know my last name and it probably wouldn’t have meant a thing to him if he had. He just wanted to make sure his son was going to be safe and I was grateful that he asked — rather than just assuming, based on our Volvo-driving, thrift-shop-dressing, bumper-sticker-sporting lifestyle, that we didn’t.

“You know how kids are,” he said after I assured him that we were a gun-free household. “They’ll be into everything.”

And right he is. Kids are “into everything,” which is undoubtedly why so many of them end up with guns in their hands or bullets in their bodies.

“Do you question everyone about their guns?” I asked the dad. He replied that he did and, if they answered yes, then he’d ask whether those weapons were locked away, whether the ammunition was stored separately, and so on.

“Thank you so much. I think we need to start doing that too,” I said as our conversation was ending and indeed I have ever since.

It’s a subject worth raising, however awkward the conversation that follows may be, because two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely. So far this year, 59 kids have been hurt in gun accidents of one sort or another. On average, every 34 hours in our great nation a child is involved in an unintentional shooting incident, often with tragic consequences.

The National Rifle Association’s classic old argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” takes on a far harsher edge when you’re talking about a seven-year-old accidentally killing his nine-year-old brother with a gun they found while playing in an empty neighboring house in Arboles, Colorado.

Two weeks after we learn this new parenting life skill in this oh-so-new century of ours, my husband Patrick is on the phone with a mom arranging a sleepover for Rosena. I hear him fumble his way through the gun question. From his responses, I assume the mom is acknowledging that they do have guns. Then there’s the sort of long, awkward silence that seems part and parcel of such conversations before Patrick finally says, “Well, okay, thanks for being so honest. I appreciate that.”

He hangs up and looks at me. “They do keep guns for hunting and protection, but they’re locked up and out of sight,” he tells me. “The mom says that the kids have never tried to get at the guns, but she understands the dangers.” (He had heard in her voice apology, embarrassment, and worry that the guns might mean no sleepover.)

I grimaced in a way that said: I don’t think Rosena should go and he responded that he thought she should. The two of them then had a long conversation about what she should do and say if she sees a gun. She slept over and had a great time. A lesson in navigating difference, trusting our kid, and phew… no guns made an appearance. And we know more about our neighbors and our community.

Anything Can Be a Gun

My son Seamus, five, received an Easter basket from a family friend. He was happy about the candy of course and immediately smitten with the stuffed bunny, but he was over the moon about what he called his new “carrot gun.” It wasn’t a toy gun at all, but a little basket that popped out a light ball when you pressed a button.

The idea was that you’d catch the ball, put it back in, and do it again. But that wasn’t the game my kids played. They promptly began popping it at each other. His little sister Madeline, four, was in tattle mode almost immediately. “Mom, Seamus is shooting me with his carrot gun!”

“Mom, Mom, Mom,” he responded quickly, “it’s a pretend play gun, not a real play gun. It's okay.” He made popping noises with his mouth and held his hand as if he were grasping a genuine forbidden toy gun. It was an important distinction for him. He’d been a full-throated participant in the March for Our Lives in Boston on March 24th, chanting with the rest of us “What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? NOW!” for four hours straight.

At the march, he pointed out that all the police officers managing traffic and the flow of people were wearing guns on their belts.

“I see a gun, Mom,” he kept saying, or “That police officer has a gun, Mom.”

Repeatedly, he noticed the means to kill — and then four days after that huge outpouring of youth-led activism for gun security, Stephon Clark was indeed gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California. The police officers who shot him were looking for someone who had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood and they fired 20 shots into the dark in his direction. The independent autopsy found that he had been hit eight times, mostly in his back. Clark turned out to be holding only a cellphone, though the police evidently mistook it for a tool bar, which could have done them no harm from that distance, even if he had wielded it as a weapon.

Maybe the police saw a weapon the same way my five-year-old son sees one. He can make a stick or just about anything else, including that little basket, into a “gun” and so evidently can the police. Police officers have killed black men and boys holding pipeswater hose nozzlesknives, and yes, toy guns, too.

Where Does the Violence Come From?

Parkland (17 killed, 14 wounded). Newtown (28 killed, 2 wounded). Columbine (15 killed, 21 injured). School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives. They have become a factor in school architecture, administrator training, city and state funding, and security plans. The expectation that something terrible will happen at school shapes the way that three- and four-year-olds are introduced to its culture. Part of their orientation now involves regular “shelter in place” and “secure-school” drills.

At my daughter’s pre-school, the kids are told that they’re hiding from rabid raccoons, those animals standing in for marauding, disaffected white boys or men roaming the halls armed. As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

After every episode of violence at a school — or in the adult world at a churchnight clubconcertmovie theater, or workplace like San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center or the YouTube headquarters — there’s always a huge chorus of “why?” Pundits look at the shooter’s history, his (it’s almost always a guy) trauma, and whatever might be known about his mental health. They speculate on his (or, in the rare case of those YouTube shootings, her) political leanings, racial hatreds, and ethnic background. The search for whys can lead to hand wringing about hard-driving rock music or nihilistic video games or endemic bullying — all of which could indeed be factors in the drive to kill significant numbers of unsuspecting people — but never go far enough or deep enough.

Two questions are answered far too infrequently: Where do the guns come from? Where does violence come from?

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn’t conceivably be used for “hunting.” They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that — like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz legally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree.

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which — honestly, folks — doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Where does the violence come from? I’ve already shared my inexperience with guns. Now, let me add to it my inexperience with violence. I don’t know what it’s like to have to react in a split second to or flee an advancing perpetrator. No one has ever come at me with a gun or a knife or a pipe, or anything else for that matter. And I count myself lucky for that. In a nation in which, in 2016 alone, 14,925 people were killed due to gun violence and another 22,938 used a gun to kill themselves, it’s a significant thing to be able to say.

And yet, I know that I’m the product of violence (as well as the urge, in my own family, to protest and stop it): the violence of white privilege, the violence of American colonialism, the violence of American superpowerdom on a global scale... and that’s no small thing. It’s a lot easier to blame active-shooter scenarios on poor mental-health screening than on growing up in a world layered with the threat of pervasive violence.

Power is about never having to say you’re sorry, never being held accountable. And that’s hardly just a matter of police officers shooting black men and boys; it’s about the way in which this country is insulated from international opprobrium by its trillion-dollar national security state, a military that doesn’t hesitate to divide the whole world into seven U.S. “commands,” and a massive, planet-obliterating nuclear arsenal.

And don’t think that any of that’s just a reflection of Trumpian bombast and brutality either. That same sense of never having to say you're sorry at a global level undergirded Barack Obama’s urbane dispassion, George Bush Junior’s silver spoon cluelessness, Bill Clinton’s folksy accessibility, George Bush Senior’s patrician poshness, Ronald Reagan’s aura of Hollywood charm, and Jimmy Carter’s southern version of the same. We’re talking about weapons systems designed to rain down a magnitude of terror unimaginable to the Nikolas Cruzes, Dylann Roofs, and Adam Lanzas of the world.

And it doesn’t even make us safe! All that money, all that knowledge, all that power put into the designing and displaying of weapons of mass destruction and we remain remarkably vulnerable as a nation. After all, in schools, homes, offices, neighborhoods across the country, we are being killed by our kids, our friends, our lovers, our police officers, our crumbling roads and bridges, our derailing trains. And then, of course, there are all those guns. Guns meant to destroy. Guns beyond counting.

So what might actually make us safer? After all, people theoretically buy the kind of firepower you might otherwise use only in war and pledge allegiance to the U.S. war machine in search of some chimera of safety. And yet, despite that classic NRA line — “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” — are we truly safer in a nation awash in such weaponry with so many scrambling in a state of incipient panic to buy yet more? Are my kids truly on the way to a better life as they practice cowering in their cubbies in darkened classrooms for fear of invading rabid “raccoons”?

Don’t you think that true security lies not in our arming ourselves to the teeth against other people — that is, in our disconnection from them — but in our connection to them, to the web of mutuality that has bound societies, small and large, for millennia? Don’t you think that we would be more secure and so much less terrified if we found ways to acknowledge and share our relative abundance to meet the needs of others? In a world awash in guns and fears, doesn’t our security have to involve trust and courage and always be (at best) a work in progress?

As for me, I'm tackling that work in progress in whatever ways I can — with my neighbors, my town, my husband, and most of all my children, educating them in the ways violence scars and all those weapons just increase our journey into hell, never delivering the security they promise.

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Raising Children in the Age of Trump Without Losing Your Mind

As a mother and an activist, here’s what I’ve concluded as 2018 begins: it’s getting harder and harder to think about the future -- at least in that soaring Whitney Houston fashion. You know the song: “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way...” These days, doesn’t it sound quaint and of another age?

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Gardening As One Way to Fight Trump-Era Hopelessness

In the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s 1984 soared onto bestseller lists, as did Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which also hit TV screens in a storm of publicity.  Zombies, fascists, and predators of every sort are now stalking the American imagination in ever-greater numbers and no wonder, given that guy in the Oval Office. Certainly, 2017 is already offering up a bumper crop of dystopian possibilities and we’ve only reached July. But let me admit one thing: the grim national mood and the dark clouds crowding our skies have actually nudged me in a remarkably positive direction. Surprise of all surprises, Donald Trump is making the corn grow in Connecticut!

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The Donald, a One-Man 9/11, Is Making Me Love My Country More, and Fight Back Harder

So reality has inexorably, inescapably penetrated my life. It didn’t take long. Yes, Donald Trump is actually the president of the United States. In that guise, in just his first weeks in office, he’s already declared war on language, on loving, on people who are different from him—on the kind of world, in short, that I want to live in. He’s promised to erect high walls, keep some people in and others out and lock up those he despises, while threatening to torture and abuse with impunity.

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How Do I Explain Our Terrorized Country to a Child?

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Parenting on the Brink: Wrestling With Fears Too Big to Name

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Growing Up in the Shadow of the American War State

The Pentagon loomed so large in my childhood that it could have been another member of my family. Maybe a menacing uncle who doled out put-downs and whacks to teach us lessons or a rich, dismissive great-aunt intent on propriety and good manners.

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Can You Be a Political Radical and Change Diapers at the Same Time?

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the introduction of “It Runs in the Family” by Frida Berrigan (O/R Books, 2014).

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Why Dishing Out Cash to the Pentagon Is No Solution for the Unemployment Crisis

It's the magic incantation to fix our economic woes. Many states and federal agencies have already gone from scouring their budgets for things to cut to green-lighting construction projects. The Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package is sure to muster many shovels in an effort to rouse a despondent economy and put Americans back to work.

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Is Bush Leading Us to Nuclear War?

Only days before the fifth anniversary of September 11, President George W. Bush addressed military officers in Washington to warn that nuclear-armed terrorists could "blackmail the free world and spread their ideologies of hate and raise a moral threat to America."

This alarmist vision was accompanied by the White House's release of "A National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," which painted a picture of a "troubling potential WMD terrorism nexus emanating from Tehran." The administration is building the case for war against Iran -- a job made easier by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent announcement that Iran can now enrich uranium on an industrial scale -- despite the fact that many Iran-watchers and nuclear experts consider their claims of enrichment capacity to be an overblown boast.

This is not the first time the "no-nuclear-weapons-for-you" ploy has been used to lay the groundwork for a war. On Oct. 7, 2002, while making the case for regime change in Iraq, President Bush said: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Yellow cake, aluminum tubes and histrionics about Saddam Hussein's nuclear capabilities followed ... all of which were challenged at the time, and have turned out to be completely fabricated. And, when not grinding the axe of pre-emptive war as counter-proliferation strategy, the administration periodically raises the specter of nuclear terrorism, in the form of dirty bombs and suitcase-sized warheads.

But while the United States demands that other countries end their nuclear programs, the Bush administration is busy planning a new generation of nuclear weapons. Nearly 20 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, the United States is allocating more funding, on average, to nuclear weapons than during the Cold War.

The Bush administration is pumping this money -- more than $6 billion this year -- into renovating the nuclear weapons complex and designing new nuclear weapons. Such hypocrisy is one of the main obstacles to nuclear arms reductions because it runs the risk of shattering the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in which the nuclear-armed states pledged to begin the process of disarmament if the non-nuclear states opted not to pursue the deadly technology.

The centerpiece of the administration's move toward developing a new generation of nuclear weapons is "Complex 2030," a multiyear plan introduced last April by the National Nuclear Security Administration (the semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear weapons program).

Complex 2030 calls for the construction of new or upgraded facilities at each of the National Nuclear Security Administration's eight nuclear weapons-related sites throughout the country. The plan also calls for building a new nuclear weapon, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), inside the old warheads. The program was conceived in response to concerns that the cores of existing nuclear weapons could be wearing out and need to be replaced. But RRW development has gone much further than that.

The Department of Energy (DOE) notes in its summary of Complex 2030 that one of the major goals of the program is to "improve the capability to design, develop, certify and complete production of new or adapted warheads in the event of new military requirements." In short, while the Bush administration has publicly stressed reductions in nuclear weapons, it is working to produce new, more usable nuclear weapons.

Three small steps forward

As a candidate for president in 2000, and during his first months in office, Bush suggested that the United States should significantly cut its nuclear arsenal. In his first address before a joint session of Congress, the new president went so far as to pledge: "We can discard Cold War relics and reduce our own nuclear forces to reflect today's needs." He followed through on this promise with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals from 6,000 each -- the limit established under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each over a 10-year period.

Presidents Bush and Putin signed the treaty at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg right after the city celebrated its 300th birthday in June 2003. Also known as the Treaty of Moscow, SORT has serious flaws. It has no method for verifying that each side is meeting its commitments; the cuts are not permanent -- neither side is obligated to destroy or dismantle the warheads, only to take them "off-line;" and both sides would have to agree to extend the treaty if they have not met their obligations by the time the treaty expires in 2012. After the Senate unanimously voted to ratify the treaty, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called it "as flimsy a treaty as the Senate has ever considered." Yet even with these flaws, SORT establishes important benchmarks and offers the potential of trust-building between the former superpower rivals.

Another positive development occurred in mid-February, when the Bush administration, after years of work through the "six party talks," announced a deal with North Korea. The hermit nation agreed to take the first steps toward dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for large supplies of fuel oil and eventual political recognition. The first phase of the agreement calls for North Korea to take concrete steps within 60 days, including closing down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, getting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the ground, and beginning to reveal the locations of its other nuclear facilities. In exchange, it will receive 50,000 tons of fuel oil at the end of the 60-day period. The agreement demonstrates that the Bush administration is slowly learning the nuances of diplomacy -- you have to give to get.

More good news surrounds the recent fate of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). One of the most controversial new weapon designs proposed by the nuclear weapons complex, the RNEP promised to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets, such as underground bunkers containing chemical and biological weapons and military command centers. Such a difficult challenge would necessitate decades of steady and climbing investment, making it the kind of techno-fantasy that the nuclear weapons complex of the future would love to tackle.

In 2003, Congress allocated $15 million to study the RNEP. But in 2004 and 2005, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), then chair of the Water and Energy Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, led successful fights to defund the RNEP. Later, he boasted: "It's dead, forget about it! Go conventional. If I have to kick it three or four times, I'm going to keep kicking at it until we think we've totally gotten it out of the way."

Giant leaps backward

The Bush administration has aggressively counteracted these small positive developments with a succession of negative and destabilizing actions and statements -- the most significant of which is the assertion that nuclear weapons are a central component of U.S. military and political strategy.

This stunner was concealed within the administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a Pentagon report that relies on input from the Joint Chiefs and the armed services to define the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security. The final classified report concluded that nuclear weapons "play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends."

Submitted to Congress in January 2002, the NPR was not made public until portions were leaked to the press two months later. It states, "The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will ... be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing if required."

The NPR introduces the concept of a "new Triad," composed of nuclear and non-nuclear strike capabilities, defensive systems, and "responsive infrastructure" for maintaining and/or producing nuclear weapons as requested. The report also emphasizes the development of creative new nuclear weapons -- like low-yield or surgical warheads that are able to "reduce collateral damage," and nuclear bombs with "earth penetrating" capabilities.

The NPR concluded that nuclear weapons "provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force." The Bush NPR explicitly named potential targets -- Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Russia. The review explained that the United States might use nuclear weapons to retaliate for the use of chemical or biological weapons against U.S. targets, as the ultimate tool in a military conflict over Taiwan, or, disturbingly, as a response to undefined "surprising developments." Proliferation trumps prevention

During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year. When the Cold War ended, DOE officials and members of Congress imagined the conversion of the nuclear weapons complex. But innovative proposals for civilian or green technology labs never got off the ground, and the nuclear labs successfully lobbied Congress for a new infusion of weapons money. By the end of President Clinton's tenure, nuclear weapons activities within the DOE's annual budget had jumped to $5.2 billion -- more than the Cold War average, but less than what the new Bush administration would say it needed.

Since then, spending on nuclear weapons has increased by almost 14 percent to a 2007 total of $6.4 billion (after adjustment for inflation), but it is not enough to satisfy a nuclear-obsessed administration. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), formed in 2000 to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex within the DOE, has a five-year "National Security Plan" that calls for annual increases that will push the nuclear weapons budget to $7.4 billion by 2012.

Compare these significant increases in nuclear spending to what the DOE is allocating for non-proliferation and prevention of nuclear conflict. The NNSA spends more than nine times more on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities" -- a category that includes nuclear weapons, naval nuclear reactors and environmental cleanup at military nuclear facilities -- than it does on nuclear arms reductions and non-proliferation.

In addition, spending on nuclear weapons research, development and maintenance in the DOE budget far outpaces the funding devoted to the development of alternative energy sources, a critical need in the age of global warming and dwindling oil supplies. The DOE's proposed budget for "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" -- which includes non-nuclear, non-fossil fuel forms of energy -- is $1.2 billion for FY 2008, one-thirteenth of expenditures on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities."

Upgrading nuclear capabilities

Under Complex 2030, the NNSA is taking steps to boost the U.S. ability to test and produce new warheads, and to consolidate production of uranium, plutonium and non-nuclear components within nuclear weapons.

The central component of Complex 2030 is the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The official rationale for the RRW program is to produce weapons that are safer and more durable than the warheads in the current stockpile. Supporters of RRW fear that the components of nuclear weapons could wear out and that the only way to know if the warheads are viable is to replace their inner workings. And -- the line of thinking continues -- as long as scientists are replacing the plutonium or uranium cores, they might as well "tweak" the weapon's design.

But the assertion that the old nuclear weapons need to be replaced by reliable new warheads is undermined by a recent NNSA study that indicates that the existing plutonium triggers, or "pits," may be viable for another 90 to 100 years. The report, issued in November and reviewed by an independent panel of scientists and academics, indicates the need for considerable skepticism of the Complex 2030 claims.

In addition, the RRW program will establish the infrastructure needed for future development of new warheads with new capabilities. A key element of this upgraded and consolidated nuclear infrastructure is a new facility to produce "pits," the plutonium triggers that set off the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. The DOE has proposed constructing a Modern Pit Facility, but Congress has deemed the $2 to $4 billion price tag too steep, and has rejected funding proposals for two years running.

As an alternative, the department is pushing the idea of a Consolidated Plutonium Center (CPC) that would bring all of the plutonium-related activities together at one site. The new facility would be a sort of "modern pit facility-plus," capable each year of producing 125 plutonium pits to trigger nuclear weapons, and at the same time develop new military applications for plutonium.

This more expansive concept is likely to cost more than the facility alone, but NNSA has yet to provide a cost estimate to Congress. A small down payment for the CPC -- $24.9 million -- is proposed in the FY 2008 budget; budget projections for continuing work on the CPC total $282 million through 2012.

Under Complex 2030, the new CPC will be one of a series "transformed" and "consolidated" nuclear sites. Currently, there are eight facilities -- Los Alamos National Laboratory (N.M.), Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (Calif.) and Sandia National Laboratories (N.M.), the Nevada Test Site (R&D activities, including sub-critical experiments), the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant in Tennessee (uranium and other components), the Pantex Plant in Texas (warhead assembly, disassembly, disposal), the Kansas City Plant (non-nuclear components), and the Savannah River Site (tritium extraction and handling) in Georgia.

While Complex 2030 would mandate that some of the sites have a smaller "footprint" (less floor space), it would also require the investment of tens of billions of dollars for new or upgraded factories, including two new factories -- a Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) and a Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) -- at the Y-12 site; a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory to "support plutonium operations"; a new factory for the production of non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons at the current site of the Kansas City plant; and significant upgrades at the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly facility. The spending on the CPC is only a small portion of the as yet unknown costs of the Complex 2030 initiative. Broken pledges, skeptical Congress

All of this raises concerns for Robert Civiak. A program examiner for Department of Energy national security programs in 1988 and 1989, Civiak now does research for Tri-Valley Cares, a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. He calls the Reliable Replacement Warhead a "multibillion dollar effort to redesign and replace every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal." Jay Coghlan, executive director at Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, agrees, calling RRW a "nukes forever program, and a Trojan horse for future new designs."

NNSA's planning documents call for the production of the first RRW by 2012, and according to analysis by James Sterngold in the San Francisco Chronicle, the work is already beginning. He writes, "Lab officials said researchers not only have produced extensive designs ... but they have already conducted non-nuclear tests of the critical detonation devices and other components. They have begun to plan in detail how the weapons would be manufactured."

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the new chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, has criticized the RRW project for its "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" approach. "There appears to have been little thought given to the question of why the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time," he says. "My preference is that the DOE would have spent their resources reconfiguring the old Cold War complex and dismantling obsolete warheads." He has not ruled out slowing or eliminating the RRW if the administration is unable to present a strategy "that defines the future mission, the emerging threats and the specific U.S. nuclear stockpile necessary to achieve strategic goals."

The 110th Congress and beyond

In an August 2005 speech to a symposium on post-cold war nuclear strategy, Rep. Hobson described the administration's call for research on new bombs and the Nuclear Earth Penetrator as "very provocative and overly aggressive policies that undermine our moral authority to argue that other nations should forgo nuclear weapons."

Hobson's concerns are shared by a number of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, including Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Lynne Woolsey (D-Calif.), all of whom joined him in successfully leading an effort to defund the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. Skepticism about the need for massive investment in nuclear weapons at a time of huge war bills and growing deficits, a growing sophistication about nuclear issues, and a Democratic majority means that for the first time in years the nuclear weapons complex is feeling the heat.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) represents the state that houses the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently won the Reliable Replacement Warhead competition. In a press release issued after the decision, she said, "While I appreciate the fact that Lawrence Livermore was selected, this in no way answers my questions about the Reliable Replacement Warhead program" -- a program that she remains "100 percent opposed to."

Despite support from the White House, the DOE, key contractors, and a number of powerful members of Congress such as Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) -- all of whom have nuclear weapons facilities in their states or districts -- the Complex 2030 plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure may be scaled back or rejected by congressional opponents, who will receive backing from arms control and environmental organizations.

But it will take more than cutting a million here or a billion there, more than gunning against a specific corner of the Complex 2030 plan, more than defunding the most aggressive or alarming aspects of the nuclear weapons complex, to deal with nuclear weapons in the 21st century. Members of Congress are going to need to challenge the bedrock of administration foreign policy -- that nuclear weapons should occupy center stage as a guarantor of U.S. security.

But they will not do that without being pushed -- and pushed hard -- by civil society. The urgency of the task creates opportunities for a big tent of strange bedfellows to work together: Weary cold warriors like George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who in January co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons"; well-established Washington organizations like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Arms Control Association; disarmament activists like Helen Caldicott and the Abolition 2000 network; and members of the international community from the United Nations on down are all saying the same thing: The United States cannot insist that other nations disarm or opt not to pursue nuclear technology, while aggressively ramping up U.S. nuclear capabilities. This hypocrisy cannot stand.

Global security through nuclear disarmament or a world awash in nuclear weapons. The choice is obvious. And it is ours to make.

The Nightmare Weaponry of Our Future

We are not winning the war on terrorism (and would not be even if we knew what victory looked like) or the war in Iraq. Our track record in Afghanistan, as well as in the allied "war" on drugs, is hardly better. Yet the Pentagon is hard at work, spending your money, planning and preparing for future conflicts of every imaginable sort.

From wars in space to sci-fi battlescapes without soldiers, scenarios are being scripted and weaponry prepared, largely out of public view, which ensures not future victories, but limitless spending that Americans can ill-afford now or 20 years from now.

Even though today the Armed Forces can't recruit enough soldiers or adequately equip those already in uniform, the Pentagon is committing itself to massive corporate contracts for new high-tech weapons systems slated to come on-line years, even decades, from now, guaranteed only to enrich their makers.

Future Combat Systems

The typical soldier in Iraq carries about half his or her body weight in gear and suffers the resulting back pain. Body armor, weapon(s), ammunition, water, first aid kit -- it adds up in the 120 degree heat of Basra or Baghdad.

Ask soldiers in Iraq what they need most and answers may include: well-armored Humvees (many soldiers are jerry-rigging their own homemade Humvee armor); more body armor (an unofficial 2004 Army study found that one in four casualties in Iraq was the result of inadequate protective gear), or even silly string (Marcelle Shriver found out that her son was squirting the goo into a room as he and his squad searched buildings to detect trip wires around bombs).

The same Army that can't provide such basics of modern war is now promising the Future Combat Systems network (FCS), a "family of systems" that will enable soldiers to "perceive, comprehend, shape, and dominate the future battlefield at unprecedented levels." The FCS network will consist of a "family" of 18 manned and unmanned ground vehicles, air vehicles, sensors, and munitions, including: eight new, super-armored, super-strong ground vehicles to replace current tanks, infantry carriers, and self-propelled howitzers; four different planes and drones that soldiers can fly by remote control; and several "unmanned" ground vehicles.

Put together these are supposed to plunge soldiers into a video-game-like version of warfighting. The FCS will theoretically allow them to act as though they are in the midst of enemy territory -- taking out "high value" targets, blowing up "insurgent safe houses," monitoring the movements of "un-friendlies"-- all the while remaining at a safe distance from the bloody action.

To grasp the futuristic ambitions (and staggering future costs) of FCS, consider this: The Government Accounting Office (GAO) notes that "an estimated 34 million lines of software code will need to be generated" for the project, "double that of the Joint Strike Fighter, which had been the largest defense undertaking in terms of software to be developed."

In charge of this ambitious sci-fi style fantasy version of war are Boeing and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). They are the "Lead Systems Integrators" of this extraordinarily complex undertaking, but they are working with as many as 535 more companies across 40 states.

They promise future forces the ability to break "free of the tyranny of terrain" and "an agile, networked force capable of maneuver in the third dimension" in the words last March of retired Major General Robert H. Scales in a Boeing PowerPoint presentation entitled "FCS: Its Origin and Op Concept."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once famously asserted, ''You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." Pentagon planners seem to have taken the opposite tack. They prefer the military they, or their blue-sky dreamers, wish to have for the kinds of wars they dream about fighting. And it won't be cheap.

A March 2005 GAO report found that the total program cost of Future Combat Systems alone "is expected to be at least $107.9 billion." In 2005, the Pentagon had already allocated $2.8 billion in research and development funds to FCS and, in fiscal year 2006, that was expected to increase to $3.4 billion. (Keep in mind, that all such complex, high-tech, weapons-oriented systems almost invariably go far over initial cost estimates by the time they come on line.)

"The Maserati of the Skies"

In 2006, the F-22 Raptor began rolling off the assembly line. The Air Force plans to buy 183 of these high-tech, radar-evading stealth planes, each at a price tag of $130 million, being manufactured in a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. But it turns out that the $130 million per plane cost is just one-third of the total price, once development costs are factored in. The whole program is slated to cost the Pentagon 65 billion big ones. In July 2006, the Government Accountability Office asserted. "The F-22 acquisition history is a case study in increased cost and schedule inefficiencies."

Even if it were a bargain, however, it is a classic case of future-planning run amok. The plane was originally conceived to counter Soviet fighter planes, which haven't menaced the U.S. for more than 15 years. The plane itself is technologically awe-inspiring, reportedly having a twice-the-speed-of-sound cruising speed of Mach 2. (The Pentagon jealously guards its maximum speed as top secret.)

In 2007, the only reason the military might need such a plane is to outfight its predecessor, the F-16, which Lockheed Martin has sold to numerous countries that benefited from the corporation's vociferous lobbying for new markets and our government's lax enforcement of arms-export controls.

In this classic case of boomeranging weaponry, Lockheed Martin has triumphed three times: First, General Dynamics sold F-16 fighters to the Air Force beginning in 1976; second, Lockheed (which bought General Dynamics) sold the planes to Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and other nations from the 1980s to the present moment; and third, Lockheed Martin (having merged with Martin Marietta in 1995 and adjusted its name accordingly) now gets to produce an even higher tech plane for a U.S. Air Force that fears it might be outclassed by foreign military hardware that once was our own. The Bethesda-based company ended 2001 with a stock price of $46.67 a share -- and began 2007 at a celebratory $92.07.

The Next Generation Fighter

Of course, the lesson drawn from this is to produce yet more futuristic planes. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by a team led (yet again!) by Lockheed Martin, made its initial flight on December 15, 2006. The total program could surpass $275 billion, making it the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin is sharing the work and profits with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems (not to speak of scads of subcontractors).

The Air Force already hails the F-35s "transformational sensor capability" and "low-observable characteristics" that will, "enable persistent combat air support over the future battlefield. Furthermore, [the] F-35 will help enable the negation of advanced enemy air defenses because it will possess the ability to perform unrestricted operations within heavily defended airspace."

Somewhere in there it is implied that this plane launches missiles that kill people, but it is very deeply embedded. Nowhere does it say that its opponent in the skies could be the F-22 Raptor, once it is sold to all those nations who find their F-16s woefully out of date.

What's Next Next Next Next?

Even with such spiraling, mind-boggling investments in advanced weapons systems, the aerospace industry is never satisfied. The quest for new justifications for ever "better" versions of already advanced weapons systems is the holy grail of the business. These justifications pile up in industry magazines like Aerospace America, the organ of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In a typical article in that magazine, the industry makes much of a comment then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley made to Congress in March 2004. In charge of the U.S. air campaign over Iraq, he observed that most of the sorties originated from neighboring countries that were allies in Operation Enduring Freedom.

But what if, he wondered, you wanted to go to war and there were no local allies willing to offer basing facilities. On the classic Boy Scout theory, be prepared, he promptly warned in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, "In the future, we will require deep-strike capabilities to penetrate and engage high-value targets during the first minutes of hostilities anywhere in the battlespace."

And he was only making a public point of already popular Air Force doctrine. The 176-page Air Force Transformation Flight Plan was issued in all its glittering verbosity in November 2003, bristling with a dismal, hyper-militarized view of the future. In it, Air Force planners envisioned a world with the United States even more embattled and unpopular than it was at that moment, and where we lacked all powers of persuasion to entice other nations to join future "coalitions of the willing."

The solution: new bombers that could fulfill those "deep-strike requirements" which, sadly, cannot be carried out by tomorrow's F-22 and F-35 fighter planes. (They "may not have enough range to attack critical ground targets far inside enemy territory, repeatedly, and under all circumstances.")

Not surprisingly, Lockheed Martin tried to knock two birds out of the sky with one stone, responding to criticism that the F-22 was irrelevant and too expensive, while rushing to meet the Air Force's perceived need for a new long-range bomber by suggesting yet another plane: the F/B (for fighter-bomber)-22. As they described it, in a vision of a kind of high artistry of death, this wonder of modern air war would even be capable of changing color to match the sky.

A January 2005 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution gave Lockheed Martin visionaries a chance to share their chameleon of a "high-speed, high-altitude bomber" which could also change shape, becoming "slimmer and more aerodynamic as its fuel tanks drain on long-distance flights. It would be invisible to radar, carry precision bombs and missiles, and fly fast enough to outrun most fighters."

Sounds cool, right? This might be one instance where the weapons designers and imagineers took a few steps too far into fantasy land. There has not been any progress on the idea since 2005, but don't be surprised if the chameleon fighter-bomber changes color and shape and soars again in the race for future weapons funding.

Even without the magical fighter-bomber, over the next eight years or so the Air Force imagines fielding systems like the Common Aero Vehicle -- "a rapidly responsive, highly maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle that would be rocket-launched into space" according to the Air Force documents. The CAV would be equipped with sensors and bristle with weapons it could launch from space against fixed and moving targets on land, and that could be delivered anywhere on earth within two hours.

As John Pike, a weapons expert and director of, told the Washington Post in March 2005, CAV programs will allow the U.S. "to crush someone anywhere in world on 30 minutes' notice with no need for a nearby air base."

Looking beyond 2015, the Air Force sees systems like the B-X Bomber; space-based Hypervelocity Rod Bundles (nicknamed "rods from God"), a mystical sounding system that promises "to strike ground targets anywhere in the world"; the Guardian Urban Combat Weapon, an "air-launched lurk and loiter reconnaissance, rotary winged, unmanned, combat air vehicle designed for urban warfare"; and the High Powered Microwave Airborne Electronic Attack, an "anti-electronics high powered microwave weapon against 'soft' electronic-containing targets" that would be operated "from an airborne platform at military significant ranges."

The Air Force and the Army are not alone in imagining fabulously wild wars of the future and the multi-billion dollar weapons systems they can build to fight them. The Navy has its own gold-plated crystal ball. Their new KDD(X) program could end up totaling $100 billion for some 70 warships including destroyers, cruisers, and a seagoing high-tech killer called LCS (Littoral Combat Ship).

Generously, the Pentagon decided to give the project to two different ship building companies -- Northrop-Grumman Ship Systems (Ingalls, Mississippi) and General Dynamics (Bath Iron Works, Maine). According to the Pentagon's "Program Acquisition Cost by Weapons System," the DD(X) will include "full-spectrum signature reduction, active and passive self-defense systems and cutting-edge survivability features." At $3.3 billion for two ships in 2007, it better.

Building one ship in each location with each contractor raised the cost by $300 million per ship, according to GlobalSecurity.Org, but to members of Congress representing each district that is a small price to pay for maintaining "flexibility." In this business, one becomes accustomed to flexibility's magical spending properties.

In its 2006 report, the White House's Office of Budget and Management commented that the Littoral Combat Ship and other systems mentioned above have a "high potential to meet current and future threats." Congress, where so much of the game is bringing the bacon (i.e. shipbuilding contracts) back to the Baths of the nation, wholeheartedly concurred. That was just about the sum total of the debate about these multi-billion-dollar ship systems, multi-million-dollar boons for a few companies, and the dark specter of the future threats these ships will theoretically protect us against.

Missile Defense: The Great Misnomer in the Sky

While many of the systems described so far are, at least, futures that, in some heated imagination, exist, the misnamed Ballistic Missile Defense System is moving full steam ahead despite being irrelevant, unworkable, and obscenely expensive in our less-than-futuristic present moment. The BMD program got another boost recently when incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave it his full support, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee: "I know we've spent a lot of money on developing missile defense, but I have believed since the Reagan administration that if we can develop that kind of capability, it would be a mistake for us not to."

The mistake is wasting one more dime on decades-worth of failure and bombast that have cost an estimated $200 billion so far without producing a single workable system to shoot down an enemy missile or even the sitting-duck targets that have taken the place of such missiles in half-baked tests of the woeful project.

Missile defense funding is set to soak up another $9.4 billion in fiscal 2007 -- part of the Pentagon's ongoing corporate welfare system -- and the Defense Department's Future Years Defense Program report proposes that funding averaging $10 billion annually be continued for research and development of the system through ... (this is not a misprint) 2024. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that annual missile-defense costs will, in fact, increase to $15 billion by 2016.)

Nuclear Projections

And it is not just in the Pentagon where such blue-sky spending for an overarmed world is underway. Hidden in the innocuous sounding Department of Energy is the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has big plans laid through 2030.

Their vision, released in April 2006, sees a "responsive nuclear infrastructure" that can continuously dismantle and rebuild nuclear weapons, reducing their numbers and increasing their potency, while ensuring that, at any moment an American leader might want to destroy the planet many times over, nuclear production rates can be rapidly increased.

The Department of Energy estimates that Complex 2030 will require a mere capital investment of $150 billion, but the Government Accountability Office suggests that, as with so many initial estimates for future weapons systems, that number was far too low. Even if the program cost only a dollar, it is but another typically dangerous and provocative step by the military-industrial complex that threatens, in this case, to encourage yet more global nuclear proliferation.

Complex 2030 would, in fact, plunge us back into a Cold War atmosphere, but with far more nuclear-armed adversaries. It even promises a return to the underground testing of nuclear weapons and could require upping the production of new
plutonium pits (the fissile heart of nuclear weapons).

What Do We Dream?

As engineers and physicists at Lockheed Martin and the Air Force dream up new weapons -- shaping bombers out of polymer and pixels -- politicians and Pentagoneers imagine the threats those super-bombers of the future will blast to bits.

Only the money -- billions and billions of dollars -- is real ...

But as those billions are sucked away, what happens to our dreams of clear skies, cures for pandemics, solutions to global warming and energy depletion? To make more human dreams our future reality, we have to stop feeding the military's nightmare monsters.

The Weapons Trade as Entertainment

Oh, the stars! We're riveted by their clothes, their suntans, what they do (and don't) eat for breakfast. We're titillated when they appear too fat, disheveled, or lumpy. We're envious when they're expectably sleek, well muscled, and well coiffed. Christie Brinkley's heartbreak is front page news. Britney's baby gaffes are carefully dissected. The trials and tribulations of Jessica and Nick and Jennifer and Brad provided the tabloids and entertainment mags with months of fodder.

America exported $10.48 billion worth of film and television in 2004. The world's favorite TV show is the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. Every day, in almost every corner of the globe, people stream to movies made in the United States. They watch Halle Berry conjure up a storm with her eyes, Johnny Depp swashbuckle his way through the Caribbean, and Keanu Reeves swoon and mope in the company of Sandra Bullock. (Sorry about that last one, world!). But, in Uzbekistan, those same movie fans are denied the rights of free speech and assembly, while President Islam Karimov tightens his grip on power with an array of arms made in the USA. In the Philippines, they watch the country's debt skyrocket as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gobbles up American weaponry at startling prices and an alarming rate.

Like American entertainment, American arms are a multibillion-dollar industry that leans heavily on foreign sales. In fact, the United States exported $18.55 billion in fighter planes, attack helicopters, tanks, battleships, and other weaponry in 2005. All signs point to 2006 being another banner export year. Just as in the movie, TV, and music businesses, we dwarf the competition. Russia is the next largest arms exporter with a measly $4 billion in yearly sales. In fact, U.S. arms exports accounted for more than half of total global arms deliveries -- $34.8 billion -- in 2004, and we export more of them ourselves than the next six largest exporters combined.

Given the huge payoffs and even larger payloads delivered, isn't it strange how little attention the American arms industry gets? Maybe, in some small part, that's because the industry's magazines all have the word "Defense," or some equivalent, prominently displayed on the cover -- Defense Week, Defense News -- instead of Glamour or Allure. Maybe it's because of the Pentagon's predilection for less than magnetic PowerPoint presentations, unbearably unexpressive acronyms, and slightly paunchy, very pasty, older white men in business suits. Maybe the arms trade just doesn't seek the plush of the red carpet or the jittery pulse of flashing paparazzi cameras. Or maybe, it's a business that just loves to revel in profitable anonymity.

But don't be fooled. Like Hollywood, the arms industry has sex to spare. After all, the weapons themselves are all gleaming golden curves and massive thrusting spikes; they move at breath-robbing speed, make ear-splitting noise, and are capable of performing with awesome lethality. Just ask the Bush administration if you can't fall in love with weapons this sexy and the military that wields them. And then there are the glittery galas and trade shows like the Paris Air Show -- at Le Bourget airport north of the French capital -- where generals and corporate bigwigs with power, prestige, and incomparable sums of money rub against each other amid the scandalous whispers of corporate breakups and new mergers.

"A! Today in the Arms Trade"

It's common to say that "you are what you eat"; but, at the level of nation-states, "you are what you export" may be no less true. We think of ourselves as trendsetters and style arbiters because of our best-known export -- mass culture. But weapons are our most deadly and potent export; they help determine who controls key regions of the world and shape how those regions are governed; they create jobs, extinguish lives, and sometimes obliterate whole neighborhoods.

In the mountains of Turkey, Kurdish kids may not have a chance to drink Coke, listen to American rap, or play Street Fighter, but they do know two words of English, "Cobra" and "Black Hawk," the names of the U.S.-made attack helicopters the Turks have used to strafe their villages. We should at least know as much about the weapons our country sells as they do, and more about the arms industry as whole than we do about Lindsay Lohan's brush with anorexia and addiction.

What if we did? What if American girls grew up reading Jane's Defence Weekly instead of (or in addition to) JANE? What if Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell labored on their craft in virtual obscurity, while Cameron Diaz and Scarlett Johansson did their own laundry after a hard shift on the film set? What if the attention these stars now get went to the arms trade? Then, Jeffrey Kohler and Robert Joseph would be household names, their every move tracked by a voracious media.

Perhaps then we would watch A! (as in "A! Today in the Arms Trade") instead of E! Of course, I wouldn't even have to write this next sentence, because everyone would already know that Jeffery Kohler is the Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) within the Defense Department and Robert Joseph is Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security -- and that the arms business wouldn't be its sexy self without them.

Under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, these are the men who help promote U.S. weapons and military technology -- as well as the companies that make them -- to the world, assemble financing packages, and facilitate weapons buys. Their decisions help to determine who our friends and foes are (and will be) and what kind of weapons they will have.

A! might start with early morning chatter about Jeff's tie choice and what that signals for future fighter-plane sales to Chile. Later, a panel would cheerily consider the excitement of Rob's recent trip to Taiwan, and how Beijing views our new technology-sharing agreements with Taipei. Any announcement from the DSCA about a major arms transfer would be headline news and the particulars of an arms deal would be the froth of early-morning talk shows, happy-talk chatter on the news channels, not to speak of the wit of late night comedy and Dave's or Jay's monologue.

The Power Treatment

Even though we know that A! will never replace E!, nor will a magazine named Power replace People in those supermarket racks, there's still plenty to talk about. It's just that you have to read Aviation Week or SeaPower (or the Business pages of major newspapers) to know about it.

Take but one relatively modest example: In March 2003, the United States and Poland inked a Pentagon-brokered agreement worth $3.5 billion with U.S. arms companies. The emerging power and new member of the European Union bought a whole new military in a box: including 48 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter planes, Raytheon Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, Sidewinder Short- Range Air-to-Air Missiles and Maverick Air-to-Ground Missiles.

Putting aside what Poland actually needed all this firepower for, how about a Power magazine in-depth investigation on how the big U.S. arms makers tempted Poland with $6.3 billion in investments. As one of Lockheed Martin's directors explained, the deal wasn't really about selling weapons to Poland. Nope, they were interested in "enhancing Poland competitively in the global economy, creating jobs and enhancing local labor market skills." Kinda sweet, right?

So, to put this in a simple way, in order to sell Warsaw $3.5 billion in military hardware, we gave them $6.3 billion in goodies. Think about that for a moment. Isn't it just a little too much of a good thing -- like the $100,000 gift-bags movie stars get at parties after their $100 million movie premieres? Poland gets a GM plant (wait, didn't one just close in Muncie, Indiana?) and a Motorola communications system in addition to a Lockheed Martin factory and billions more in U.S. investment. As the American ambassador to Poland said, "It's the deal of the century." For Poland yes, for American workers -- like the ones who don't make Pontiacs and Caddies in Detroit and Muncie anymore -- maybe not.

Saudi Bling and Pentagon Rhetoric

In South Asia, the situation is different, but no less gossip-worthy for some future Power cover story. There, the desire to sell weapons has cast President George W. Bush in the role of a man trying to woo a new lover and placate his wife at the same time.

When the United States announced the sale of as many as 36 F-16 fighters to Pakistan, the Indian government was outraged. Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told President Bush that he was "greatly disappointed," apoplectic might better describe the strength of the reaction; and you can see Singh's point. India views itself as a stalwart and democratic ally, one with a growing economy and a growing appetite for U.S. goods.

So, when the Bush administration inked that arms deal with arch-rival Pakistan and agreed to send Islamabad F-16 fighter planes whose only likely use would be against India, you can hardly blame the Indians for being heartbroken. Pakistan -- which would get the fighter planes with all the fixins for about $3 billion -- is more the love-'em-and-leave-'em type anyway, an impetuous, impulsive dictatorship that has, in the past, harbored al-Qaeda elements and whose intelligence services helped create (and probably still supports) the Taliban; a country which, in the past, let its nuclear "secrets" slip off to states that our President loathes like Iran and North Korea, and that refuses to crackdown on Islamic fundamentalist schools and fundamentalist training camps within its borders. India and Pakistan are, of course, the bitterest of rivals, having fought three wars and suffered countless smaller flare-ups; both have tested nuclear weapons and continue to menace each other with them.

So, given India's indignation, what did Bush do? He offered New Delhi similar fighter planes to those being given to Islamabad (twice the profits for American weapons makers, twice the power on each side to fight the next war). He then re-pledged his fidelity to India and guaranteed that country's nuclear fuel supply, while opening talks about what fighter planes would be most suitable for India's special needs. The U.S. offered the possibility of purchasing 126 of either Lockheed Martin's F-16 or Boeing's F-18 Hornet. And all of a sudden, everybody was remarkably satisfied -- except perhaps the people of India and Pakistan who might have wondered where in the world their countries were going to get the dough for these advanced weapons systems, while so many of them stand on line at the village pump, or walk three miles to the closest school, or labor long hours bent over crops, or answer requests at customer-service call centers.

If, for a while, India played the spurned spouse, Saudi Arabia has taken on the role of a diva of hip-hop proportions. When it comes to weapons systems, the oil-rich oligarchy demands the best and always pays in cash -- which is why the arms industry is just delighted with its brand new $6 billion deal with Riyadh (pending the normal Congressional rubber-stamp). Included will be a mÈlange of lethal toys: 24 UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters, armored vehicles, and other military equipment. Among the companies involved are Sikorsky, General Electric, General Dynamics, and Raytheon.

The DSCA claims this weapons package will help strengthen Saudi Arabia's military and its ability to help the United States fight global terrorism, not to speak of giving that country's armed forces the means to defend "stability" in a destabilizing region without perhaps having to call on an overstressed American military in a pinch. But beneath Riyadh's bling and the Pentagon's hopeful rhetoric lies another reality, worthy of one of those supermarket tabloids -- the rulers of Saudi Arabia are fickle and not at all sure whether they want to cozy up to the West or to those who have the urge to bring the West down. Most of the 9/11 hijackers, of course, were Saudis; the royal family continues to support terrorist organizations and right-wing religious schools; and the kingdom rests on a sea of oil without access to which the global economy might sink in a nanosecond.

Weapons-maker to a Grim World

While foreign arms sales are regularly edged in scandal, here in the United States weapons deals are evidently worth going to prison over! You want sex, lies, and videotape? Okay, maybe not the sex part -- and it was email, not video-tape that provided the incriminating evidence -- but there were plenty of lies in a 2003 domestic arms scandal that bilked taxpayers of millions. Boeing -- the bomber behemoth -- tried to sucker the Air Force into leasing one hundred KC-135 tanker planes for in-air refueling at a cost of perhaps $6 billion dollars, more than it would have cost the government to buy the (unnecessary) planes outright.

The scheme landed Darleen Druyun, a former Air Force weapons buyer, in a Florida prison after she pled guilty to giving Boeing special treatment on a $23.5 billion government contract in exchange for a post as Senior Vice President at the company and perks for her family members. Talk about a cheap date! As a Boeing veep, Druyun pulled in a mere $250,000 a year, while the company would have taken in billions in revenue.

Of course, to the extent that the U.S. arms industry wants attention at all, it would prefer that we focus on the good news -- all those benefits to be derived from arms sales abroad, which make for humming assembly lines at home. According to the DSCA, the United States sells weapons abroad mainly to foster relationships that promote specified U.S. interests, while building allied and friendly nation capabilities for self-defense and coalition operations. They may also mention what we get in return, especially secure access to military facilities around the world, but these alleged benefits can come at a high price.

Any PR flak could warn you about how a reputation for late-night carousing can sully a star's squeaky-clean on-screen reputation. You can't act like Paris Hilton at night and land roles for Mandy Moore the next morning. The same goes for arms sales. But the U.S. keeps trying. While boasting about democracy, security, and peace, we sell weapons to dictators, human rights abusers, and countries at war or at the edge of war (sometimes with each other).

In fact, twenty of our top twenty-five arms clients in the developing world in 2003 -- a full 80 percent of them -- were undemocratic regimes and/or governments with records as major human-rights abusers. All too often, U.S. arms transfers only fuel conflict, weaponize human-rights abusers, or fall into the hands of our adversaries. Far from serving as a force for security and stability, these sales frequently serve to empower unstable, undemocratic regimes to the detriment of global security.

The ways and means of America's arms trade are not going to be spoon-fed to us the way model Naomi Campbell's run-ins with the law are. Unfortunately, it takes work on our part to discover how our arms trade functions. But knowing where our weapons are going and what sort of havoc they are wreaking in our name seems worth the minor effort and inconvenience -- even if it doesn't offer the promise of the perfect tan or six-pack abs!

Soldier of Misfortune

Jeremy Hinzman joined the military in early 2001. Like many others, he was attracted to the military by "the prospect of being able to go to college without incurring debt and be a part of something bigger than myself," he says.

He completed basic training, and in July 2001 moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with his wife, Nga Nguyen. He was a "White Devil": a member of the 82nd Airborne's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

But during basic training, he began to have doubts.

"There is a strong, innate predisposition against killing," Hinzman says, "and the military breaks that down." In target practice, he recalls, we "started out with black circle targets. Then the circles grew shoulders and then the shoulders turned into torsos. Pretty soon they were human beings."

Hinzman can pinpoint the moment he realized he "made the wrong career decision."

"About five weeks into basic training, we were on our way to the chow hall shouting 'trained to kill, kill we will.' We were threatened with push-ups because we were not showing enough enthusiasm.

"I found myself hoarse yelling this and, when I looked around me, I saw that most of my colleagues were red in the face, but totally engrossed." Then he understood that the military was not just training him to kill, but "to kill with a smile on my face." He had to get out.

Easier said than done.

Hinzman was a "good soldier," he recalls. "I couldn't get out of it, so I decided to make the most of it. Meanwhile, I was having this heavy internal debate about the morality of what I was doing."

He and his wife found the Quaker meeting in Fayetteville, seeking a "shared spiritual life" as they prepared for the birth of their child. The quiet worship contrasted sharply with Hinzman's life at Fort Bragg, and his introduction to the Quaker peace testimony intensified his questioning.

Soon after their son, Liam, was born in May 2002, Hinzman filed for conscientious objector status. "Although I still have a great desire to eliminate injustice, I have come to the realization that killing will do nothing but perpetuate it," he wrote in his application. "Thus, I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as a combatant in the Army."

Told his application was lost, he reapplied right before he left with his unit for Afghanistan. While there, he was assigned to noncombat duty in the kitchen waiting for his hearing. Hinzman read week-old newspapers and watched satellite television, closely following the buildup to war in Iraq.

The fourteen-hour days of dishwashing in the desert can make a man think, and Hinzman did, concluding, "The pretense the U.S. was using to launch war in Iraq was bogus. I promised myself and my wife that I would not go."

At his conscientious objector hearing in Kandahar in April 2003, Hinzman was asked if he would use violence to protect himself. He responded he would not automatically turn the other cheek. His application for conscientious objector status was denied on the basis of that response.

"It happens all the time," says Steve Morse, a counselor with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. The law says you don't have to be a pacifist to be a conscientious objector. You have to oppose all war, but self-defense is a permissible answer, he explains. Morse says the military does not train its personnel in the rights of conscientious objectors, and it intimidates and stereotypes those who apply.

The Army says there have been ninety-six applications for CO status since the war in Iraq began, and it has approved forty-eight. But J. E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, believes the number of applicants is much higher. Plus, she notes, "there are faster discharges than a CO discharge," and some soldiers who are morally opposed to the Iraq War avail themselves of these discharges.

Hinzman has one regret: "I did not strip off my uniform right then and refuse to cooperate any longer." He felt like he was on a "100-mile-an-hour train" that wouldn't slow down for him to think.

The time to think came later that month when his unit returned to Fort Bragg, and he returned to his wife and son.

Through reading and discussions with Nguyen and friends in Fayetteville, Hinzman solidified his opposition to the Iraq War. "We were not attacking Iraq because we were under an imminent threat," he says. "Our aim there was economic in nature. To die or kill other people so that the American public could have cheap access to oil was wrong."

Just days before Christmas, Hinzman's unit was ordered to redeploy – to Iraq. This time he did strip off his uniform.

In January, Hinzman and Nguyen packed their belongings, put Liam in the car seat, and headed north.

"I think what we did was worth it," Hinzman says, "We did the right thing and came here to make a life."

Now he hopes they can keep the life they've started in Toronto.

Initially sheltered by a Quaker family, Hinzman and Nguyen eventually found an apartment and – even more importantly – a lawyer.

More than thirty years before, Jeffry House had made a similar trek to Canada as a Vietnam War draft resister. Now he is a Toronto attorney, with fifteen years of immigration law experience and a successful track record of gaining refugee status for Central Americans. He told Hinzman he was not alone; two other young American soldiers were in Canada. House would represent them all.

Brandon Hughey comes from a Republican family in Texas. Interested in money for college, he signed up for the Army at seventeen. "My dad had to sign a form because I was too young to enlist on my own accord," Hughey says.

"When I left for basic training, I didn't hold any political beliefs," Hughey says. "I wasn't naïve. I knew I could be deployed to fight in a war. But I did have this image growing up that I would be sort of a good guy, fighting for just causes and fighting to defend my country."

But as he began to pay attention to the news from Iraq, he began to have doubts about the mission. He recalls thinking, "No weapons of mass destruction? No ties to Al Qaeda? What are we doing there?"

While other soldiers "just wanted to go and kick some ass," he says, that attitude "didn't work for me. I realized that basically the U.S. has attacked a country that was no threat to them in an act of aggression."

These doubts led him to a fundamental question: Could he participate in a war he knew was wrong? He came to an uncomfortable and life-altering answer: No.

Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, after basic training, Hughey began asking his superiors to grant him a discharge.

"They kept brushing me off," he says. "They told me I was going to Iraq and there was nothing I could do about it. I was never informed of any route I could take to leave the military, such as applying for conscientious objector status."

No one in the military was providing any answers, so Hughey turned to the Internet, where he found Carl Rising-Moore, a peace activist in Indianapolis who has formed Freedom Underground, a "railroad" to help soldiers get to Canada.

Hughey was desperate to get out of the military. He says he was depressed, even suicidal, at times. He wrote to Rising-Moore: "I am a member of the U.S. military whose unit deploys to Iraq next week. I do not want to be a pawn in the government's war for oil. And have told my superiors that I want out of the military."

The night he was scheduled to report for deployment, Brandon drove to Indianapolis, met Carl, and they went north across the border together.

Hughey celebrated his nineteenth birthday in a foreign land, and he has been out of touch with his father and younger brother. He misses home, but he is comfortable in his choice. "I am proud of what I've done," he says. "I am standing up for what I believe is right."

David Sanders was stationed at a Navy base in Florida. When he heard his unit was on its way to Iraq early this year, he walked off base and got on a bus to Toronto.

Sanders did not know anyone in Canada, and he did not know he had the option to file for conscientious objector status. But he was certain of one thing.

"I didn't want to kill innocent people," he says. "That's what I'd be doing if I'd stayed."

The twenty-year-old high school dropout lived in Toronto's homeless shelters, not knowing where to turn, afraid that if he asked for help, he'd be sent back to Florida.

Then he read an article about Jeremy Hinzman in the local paper, found Jeffry House, and filed for refugee status.

Hinzman, Hughey, and Sanders are following in the footsteps of tens of thousands of military deserters and draft dodgers who went to Canada during the Vietnam War. Canada opposed the war. At that time, it also had one of the world's most open immigration policies. Not anymore.

The three men face hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board, where they have to prove they are refugees fleeing political persecution.

The legal argument is nuanced and hinges on the difference between prosecution and persecution. "We have a lot going for us," says House. "We have a fairly good case in law." The Geneva Conventions define a refugee as one who "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted . . . is outside the country of his nationality" and unable or unwilling to "avail himself of the protection of that country."

Well-founded fear of persecution, not prosecution. If Hinzman, Hughey, and Sanders were sent back to the United States they would be prosecuted for deserting their post. During wartime, this crime is technically punishable by death, although no one has been executed for this in more than half a century.

In all likelihood, the three men would be facing as much as five years in jail. Does that constitute persecution?

Possibly. In one case, Andre Kortov, a Russian military deserter, sought refuge in England. He argued that he would not only face prosecution if sent back to Russia, he would be persecuted by being forced to "kill innocent civilians and destroy property in a reprehensible manner" in the Chechen War.

Kortov's claim was rejected, but the British court ruled that "he might nevertheless qualify if the Chechen War has been condemned by the international community."

House plans to argue that the international community has condemned the U.S.-led war in Iraq and "there should be protection when you don't want to serve in an illegal war that is contrary to international law," he says. House is "cautiously optimistic." But he acknowledges that the argument is "narrower than it sounds at first," noting that there is "an irreducible political component" to the case. "What does the international community mean? Do you count up all the countries that opposed the war? What about the 'Coalition of the Willing'? How much condemnation equals international condemnation?"

House intends to put the U.S.-led war in Iraq on trial. But that could prove difficult. While the Immigration and Refugee Board is an independent body, the Canadian government has asked it not to consider the illegality of the war in its deliberations.

Hinzman points out another political wrinkle. "It is a test case for their sovereignty. Our cases are pressuring Canada to have a clear-cut position on the war," he says. If Canada is "afraid of offending America," that will be a "slight impediment to the success of our case."

It might be more than a slight impediment. Despite its opposition to the war in Iraq, Canada values close relations with the United States and does not want to become the destination for hundreds or thousands of military deserters.

Canada is not rolling out the welcome mat as it did during the Vietnam War, when Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, told immigration officials not to discriminate against applicants who had not fulfilled their military obligations in other countries. But Canadian Quakers and peace activists are trying to make up for their government's lack of hospitality. They've formed a national committee to support Hinzman, Hughey, and Sanders, and are prepared to extend the same warm reception to other war resisters who make it across the border.

When Hughey crossed into Canada, he says he was quiet for a minute and then breathed deeply and said, "I feel safe now. I feel like a free man." He hopes he can stay that way.

Mass Destruction in Small Packages

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the specter of mobile chemical labs, dirty nuclear bombs, anthrax spores, sarin gas, and other weapons of mass destruction has fueled popular fears and inspired countless anti-terrorism initiatives.

While the fear of bombing and attacks is real, here is a surprising fact: The most deadly weapon in the world today is legal, accessible and dirt cheap.

The AK-47, the M-16 and other so-called "small arms" are responsible for the deaths of half a million people each year. About 300,000 people – mostly civilians – are killed in wars, coups d'etat and other armed conflicts each year by small arms. Another 200,000 people are killed each year in homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings and shootings by law enforcement officers using these weapons. In addition to those killed, an estimated 1.5 million people are wounded by small arms annually. If we take into account their cumulative impact, small arms are truly weapons of mass destruction.

These lethal weapons are cheap, portable and easily concealed, making them ideal weapons for terrorists. They are hard to destroy and so simple to operate that even an eight-year old can carry and use them.

In all, the global small arms stockpile is estimated at 639 million guns. Almost 60 percent of this arsenal is in the hands of civilians – over 377 million weapons. State-controlled military forces, police, insurgents and other militias own the remainder.

While small arms are deadly and dangerous, they are also profitable - which makes them difficult to regulate and control. According to data collected by the Small Arms Survey in Geneva, they account for more than $4 billion in profits each year. The United States has the dubious honor of being the largest exporter, with $741.4 million in sales in 2003, which accounts for 18 percent of the market. The U.S. also purchased $602.5 million in small arms and munitions in 2003, making it the largest importer of small arms, as well.

The failure of nations like the United States to curb the manufacture of these deadly weapons has a devastating impact on human rights, development and the war against terrorism.

In Iraq, for example, the ubiquitous presence of small arms has contributed to the marked increase in attacks on U.S. troops.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Evan Wright, the author of "Generation Kill," notes that at the time of the invasion:

Iraq had one of the largest conventional arms stockpiles in the world... include[ing] three million tons of bombs and bullets; millions of AK-47's and other rifles, rocket launchers and mortar tubes; and thousands of more sophisticated arms like ground-to-air missiles ... As war approached, Iraqi commanders ordered these mountains of munitions to be dispersed across the country in thousands of small caches.The Marine platoon Wright was embedded with was shocked at the sheer quantity of arms and ammunition littered across Iraq. But they were even more flabbergasted at the Pentagon's order forbidding them to stop and destroy the stockpiles in the rush to Baghdad. As a result, by the time the Marines reached the capital, these same weapons had become part of the Iraqi insurgents' arsenal.

The situation in Iraq is just one example of the dangers that result from underestimating the big problem of small arms.

In Afghanistan, continued violence and instability can – at least in part – be attributed to the concentration of small arms in the hands of warlords and the Mujahedeen. Many of these weapons were purchased with covert U.S. aid and given to anti-Communist fighters 25 years ago. The recent history of Afghanistan is a gruesome testimony to the durability of small arms and offers a powerful argument for their destruction as part of every peace agreement.

It's even more ironic to note that the proliferation of small arms is an integral part of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies. As part of the war on terrorism, the United States has increased military aid in the form of small arms and training to countries like Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Indonesia. And far too often, these weapons have been turned against the civilian populations of those countries – used in human rights abuses, assassinations and state repression. Small arms also fuel civil wars in Africa and Latin America.

The "war on terrorism" should have stopped weapons from falling into the wrong hands, but as Amnesty International's report "Shattered Lives: The Case For Tough International Arms Control" finds, U.S. and other Western suppliers have gone in the other direction, relaxing arms controls "in order to arm new-found allies against terrorism, irrespective of their disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law." According to Amnesty International, the demand for weapons has risen since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The correlation between the proliferation of small arms and the proliferation of human rights abuses is stark and unmistakable.

This month, organizations from around the world are uniting under the umbrella of the International Action Network Against Small Arms to draw attention to human toll of small arms proliferation and misuse. Rather than handing out more guns in the name of fighting terrorism, the United States and other major powers need to put their citizens' security first.

Weapon of Mass Deception

In the weeks leading up to the war on Iraq, TV screens across America were crowded with images of U.S. soldiers readying for upcoming battles with a crazed dictator who would stop at nothing. One clip after another showed U.S. soldiers racing to don $211 suits designed to protect them from the chemical and biological attacks they would surely suffer on the road to ousting Saddam Hussein.

But these grim forecasts were wrong. Despite the advance hype, Hussein's dreaded arsenal was not the biggest threat to Americans on the battlefield in Iraq. In fact, it was no threat at all.

The real threat -- not only to U.S. troops but to Iraqis as well -- may prove to be a weapon scarcely mentioned before, during or after the war: depleted uranium.

A toxic and radioactive substance, depleted uranium (DU) -- otherwise known as Uranium 238 -- was widely used by U.S. troops as their Abrams battle tanks and A-10 Warthogs thundered through Iraq this spring.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of enriched uranium, the fissile material in nuclear weapons. It is pyrophoric, burning spontaneously on impact. That, along with its extreme density, makes depleted uranium munitions the Pentagon's ideal choice for penetrating an enemy's tank armor or reinforced bunkers.

When a DU shell hits its target, it burns, losing anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of its mass and dispersing a fine dust that can be carried long distances by winds or absorbed directly into the soil and groundwater.

Depleted uranium's radioactive and toxic residue has been linked to birth defects, cancers, the Gulf War Syndrome, and environmental damage.

But the Pentagon insists depleted uranium is both safe and necessary, saying it is a "superior armor [and] a superior munition that we will continue to use." Pentagon officials say that the health and environmental risks of DU use are outweighed by its military advantages. But to retain the right to use and manufacture DU weaponry and armor, the Pentagon has to actively ignore and deny the risks that depleted uranium poses to human health and environment.

To keep depleted uranium at the top of its weapons list, the Pentagon has distorted research that demonstrates how DU dust can work its way into the human body, potentially posing a grave health risk. According to a 1998 report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the inhalation of DU particles can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, lymphatic problems, bronchial complaints, weight loss, and an unsteady gait -- symptoms that match those of sick veterans of the Gulf and Balkan wars. Dr. Rosalie Bertell, a Canadian epidemiologist, released a study in 1999 revealing that depleted uranium can stay in the lungs for up to two years. "When the dust is breathed in, it passes through the walls of the lung and into the blood, circulating through the whole body," she wrote. Bertell concluded that exposure to depleted uranium, especially when inhaled, "represents a serious risk of damaged immune systems and fatal cancers."

The Pentagon has to cloak this dangerous weapon in deceptive and innocuous language. The adjective "depleted," with its connotation that the substance is non-threatening or diminished in strength, is misleading. While depleted uranium is not as radioactive and dangerous as U235 -- a person would not get sick merely from brief DU exposure -- depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years (as long as the solar system has existed) and may pose serious health risks and environmental contamination.

Don't Believe the Hype: Propaganda Wars

As the U.S. military prepared to launch a new offensive against Iraq early this year, the Pentagon and White House embarked on a parallel effort to promote depleted uranium as a highly effective weapon that would protect the lives of innocent Iraqis. At the same time, the Iraqi government sought to exploit the use of depleted uranium and the serious public health concerns about its use in its propaganda war against the United States.

At a March 14 Pentagon briefing, Col. James Naughton of the U.S. Army announced that U.S. forces had decided to employ DU munitions in the looming war on Iraq. When asked about depleted uranium's possible effects on civilians, Naughton characterized opposition to the use of DU weapons as a product of propaganda and cowardice. "Why do [the Iraqis] want [depleted uranium] to go away?" he asked. "They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them [in the first Gulf War]."

The White House echoed Naughton's sentiment, rejecting reports linking depleted uranium to birth defects and cancers in Iraq. Early this year the White House released a report titled "Apparatus of Lies: Saddam's Disinformation and Propaganda 1990-2003," which includes a section on "The Depleted Uranium Scare." In it, the White House accuses the Iraqi government of launching a "disinformation campaign" that uses "horrifying pictures of children with birth defects" as a tool to "take advantage of an established international network of antinuclear activists." Iraq's aim, the report charged, was to promote the "false claim that the depleted uranium rounds fired by coalition forces have caused cancers and birth defects in Iraq."

But few anti-DU activists say that depleted uranium is the sole cause of cancer and birth defects. Rather, they contend there is an obvious link between depleted uranium and other toxins released into the environment during the 1991 Gulf War, that independent study is now required, and, in the meantime, that the United States should declare a moratorium on any future use of depleted uranium.

Depleted Uranium Use Increasing

Over the past 15 years, the Pentagon has become increasingly dependent on DU weapons and armor. The 1991 Gulf War was the first major conflict in which DU weaponry and armor was used. Almost 320 tons -- an amount equal to the weight of five Abrams battle tanks -- were fired in the Iraqi desert. About 10 tons of DU munitions were used in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia in the '90s. DU weaponry was reportedly used in Afghanistan in 2001 as well, but reliable estimates are not yet available.

Depleted uranium was used extensively in this year's war on Iraq, but if Pentagon officials have an accurate accounting of total DU use, they are keeping that number to themselves. In a May 15 article in the Christian Science Monitor, reporter Scott Peterson wrote that after the war, the Pentagon, when pressed by reporters, announced that about 75 tons of DU munitions were fired from A-10 Warthogs. However, the Pentagon has stalled on releasing additional relevant data on how much depleted uranium was fired from Abrams battle tanks -- the other system that uses only DU munitions. More importantly, it has not addressed concerns that DU weaponry was used much more extensively in Iraq's urban and densely populated areas in the 2003 war than in 1991.

The use of DU weapons in urban areas and against civilian targets in Iraq gives the lie to the Pentagon's insistence that it needed the DU advantage in order to win the recent war quickly. To illustrate the power of this wonder weapon, a March Pentagon press conference prominently featured pictures from the first Gulf War of an Abrams tank firing a DU munition through a sand dune to destroy an Iraqi tank hidden behind. While this makes good TV, did depleted uranium really provide a critical advantage to the U.S. military in Iraq? The answer is no. The U.S. military did not need a wonder weapon in Iraq because the crippled country was not a wonder opponent. Its arsenal was antiquated and had been poorly maintained since the first Gulf War. Suffering under more than 12 years of U.N. economic sanctions, moreover, Iraq had not been able to develop or purchase comparable high-tech armored weaponry.

In his May 15 article, Peterson describes video footage from the last days of the recent war showing an A-10 Warthog strafing the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in downtown Baghdad. This was not an armored target; it was a building in a heavily populated neighborhood. Peterson visited the area and found "dozens of spent radioactive DU rounds, and distinctive aluminum casings with two white bands, that drilled into the tile and concrete rear of the building."

The indiscriminate use of DU munitions in densely populated areas throughout Iraq, which put large numbers of civilians in jeopardy of radioactive and toxic exposure, violates the Geneva Convention's protocol prohibiting the use of weapons that do not distinguish between soldiers and civilians during wartime.

So why did the Pentagon insist on using DU weapons in Iraq? Tungsten alloys would have worked as well. Depleted uranium, it turns out, has one tremendous advantage over tungsten. It is provided to weapons manufacturers nearly free of charge by the U.S. government -- an ingenious method of radioactive waste disposal. Essentially, depleted uranium is the waste left over from decades of nuclear weapons development. In fact, the United States has stockpiles of depleted uranium scattered at sites throughout the country -- 728,000 metric tons to be exact -- a tiny fraction of which is used in the manufacture of depleted uranium warheads.

Lies and Silence

In an April 14 video address, President Bush spoke directly to military personnel and their families, thanking them for their role in the Iraq war. The monuments to Hussein had been toppled in Baghdad, and the first troops were beginning to return home triumphant. The message, broadcast on armed services networks around the country and beamed to troops on the Iraq battlefield, included Bush's promise that veterans of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" would receive "the full support of our government. We will keep our commitment to improving the quality of life for our military families."

The same day, the Defense Department and the Centers for Disease Control released the results of their four-year study on birth defects in the children of Gulf War Veterans. Although the study did not mention depleted uranium specifically, it found "significantly higher prevalences" of heart and kidney birth defects in veterans' children. Unfortunately, the study's disturbing findings were not reported by any U.S. media outlets until June.

The Pentagon and White House propaganda on depleted uranium was never challenged by the mainstream media this past spring. If members of the national press corps had done their homework, they would have found ample evidence that the Pentagon is fully aware of the dangers posed by DU weaponry and is actively ignoring its own research and warnings.

A 1974 military report evaluated the medical and environmental effects of depleted uranium, noting that "in combat situations involving the widespread use of DU munitions, the potential for inhalation, ingestion, or implantation of DU compounds may be locally significant." This contradicts recent Pentagon claims that depleted uranium does not pose a threat and demonstrates the military's understanding of how depleted uranium is absorbed into the human body, posing risks to organs.

In a 1998 training manual, the U.S. Army acknowledged the hazards of depleted uranium, requiring that anyone who comes within 25 meters of DU-contaminated equipment or terrain wear respiratory and skin protection. The manual cautioned: "Contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption."

And in November 1999, NATO sent its commanders the following warning: "Inhalation of insoluble depleted uranium dust particles has been associated with long-term health effects, including cancers and birth defects."

They Hid It Well

The fact that these reports are in the public record is the result of years of hard work, study, and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by anti-DU activists. The Pentagon and Bush administration have also been hard at work. In the past two years, they have clamped down on sources of information that had been immensely valuable to service personnel and their families over the past decade.

Dan Fahey served in the United States Navy just months after the fighting ended in the Gulf War. Seeing the havoc the war wreaked on his fellow veterans, he set out to become an independent expert on depleted uranium. He sits on the board of Veterans for Common Sense and has played a major role in obtaining U.S. government documents about depleted uranium through FOIA.

Fahey says that, under President Bush, the Department of Defense is controlling the release of information about depleted uranium so tightly that if he were starting his research and disclosure efforts today, he would be unable to get any information through the Freedom of Information Act. "There is less information and more secrecy," he says. "There are tighter restrictions on access to information."

Fahey was responsible for publicizing the findings of a July 1990 report by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a defense contractor commissioned by the Pentagon to study depleted uranium.

The report revealed that the Pentagon knew that depleted uranium was harmful before 1991, when they sent 697,000 American troops to the Gulf, where they could be exposed to DU dust and residue. SAIC asserted that depleted uranium is "a low-level alpha radiation emitter" that could be "linked to cancer when exposures are internal." The report further warned, "DU exposures to soldiers on the battlefield could be significant, with potential radiological and toxicological effects." In addition the report found that "short-term effects of high doses [of depleted uranium] can result in death, while long-term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer."

SAIC says in its report that widespread knowledge of depleted uranium's harmful properties could lead to public outrage about the "acceptability of the continued use of DU kinetic energy penetrators for military applications." That's what worries the Pentagon.

All the while, as the Pentagon hides behind claims that more study is needed to prove depleted uranium's connection with the ailments suffered by Gulf War veterans and Iraqi civilians, their own research demonstrates that, at best, depleted uranium is radioactive and toxic -- and that at worst, it can lead to incurable diseases and death.

Veterans Suffer

The Pentagon says more study is needed. But veterans of the Gulf War, meanwhile, need medical care, information, and benefits, and for the Pentagon to come clean about depleted uranium. The veterans had been exposed to a "toxic soup" of smoke from oil and chemical fires, pesticides, vaccinations, depleted uranium and, most likely, plutonium.

Two types of depleted uranium exist. One is "clean" depleted uranium, a byproduct of the processing of uranium ore into uranium-235 (which is used in nuclear fuel and weapons). The other type is created at government facilities as a byproduct of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel (done to extract plutonium for nuclear warheads) and is known as "dirty" depleted uranium because it contains highly toxic plutonium.

In November 2000, U.N. researchers examined 11 sites in Kosovo hit by DU shells and found radioactive contamination at eight of them. Furthermore, those tests uncovered evidence that at least some of the DU munitions in the U.S. arsenal used in Kosovo contained "dirty" depleted uranium. This raises the question: How much of its plutonium-processing waste did the U.S. government supply to weapons manufacturers?

If some of the DU shells in the U.S. arsenal have been made from dirty depleted uranium, that could help explain why about 300 of 5,000 refugees from a Sarajevo suburb heavily bombed by NATO jets in 1995 had died of cancer by early 2001. And it could also help explain the fact that 28 percent of veterans who served in the first Gulf War have over the past 12 years sought treatment for illness and disease resulting from their military service and filed claims with the Veterans Administration for medical and compensation benefits. In all, 186,000 veterans of that war have sought treatment for a collection of maladies including chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, memory loss, reproductive problems, depression, and gastrointestinal disorders. Together these ailments are known as the Gulf War Syndrome.

Based on the struggles of Gulf War veterans, Congress passed a law in 1997 requiring the Pentagon to conduct pre- and postdeployment medical screenings of troops and military personnel so that medical professionals would have an accurate base of information if health problems developed. In the early months of this year, as U.S. troops were being deployed to Iraq, lawmakers found that the Pentagon was not complying with the 1997 law: The troops were not being screened at all.

According to Steven Robinson, a former Army Ranger who now directs the National Gulf War Resource Center, it took two congressional hearings, 30 news interviews, 60 radio interviews, and a timely New York Times ad courtesy of to pressure the Pentagon to follow the law. On April 29, the Pentagon announced it would begin conducting postdeployment examinations. Anti-DU activists say the military's grudging compliance is too little, too late.

Activists are struggling for treatment of veterans, for information about depleted uranium and other toxins that could be responsible for the Gulf War Syndrome, and for some sort of government acknowledgement or apology. But they are also battling against a legacy of lies, secrecy, and official promotion of an ends-justifies-the-means posture. Veterans with Gulf War Syndrome can be seen as the latest in a long line of Pentagon guinea pigs that includes the troops ordered to witness the atomic blasts in the early days of the Cold War, soldiers exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and the black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, who were subjected to federal government-sponsored syphilis experiments.

Keeps on Killing

If the Pentagon and the Federal government can treat American troops and their families with such casual disregard and use doublespeak with such abandon, what hope is there for Iraqi civilians and troops?

The people of Iraq have known nothing but decades of war, deprivation, and oppression. It is understandable that many cheered when the statues of dictator Saddam Hussein toppled. At the same time, how could they greet the United States, their liberators, with anything other than the deepest skepticism?

In his just-released book "The New Rulers of the World," Australian journalist John Pilger recounts conversations with Iraqi doctors like Jawad Al-Ali, a cancer specialist in Basra. Before the Gulf War, Dr. Al-Ali told Pilger, "We had only three or four deaths in a month from cancer. Now it's 30 to 35 patients dying every month, and that's just in my department. That is a 12-fold increase in cancer mortality. Our studies indicate that 40 to 48 percent of the population in this area will get cancer. That's almost half the population."

Not only are Dr. Al-Ali's patients suffering, but his own family members are ill as well. "Most of my own family now have cancer, and we have no history of the disease," he told Pilger. "We strongly suspect depleted uranium."

The public has had to rely on anecdotal evidence like Dr. Al-Ali's testimony to get a sense of the health crisis in Iraq. Throughout the '90s, Hussein's government released data on cancer and birth defects, but it is unlikely that those figures provide an accurate picture.

Kathy Kelly, director of the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness and three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, has visited Iraq repeatedly since the first Gulf War and has built strong relationships with doctors and nurses there. She recounted a day she spent in a pediatric hospital in November 1998. "Four babies were born that day with deformities. I was shocked, but the doctors said, 'This is not unusual.'"

"So, I asked them," she continues, "'Did you know where the mothers were when they conceived? Were their fathers involved in the war? Were they in an area exposed to depleted uranium?'"

"One of the doctors replied, 'All of these questions are very important, and we need to be collecting this data, but we cannot. Let me show you something.' And she showed me a prescription for a baby that was written on the back of a candy wrapper. Because of the effects of the economic sanctions, they did not even have paper to write prescriptions on."

There is an overwhelming need for medical research in Iraq, but it is impossible to initiate within the context of the pressing health needs and the lack of medical supplies and equipment that constitute the fallout of war. This situation allows the U.S. military to continue insisting that there is no proof that DU exposures lead to cancers. "No proof of harm is not proof of no harm," Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The potential for a DU-cancer link (especially lung cancer in those who breathe depleted uranium through dust and smoke particles) is still an open question."

Rep. Jim McDermott, a doctor from Washington state, traveled to Iraq in the fall of 2002. He visited hospitals, speaking with his peers, and saw the hospital beds crowded with the dying. He returned to the United States adamantly opposed to a new war in Iraq and deeply committed to challenging the continued use of depleted uranium. McDermott drafted legislation requiring studies of the health and environmental impact of depleted uranium. His bill, introduced just as the war started this past spring, is co-sponsored by a number of other Democrats but needs wider support.

Clearly, this legislation, if passed, would be an important first step in understanding the long-term effects of depleted uranium.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has called for an outright ban on shells made from depleted uranium. That would indeed be another sensible place to start.

In addition, anti-DU activists Dan Fahey, Steve Robinson, and Kathy Kelly should be encouraged and financially supported in their ongoing efforts to compile data and release their findings to the public. Next, manufacturers of DU weapons -- like the Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems, which built 15 million DU shells for the A-10 Warthog -- should be held accountable for the long-term effects of their "products."

Finally, we might take up Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica's suggestion: "We should be discussing the depleted conscience of those who used the notorious depleted uranium."

Only then will the cycle of deception and silence about depleted uranium be broken.

Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World Policy Institute.

War For Any Reason

Is the President turning "new age"?

Not only has he massaged the United Nations Security Council into a unanimous vote demanding that Iraq accept weapons inspections, but he seems to have embraced guided meditation practices. In his November 7th press conference at the Executive Office Building, President George W. Bush led the audience through a visualization exercise. "Imagine Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon," he said, "Imagine how the Israeli citizens would feel. Imagine how the citizens of Saudi Arabia would feel. Imagine how the world would change, how he could alter diplomacy by the very presence of a nuclear weapons."

Bush raised the issue of Hussein's nuclear weapons at least three times in his 47-minute session with the press, saying at one point that the world community doesn't "like the idea of Saddam Hussein having a nuclear weapon."

Despite the emotional resonance of this exercise, Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program appears to be little more than an idea. Reports from the Central Intelligence Agency, the International Atomic Energy Association, and other expert groups seem to confirm that Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear weapons, and could not easily build them for years.

The Central Intelligence Agency, in a report released in October, concluded, "Saddam Hussein probably doesn't have sufficient material to make any [nuclear weapons]" although "he remains intent on acquiring them." The report concluded, "Iraq is unlikely to produce indigenously enough weapons-grade material for a deliverable nuclear weapon until the last half of this decade. Baghdad could produce a nuclear weapon within a year if it were able to procure weapons-grade fissile material abroad." But that is a big if.

Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN agency responsible for inspections and disarmament of Iraq's nuclear programs from 1991 to 1998, indicate that the facilities that housed Iraq's nuclear weapons program were either destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War or in subsequent IAEA raids.

The IAEA withdrew from Iraq when the Clinton administration's bombing campaign made it impossible to continue work, but their conclusions up until then support the CIA's findings. The IAEA states that "nothing indicated that Iraq had produced more than a few grams of weapons-grade nuclear material through its indigenous enrichment processes, or that Iraq had secretly acquired weapons-usable material from external sources."

One reporter asked the President to comment on CIA Director George Tenet's statement that Saddam Hussein, "now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks against the United States." But if the U.S. attacked, he would "probably become much less constrained." Bush failed to respond to the question, but Tenet's statement raises concerns about Washington provoking Saddam Hussein to a higher level of aggression. The approach Washington is taking with North Korea's nuclear program--working with regional partners, offering incentives for abandoning the nuclear program--appears to be working and could serve as an example.

Bush admitted that in his speech, saying, "by the way, we don't know how close he is to a nuclear weapon right now. We know he wants one. But we don't know. We know he was close to one at one point in time. We have no idea today."

It's one thing to argue that we need to vigilant in our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, given the flaws in U.S. intelligence gathering. It's quite another to go to war on the grounds that "we don't know" how close a country is to acquiring them. If nuclear weapons are really the President's concern, he should give UN inspectors the time they need to find out what Iraq's capabilities are, and to eliminate them. And he should commit the United States to a concrete timetable for eliminating its own massive nuclear arsenal, along with a policy of neither using nor threatening to use nuclear weapons first in any conflict.

His administration instead seems intent on using the first glitch in UN inspections, however minor, as a trigger for war, whether or not other UN Security Council members agree. That would be a terrible mistake, and a terrible precedent. Might makes right is a recipe for war without end, not the peace that President Bush claims to be seeking.

Frida Berrigan writes for Foreign Policy In Focus on weapons issues. She is a Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World Policy Institute. She can be reached at

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