Apocalypse Now

by Aleksandra Priestfield

January 22, 2001



The cat is well and truly out of the bag now - the Great&Powerful made a valiant grab for its tail, but missed. It is out, and the pigeons are in full flight.

The full extent of "humanitarian" war is being revealed before our eyes. The word "humanitarian" is being redefined - who are the humans who make up the root of that word? Only the people currently in favour with the people using that word to damn their enemies as subhuman and therefore unworthy of consideration?

How far we have come - from hell to hell, via a road paved with something that was only disguised as good intentions. Just under a hundred years ago the world writhed under clouds of poison gas on the battlefields of World War I. Today, the same world that is so insistent on searching high and low for the chemical and biological weapons which persist in their absence in Iraq is watching with equanimity as its own chemical and biological weapons are unleashed. Civilian populations on the ground are so irrelevant as to be left out of the equation altogether. It's only when "peacekeepers" and foreign troops stationed on invaded and occupied soil start dropping from cancer and leukemia that the issue becomes hot. As if only soldiers breathed the air and drank the water. As though people whose homes are on the poisoned ground, who have no choice but to drink the water from the poisoned water table and eat bread milled from poisoned wheat grown on poisoned ground, have no importance at all. And even now, even with evidence mounting, the keepers of the laboratories insist that there is nothing dangerous about radioactive weapons at all. Not even when recycled reactor uranium and traces of plutonium are found in DU bullets (as some reports have it). Even now, the powers that be are insisting that they are fighting against "a regime", and have no quarrel "with the people" (does that phrase sound familiar? It should. It was repeated ad nauseam during the NATO war in Yugoslavia. "We have no quarrel with the people." And yet, now that the big boogieman of Milosevic is out of the picture, "experts" are warning that the situation in the Balkans is worse than ever. They fought him (and not the people), he is gone, the people remain, and the situation is "worse than ever"? hmmm. Bring on the uranium.)

For an organisation that went to war on "humanitarian grounds", to prevent a "genocide", NATO is finding itself on the ropes - no evidence of such genocide, overwhelming evidence that the Albanian "white hats" are in fact out to orchestrate another land grab as soon as they might (witness the piling-up literature on "Eastern Kosovo"), and, now, growing evidence that not only did NATO not go in to prevent a genocide, it went in to organise one of its own. There is plenty of evidence for that by now - where are you, Jamie Shea, the organisation needs you badly to explain away this war crime! But I will content myself with two appalling instances of cold-blooded and planned apocalypse brought upon a nation of people who, all bough-and-paid for kangaroo courts to the contrary, have yet to be proved to have done anything worse than taken part in a (mostly defensive) civil war within the boundaries of their own nation.

On April 4, 1999, NATO began targeting the petrochemical plant in the Yugoslav town of Pancevo, on the outskirts of Belgrade. The complex was pounded relentlessly from the beginning of April to the beginning of June - i.e. right up until the end of the bombing campaign. Any purported intent to disable the Yugoslav petrochemical industry becomes moot. If this was what the attackers wanted, with all their vaunted technological capability, it could have been achieved in days. But what happened in Pancevo was far too deliberate and precise to have been accidental, and such concentrated pounding can hardly be called "collateral damage". The area, dangerously close to a river providing drinking water to thousands and to actual residential areas where civilians lived, included an oil refinery and a fertilizer factory.

NATO started out by assuring the world that precise targeting with "smart bombs" was used to minimise "collateral damage", including environmental hazards. Not taking that at face value, workers at the plant frantically tried to minimise the potential for disaster by emptying chemical containers at the plant. Among noxious chemicals present at the plant were ethylene-dichloride (EDC), ethylene, chlorine, chlorine-hydrogen, propylene and vinyl chloride monomers (VCM). VCM, used to produce plastics (e.g. PVC resin) has been shown to be a dangerous carcinogenic contaminant in a number of well-documented studies. It can also cause neurological and liver damage, as well as serious birth defects. For many of these chemicals there is no accepted "minimum" toxicity - in other words, there is no threshold below which exposure to them is still safe for unprotected human beings. They are quite simply, and irredeemably, poisonous. They are accepted raw materials for chemical industries but they were not meant to be used as chemical weapons of war. And this is precisely what NATO proceeded to use them as.

Quite aside from the fact that the strikes by NATO were intended to "drive the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo" and thus any strike against the nation's actual infrastructure and industry was indefensible from that point of view, it could have been possible to quite effectively disable the plant by targeting essential processing equipment and irreplaceable machinery. But NATO bombers also targeted, with incredible accuracy, containers filled with the noxious chemicals which were the stock in trade for the refinery and the fertilizer plant. With incredible accuracy - NATO appeared to disdain aiming for the containers which the workers had worked so frantically to empty. The "smart bombs" went directly for the full containers, contaminating the river Danube and arable land nearby. The soil at and near the petrochemical plant is still soaked with more than one thousand tons of ethylene dichloride, a thousand tonnes of sodium hydroxide, and nearly one thousand tonnes of hydrogen chloride1.We won't even mention the eight tonnes of mercury now brooding in the soil; but the horrendous photographs of the malformed children of Minamata in Japan come to mind.

An environmental report1 published in 2000 contained the graphic and devastating advice that women who had been anywhere near Pancevo in April, May and June of the previous year should not contemplate becoming pregnant for at least two years, and those who were pregnant, if their pregnancy was in an early enough stage for this to be practical, were advised to abort foetuses which were almost certain to be born with birth defects. The effects of the poisons in the ground and the groundwater, on the crops grown on this ground and the food produced from these crops, is still being evaluated. An entire unborn generation has been condemned and wiped out. What is this if not genocide?

As if this was not enough, the country was seeded by still-undisclosed amounts of depleted uranium from NATO anti-tank weapons. Now, DU is not a new thing. Before the Kosovo conflict, it had been used in Bosnia. Before Bosnia, it had been used with devastating effect in Iraq. The so-called Gulf War Syndrome in vets from that war was being swept under the carpet for a decade. But all of a sudden the straw that broke that camel's back came in the form of European troops stationed in Kosovo coming home to die of cancer and related diseases. Portugal promptly pulled its troops. Greeks are clamouring to go home. Italy, who has now lost more than eight "peacekeepers" to what is now called the Balkan Syndrome, has suddenly started squawking about an investigation (although planes flying DU ordnance left from an Italian airbase, and the Italian Government therefore shares in the responsibility). The European Parliament, goaded by public frenzy, has finally taken a vote on putting a moratorium on the use of DU weapons.

But the information on the deadly potential of such weapons is hardly news. Take a look at this:

"Aerosol DU (Depleted Uranium) exposures to soldiers on the battlefield could be significant with potential radiological and toxicological effects. [...] Under combat conditions, the most exposed individuals are probably ground troops that re-enter a battlefield following the exchange of armour-piercing munitions. [...] We are simply highlighting the potential for levels of DU exposure to military personnel during combat that would be unacceptable during peacetime operations. [...DU is..]... a low level alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage. [...] Short term effects of high doses can result in death, while long term effects of low doses have been linked to cancer. [...] Our conclusion regarding the health and environmental acceptability of DU penetrators assume both controlled use and the presence of excellent health physics management practices. Combat conditions will lead to the uncontrolled release of DU. [...] The conditions of the battlefield, and the long term health risks to natives and combat veterans may become issues in the acceptability of the continued use of DU kinetic penetrators for military applications."

- Excerpts from the July 1990 Science and Applications International Corporation report: 'Kinetic Energy Penetrator Environment and Health Considerations', as included in Appendix D - US Army Armaments, Munitions and Chemical Command report: 'Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term Strategy Study, July 1990'

So, back in 1990 - a full decade ago - warnings had been sounded over the use of depleted uranium. According to the quoted report, however, the military's concern was far more with the possibility that they might be denied the use of this weapon in conflict than with any possible after-effects it might have. Once again, civilian populations on the ground are nowhere.

"Peacekeepers" in Kosovo are dying; there has also been evidence that the incidence of leukemia and similar diseases in the local population is increasing, although this is less readily reported in the mainstream news. Back in Bosnia, one in ten people in a population of 4000 Serbs who had been exposed to DU bombardment by NATO planes is either dead or dying from some form of cancer. Robert Fisk of The Independent is only one of many respected journalists who cites the case of a 12-year-old girl named Sladjana who is showing unmistakable signs of radiation sickness after picking up pieces of DU ordnance, and whose symptoms are roundly ignored by the scientists scrambling to investigate the Balkan Syndrome of the "peacekeepers" who have been exposed to hazard only intermittently and short-term.

And back beyond that, far enough removed in time for the true ramifications of the genocidal warfare to become apparent, there is Iraq. http://www.web-light.nl/VISIE/extremedeformities.html is a site that is not for the squeamish. Graphic photographs of birth defects in Iraqi children are appalling. And this is only coming to Yugoslavia, maybe ten years down the line.

Apocalypse, now. And the West will deny its complicity for as long as it can, because facing it would be unspeakable. Madeleine Albright has been quoted as saying that the death of half a million Iraqi children was "an acceptable price" to pay for the world that she wishes to live in. Those who have to cope with the aftermath of paying that price might disagree.

1 For a full report on this, see http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/chuss/willful.htm and related material.


Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Aleksandra Priestfield 2001. All rights reserved.


Related External Links

Iraq: Extreme Birth Deformities from D.U. Ammunition Extremely disturbing pictures. A must see to understand the consequences of our waring actions. Just know these pictures are very graphic. Not for the faint of heart or for children.

Are the governments of Nato guilty of committing a heinous war crime? by Robert Fisk, January 17, 2001 (The Independent)

In another Bosnian town two small boys lie in their hospital beds. Is this collateral damage? by By Robert Fisk in Duboj, Bosnia. January 19, 2001 (The Independent)

Proposition One A grassroots voter initiative movement for disarmament of nuclear weapons and the conversion of the arms industries to human and environmental needs

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation An International Education and Advocacy Group on Issues of International Peace and Security

UK Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU)

Assessment of the Environmental Impact of Military Activities During the Yugoslavia Conflict Preliminary Findings, June 1999 - Prepared by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC)

Depleted Uranium Haunts Kosovo and Iraq (Middle East Report 215, Summer 2000)

Depleted Uranium: A Post-War Disaster for Environment and Health (Laka Foundation, May 1999)

The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium (Extensive investigative research by The Chugoku Shimbun, a newspaper based in Hiroshima, Japan)

Related Internal Links

Depleted Uranium: The Balkans Syndrome by Gilles d'Aymery

Depleted Uranium and Depleted Public Opinion by Gilles d'Aymery

Compressing the Gap Between Nuclear and Conventional Weapons by Philip Berrigan

Millennial Message by David Krieger

Excerpt of the prologue to Bloody Hell by Simon Weston

Short Excerpts of "I Had Seen Castles" by Cynthia Rylant

Other Related links

Back to the Future by Aleksandra Priestfield

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous: Yugoslavia and the United Nations by Aleksandra Priestfield

Now I Know by Aleksandra Priestfield

The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans
by Simon Winchester
Book Review by Aleksandra Priestfield

The Thousand and Second Night:
The Price of Truth
by Aleksandra Priestfield

Peddling Pseudohistory: The Media and Literature by Aleksandra Priestfield

Rewriting History by Aleksandra Priestfield

Animals at War by Aleksandra Priestfield



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published January 22, 2001
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