An American Crisis: Gulf War Syndrome
Imagine a soldier that is willing to die for his country in the Persian Gulf
region, so that Americans could pay less for petroleum products in the Gulf, the
soldier serves his country, with honor, loyalty, and dignity. In an attempt to
win the war, Saddam Hussein launches a chemical attack on American troops,
leaving some soldiers with a lot of incurable symptoms. Such symptoms include
headaches, diarrhea, bleeding gums, chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and
rashes which are being grouped as Gulf War Syndrome (Fischer 148). Then the
soldier receives a good old American welcome back home from supporters of the
troops. After the parades and ceremonies are finished the veteran experiences
recurring headaches and chronic fatigue. The veteran seeks treatment at a VA
hospital, saying his illness is a result of serving in the Gulf. Instantly, he
is denied benefits and services for making a claim that he cannot prove. Why
would the US government want to deny combat veterans of his claim? What is
American government trying to hide? I believe that Gulf War Syndrome is a side
effect of low-levels of chemical and biological warfare agents the troops were
exposed to during their service in the Persian Gulf. I can justify my belief by
the number of ailing vets and Saddam’s stockpile of chemical and biological
The use of chemical warfare in the Gulf is a reality. First there was the Iraqi
Arsenal, they possessed several weapons of the death. They were building
nuclear weapons and already had chemical and biological weapons. Iraq owned
1500 gallons of anthrax which were in 50 bombs and 10 missiles, and 100 bombs
and 15 missiles were loaded with the toxin agent Botulinum that destroys the
nerves and eventually chokes the inflicted to a horrible death. Also Iraq
possessed a nerve agent called Ricin that could kill with only a single drop
(Hedges and Cary 41).
Classified reports from the Pentagon also support the veterans claim that they
were exposed to chemical warfare. The documents reported that chemical agents
were detected and that some chemical weapons were left on the battlefield. Also
our allies, the Czech and French forces detected chemical agents with their
detection devices in Northern Saudi Arabia during the beginning of the Gulf War,
but US commanders ordered that any warning coming from the Czechs were to be
ignored. When the Marines first landed in Kuwait, chemical detection devices
sound (Hedges and Cray 43). Also a former CIA analyst, Patrick Eddington,
revealed records from the 101st Airborne division that showed the division
detected exposure to chemical agent. (AP 5)
Besides the alerts and chemical warfare arsenal there were also Saddam’s orders
and threats. Iraqi papers that were intercepted by US intelligence reveals that
Saddam ordered that chemical warfare was to be used on Allied targets, but his
orders were not to be followed through. Saddam did this so he would not be
responsible for the chemical attacks. Within other documents were instructions
on how and when the chemical and biological weapons were to be released. The
initial attack would come when troops invaded Iraq. Saddam had drawn defense
lines across Kuwait and if that the final line were crossed the Iraqi were ready
with a chemical or biological attack on the Allied Forces (Timmerman 14).
A chemical attack is not the only possibility on how the troops were exposed.
The second possibility is that the troops could have been exposed when the
Allied forces conducted installation bombings raids on Iraqi targets.
“Considering the above factors concentration of agent, the elevation of the
agents plume, and environmental factors such as wind speed and inversion
conditions and wind direction many thousands of fatal casualties could be
realized in neighboring countries such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon,
Turkey, Israel, Iran and the Soviet Union,” (Timmerman 14).A 100 kilograms
of anthrax could drop entire communities of people. After the bombings, chemical
and biological weapons were found. In one site near Baghdad, “75 tons of sarin,
60 to 70 gallons of tabun, 250 tons of mustard gas and stocks of throdiglycal, a
precursor used in mustard gas.” (Fisher 151).
“And then on the morning of January 17, 1991, the first day of the Gulf War,
the official government newspaper in Baghdad announced that Iraq would unleash a
secret weapon threat would astonish our enemies and fascinate our friends and
release an unusual force'” (Fischer 151). This “unusual force,” was predicted
to be chemical and biological weapons by US experts and officials.
What more proof does one need? You have the weapons, the motive, and the
chemical detection alarms ringing. If this were a criminal case, a guilty
verdict would have already been passed down. We were at war with Iraq, Saddam
had the weapons, the one question how why didn’t he launch a full chemical
attack? I believe the answer is he did not want the Allies to launch a nuclear
If a full chemical assault were to happen on American Troops, less than half
would survive according to Army chemical experts. This is due to their outdated
and obsolete chemical gear. American troops have had to use the same model of
gas masks since the 1960’s and even back then the masks were not safe. The main
problem is leakage (Sherwood 11). In order for the mask to function proper an
airtight seal is a must. The problem lies in the mask because the seal does not
fit some face shapes and sizes. This problem would cause leakage, when subject
to a chemical attack in up to 50 percent of the masks. When the General
Accounting Office conducted exercises to test the effectiveness of the gear,
seven of twenty-three soldiers neglected to get the proper airtight seal,
without the air tight seal, the mask would leak and thus be ineffective. The
main reason why the soldier could not put on the mask properly is that the
soldiers never did receive the proper training, which is four hours in full
chemical gear (Sherwood 12).
Some flaws were also associated with the chemical protected suits worn by the
army. The gloves were thick which made pulling the trigger of their guns
difficult. The boots could “protect long enough to escape after an attack, but
not long enough to stand and fight” (Sherwood 11). Both boots and gloves were
so chunky, they took 15 minutes just to get them on. Also with the extreme heat
in the Gulf region added to that the thick, bulky chemical suit this caused heat
stress among the troops (Sherwood 11).
Nick Roberts of Alabama is one of the 70,000 veterans that are afflicted with
Gulf War Syndrome. After realizing that the War caused his ailments, became an
advocate for the vets ailing from Gulf War Syndrome. Roberts had always wanted
to serve his country. He enlisted in the Navy at the end of the Vietnam war, he
did not have a chance to go over. The threat of war in the Gulf was growing and
now was his chance to serve his country, but he was almost 40, almost too old to
serve in combat. Roberts’ Lieutenant told him he could be excused because of
some training he had missed but Roberts had to “set himlieutenant straight:
I’m goingto serve in the Persian Gulf and that’s that.'”(Fischer 148)
Roberts was stationed 200 miles outside of Kuwait where he saw the effects of
war. His unit’s well had been poisoned with arsenic and cyanide. “On other
occasions, his comrades related to him that they saw hundreds of dead animals–
sheep, goats, and dogs– lying along the highways. Curiously, some animals had
blue bags over their heads” (Fischer 140) Blue bags are the NATO signal for
biological and chemical warfare.
On January 20, 1991, Roberts was awakened by the sound of explosions. The
message of “Confirmed gas attack. Go to full Mopp-4.’ Panic set in as troops
were ordered in full chemical gear,” (Fischer 148). Roberts skin burned and
lips were numb and his nose ran followed by the taste of a copper penny in his
mouth. Later that night Roberts went to Harold Edwards, a decontamination
officer, who told Roberts that he detected mustard gas and lewisite in the area.
(Fischer 148). Roberts just received his first dose of chemical warfare. The
next day Roberts commander told his troops the explosions were sonic booms and
the claims were false. And Robert was now experiencing flu-like symptoms
accompanied with a rash. “He reported to sick bay every few days. Each time,
the medic made a second of his complaints gave him Motrin and told him what the
military doctors would tell him over the next two years– he was just stressed
“When it came to compensation, the department adopted the same stance toward
these vets as it had taken with Vietnam Veterans in the late Seventies: no proof,
no compensation.” (Fischer 151). The VA had denied because there was no
numerical code in VA diagnostic book. Without a code for the symptoms, the VA
would not help the vets.
Tired of not receiving treatment, Roberts decided to see a private doctor,
paying the medical bills out of his pocket. His doctor treated him and
discovered that Roberts had developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or cancer. “In
another six to eight weeks, the doctor told him, the tumor would have shut down
his kidneys and thrown him into a coma–or killed him. The close call made it
clear to Roberts that had I relied on the VA, I’d be dead now’ “(Fischer 152).
Besides chemical warfare, there are two more remote possibilities that explain
Gulf War Syndrome. The first is the depleted uranium coating that is on
artillery tips. The coating made the tips harder, which then could penetrate
stronger targets. When the shell explodes it releases radioactive dust, this
which in turn would cause the troops to become ill. (Fischer 150).
The second explanation comes from possibility of multiple chemical sensitivity
syndrome. The oil fires, pollutants, petrochemicals were too much for the
soldiers immune systems. The chemicals broke down their immune systems. Instead
of not being unaffected by common chemicals, they are extremely sensitive to
them. The symptoms of gulf war syndrome are present.(Fischer 150).
In my opinion Gulf War Syndrome is comparable to the Agent Orange Scandal in
Vietnam. Both instances troops were afflicted with pain and suffering from
chemicals, and the government was unwilling to pay the veterans the benefits
they deserve. After a decade of the Vietnam veterans pleading their claims to
the government, the government finally caved in and paid the benefits to the
vets. The vets in Vietnam were sprayed by a chemical defoliant called Agent
Orange which caused a wide variety of illnesses like the Gulf War vets are
experiencing Gulf War Syndrome (Fischer 151).
Why does the government cover-up these kinds of topics? Is it so they will not
have to pay millions of dollars in benefits? I think the answer is no. In my
opinion the government wants to keep the topic of chemical warfare a secret.
The American government wants to be seen as an invincible super power. Imagine
if the threat of chemical warfare was a part of everyday life. We would be
living in a nightmarish world. Chemical warfare is a threat to America’s status
as an invincible superpower. One drop of chemical agent could kill or injure
thousands. I believe the reason why America covers up this type of situation so
that the citizens can believe that they are safe at all times. Also I believe
that the politicians who sent the troops into war do not want to take
responsibility for their actions. We helped Iraq injure some of our troops. In
the Iraqgate scandal we aided Saddam in beating the Iranians by selling them
strains of chemical agents. In turn with these strains the Iraqis could grow
their own chemical agents (Fischer 203). With the ability of to make chemical
agents, they could load the agent in weapons and use them against American
troops, thus the problem of Gulf War Syndrome in the troops arise.
“Ex-CIA analyst accuses Pentagon of hiding data on Gulf War illness.” Kansas
State Collegian 31 Oct. 1996: 5.
Fischer, Mary. “Dying for Their Country.” Gentleman’s Quarterly May 1994:
147-153, 203- 206.
Hedges, Stephen and Peter Cary. “Baghdad’s Dirty Secrets.” U.S. News and World
Reports 11 Sept. 1995: 41-43.
Sherwood, Ben. “Toxic Shock.” The New Republic. 6 May 1991: 10-12.
Timmerman, Kenneth. “The Iraq Papers.” The New Republic. 29 Jan. 1996: 12-15.