Gulf War Syndrome


Gulf War Syndrome Essay, Research Paper

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 him[lieutenant] straight: ?

I’m going[to 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

out.”(Fischer 150).

“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.

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