Call it Ecocide

In the cradle of civilization, young women have become terrified about having children.

This is the news I take with me into Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude and family togetherness: that doctors in Fallujah, the Iraqi city we devastated in two military assaults in 2004, have begun documenting a startling rise in birth defects – about 15 times the pre-invasion occurrence of early-life cancers and brain and nervous-system abnormalities, according to the U.K.’s Guardian.

A group of British and Iraqi doctors have petitioned the United Nations to investigate the situation, which is clearly related to the U.S. invasion and occupation. According to their letter: “In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 newborn babies, 24 percent of whom were dead within the first seven days (and) a staggering 75 percent of the dead babies were classified as deformed.” In comparison, the letter said, in August 2002 – before the invasion – 530 babies were born; six of them died within the first week, with a single birth defect reported.

Young women in Fallujah, the doctors wrote, “are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs.”

What might be causing this nightmare? The most likely factors are chemical or radiation poisoning, according to the Nov. 14 Guardian article, which noted: “Abnormal clusters of infant tumors have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.”

Finally, this is just another story about ecocide – the murder of a nation’s ecosystem, both intentionally and as a predictable consequence of military actions – which is the true name for war. When the New York Times and all other mainstream outlets see the need to write about the future ecocide ventures we are now preparing for, or the current ones we are always in the process of throttling down or up, I wish they’d stop using the romantic word “war.” The modern manifestation of this exercise in mutual and collective insanity is so toxic and destructive, its effects cannot simply be absorbed by the human race, the environment in which our lives are possible or even our DNA.

Whatever we think we’re doing – defending ourselves, securing our interests, bringing democracy to the Third World – we are first and foremost committing ecocide, in collusion with our enemies, perhaps, but this hardly reduces our own responsibility for such consequences as widespread PTSD and, oh Lord, birth defects.

Robert C. Koehler |