To the Editor:
Though it may not be news to its victims, recent scientific research suggests that the modern means of warfare are inherently indiscriminate. A recent study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found high levels of “public contamination with two well-known neurotoxic metals,” lead and mercury, in the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Basrah.
Many cities in Iraq have seen shocking rises in rates of birth defects, cancers and infant mortality in the postbellum years but Fallujah and Basrah have been extreme cases. With this new study the authors of Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities provide us with an explanation as to why:
“Toxic metals such as mercury (Hg) and Pb are an integral part of war ammunition and are extensively used in the making of bullets and bombs . . . [T]he bombardment of Al Basrah and Fallujah may have exacerbated public exposure to metals, possibly culminating in the current epidemic of birth defects.”
Governments may no longer be able to justify war by claiming to have the ability to discriminate between civilians and combatants. Such scientific findings suggest that there are no such things as smart bombs, surgical strikes, strategic bombings or precision guided munitions. Conventional weapons will inevitably contaminate any environment with toxic metals, causing negative health effects in any population living in the vicinity.
Recall that the moral imperative to discriminate between civilians and combatants is one of the fundamental principles of just war theory, and it is a major principle in international humanitarian law. If it is, in practice, not possible to discriminate between civilians and combatants, than where does this leave just war theory?
As the war in Afghanistan rages on (though we hear little about it in the U.S. these days) and the possibility of war with Iran and intervention in Syria looms in the future, we should remember that there are civilians who live in these countries — not just dictators. One scientific study is never conclusive, but nonetheless, it should give us pause about further military action.
Dr. Savabieasfahani, one of the authors of this study, has been invited by the Boston University Anti-War Coalition to speak at BU at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12 in Sargent. The event is co-sponsored by the Social Justice Student Organizing Committee from the BU School of Public Health and the Justice For Fallujah Project.
Former President of BU Anti-War Coalition