The sun glistened off the water as my paddle splashed and pulled the canoe speedily along the surface. The wind whipped through my hair, and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I looked around and saw others enjoying similar pursuits:fishermen, boaters, people relaxing in the beautiful southern Illinois afternoon. What an exquisite image, this lake, these people, evoking a simple joy fo

By Gus Bode

Shrouded in barbed wire, on a series of sprawling campuses, lies one of southern Illinois’ largest employers; a factory of one of the largest munitions manufacturers in the country. But this General Dynamics plant doesn’t simply manufacture the traditional implements of murder and mass destruction; it also makes depleted uranium (DU) tank shells. The US military loves the DU tank shell – a weapon that literally burns a hole through armored vehicles. The weapon, after all, is very affective. When a DU shell hits its target, it vaporizes into a fine dust, which, especially in a dry desert climate, means a mist of tiny particles that cling to human lungs. The weapon is so effective that the US military is desperate to confute the evidence that DU is related to Gulf War Syndrome, and some of the nearly 100,000 Gulf War veterans who are suffering reoccurring illness, cancer, and even death (4,500 dead since the end of the war). The military is quick to point out that DU is not “highly” radioactive – hence the word “depleted.”

Yet if a soldier or Iraqi (in whose country the US used over 300 tons of DU weapons during the 1st Gulf War) breathes the particles in, they collect on the lungs and can do serious damage. Doctors have found that DU may cause cancer, leukemia, and chromosomal abnormalities that may lead to birth defects. Even more disturbing is the fact that studies by the UN have found that DU can continue to contaminate water and air for years after their use.

Yet the military refuses to give up these weapons, even though they may be killing their own soldiers. Perhaps this is because they have found the perfect weapon, not just militarily, but economically. You see, the US has plenty of DU sitting around, because it is the by-product made when uranium is enriched to make nuclear weapons. You can’t just leave DU lying around, as it stays radioactive for over 4 billion years. So the military has found a use for all that radioactive waste, a use that even allows the army to kill more efficiently.


And here is where General Dynamics and southern Illinois come in. Whenever there is a buck to be made off of human suffering, jackals like the General Dynamics Corporation will be there to sup on the bloated carcass of the US war machine. And there is plenty of profit to be made. Just this past January, Southern Illinois’ General Dynamics plant received an $18.36 million contract to produce more of these vile weapons. These purveyors of death and poison bring their trade right here, to Southern Illinois, and then export it. The poisons made here spread out throughout the globe, bringing death and destruction to the people of Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, and to the American soldiers who fire their weapons at them.

Eighteen million dollars is a lot of money to bring to Southern Illinois. Yet it is undoubtedly not enough to cover the glut of suffering that weapons manufactured here cause throughout the world. The sickness and disease that soldiers who have been exposed to DU often suffer, the sickness that they pass on to their children, is manufactured not fifteen minutes away from us here in Carbondale.

Hideous birth defects have become a part of the hospitals of Iraq. And as long as General Dynamics is a part of southern Illinois, southern Illinois will remain a part of this outrage. So when an 18-year-old soldier is ordered to investigate a tank that has recently been disabled by a DU tank shell in Iraq; when an Iraqi child plays amongst the wreckage; he gets a strong whiff of southern Illinois – and that whiff just might last him, and his children, a lifetime.