Yet another scientific study has found no evidence that Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) is anything other than a broad tag applied to any illness found in any Gulf Vet. But those who deny the evidence remain undaunted. After all, says Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown, it took 20 years for the government to conclude that Agent Orange, a defoliant used on the jungles of South Vietnam, caused severe health problems in vets. Now the government liberally doles out payments to Vietnam vets with any number of diseases it claims have been linked to Agent Orange.
Indeed, the cry of "Its Agent Orange all over again!" has become the "Remember the Maine!" slogan of the GWS alarmists. And theyre right, but not in the way they would have us believe.
Both then and now there were wild, unsubstantiated tales of exposure. With Agent Orange, soldiers complained of being drenched with an orange-colored powder or liquid from the sky. But the name comes from the color of the containing barrels. Agent Orange is clear and always a liquid. With GWS we hear of soldiers absolutely convinced they were hit by poison gas, even though during the whole of the war not one was ever treated for such exposure.
Then and now there were wild rumors of miscarriage and birth defects among offspring of vets. One case we keep hearing about is an alleged cluster of birth defects among National Guard families in Mississippi. But a health department investigation showed no more birth defects in that group than normal. Wider studies have shown the same thing for both the offspring of Vietnam and Gulf War vets. No study has ever shown them to have more birth defects or more miscarriages than vets who didnt go to war.
Then and now any symptom any vet got was blamed on the alleged illness. More than 75 symptoms have been attributed to GWS, ranging from bleeding gums to aching joints to graying hair to weight gain to heart disease. Even malaria and herpes have been attributed to GWS, though previously these were thought to have been spread by mosquitoes and sex. If you have chronic back pains and didnt go to the Gulf, its just chronic back pain. If you went, its Gulf War Syndrome.
Then and now vets who got cancer automatically blamed it on the offending agent, as if vets who serve in wars are never supposed to get the disease. But one out of four Americans will eventually contract cancer. Studies on Vietnam vets showed that they had no more cancers than among vets who didnt go to war, and the same has held true of Gulf War vets.
The same is true of studies of Gulf vets. The only illnesses they have to a greater degree than soldiers who didnt go to the Gulf are psychologically-related. These may be very real and debilitating, but they werent caused by anything in the Gulf itself. The prime cause, ironically, is probably being told they are being ravaged by a mystery illness. Doctors have long known that if you tell people they are ill, theyll start sprouting numerous symptoms completely unrelated to their actual illness.
Then and now no purported link between illness and the alleged cause is considered too ludicrous. The first famous Agent Orange victim, Paul Reutersham, who died of cancer, was by his own admission completely enclosed in a supply helicopter at the time the area he was in was being sprayed.
The most reported-on death from GWS is Michael Adcock. His mother claims a gas-laden Scud missile had exploded nearby 24 hours before her son developed his first cancer symptom. But cancers such as his usually take decades to develop and no cancer manifests itself in anything near 24 hours.
Then and now the hysteria was driven by veterans lobbyists (most prominently the American Legion), by congressmen who opposed the war in question and who leap at any excuse to spend other peoples money to show their compassion, by a media far more interested in selling terror than telling the truth, and (of course) lawyers.
Then and now, science was openly disavowed. In 1990, a veterans lobbyist said of Agent Orange, "we must now presume that the scientific community cannot be trusted [and] a political decision must be made on this issue to provide compensation to veterans." In 1995 President Clinton leapfrogged over the heads of scientists in establishing a political panel to review GWS evidence, with Hillary Clinton serving as the Administrations point person on the issue.
Then and now, to question the causation-disease link was to be accused of being heartless and unpatriotic, as if it is compassionate and patriotic to mislead healthy people into believing they — and their wives and children — live under the shadow of a terrible disease.
Yes, then and now, vets have truly suffered, but not from any exposure they received during wartime. Rather it is exposure to those who claim to be their friends and allies that has caused their terror and even some of their symptoms. With friends like those, who needs Ho Chi Minh and Saddam Hussein?
Michael Fumentos book, Science Under Siege, has a chapter covering Agent Orange.