Magazine article Commonweal

Pinocchio Syndrome

Magazine article Commonweal

Pinocchio Syndrome

Article excerpt

Thousands of men and women who served in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq in the course of the Gulf War have reported falling ill. Their symptoms - among them, chronic fatigue, joint pain, memory loss, headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia - are elusive and so far unexplained. Many suspect they were exposed to Iraqi chemical or biological agents. The Pentagon said no, and offered other explanations: the veterans were suffering from postwar stress, psychiatric disorders, hypochondria, or perhaps the effects of an experimental vaccine given to protect them against chemical and biological weapons. Pentagon officials persistently denied there was any evidence either at the time of the war in 1991 or after the fact that exposure to chemical or biological weapons had occurred. In May 1994 the secretaries of defense, veterans affairs, and health and human services told Congress in a joint letter that "there is no classified information that would indicate any exposures to or detections of chemical or biological agents."

Sound familiar? Defoliation strategies in Vietnam exposed tens of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese to Agent Orange, a highly toxic pesticide whose health effects were also dismissed by the Pentagon. For years after the war in Vietnam ended, officials misled, misrepresented, spoke with a certitude they did not possess, and outright lied about the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.

The Gulf War "syndrome" is as troubling if not as devastating - at least so far. …

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