The nation is mourning the loss of retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who died Thursday at age 78. But in its mostly fawning coverage this week of the man dubbed Stormin’ Norman for his ferocious temper, the press is overlooking a lot.
The New York Times called Schwarzkopf “the nation’s most acclaimed military hero” since generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. And Gen. Robert Scales Jr., who served with Schwarzkopf and wrote a book about the history of the Gulf War, told Fox News, “His epitaph should read that he was a soldier who loved soldiers.”
But some Gulf War veterans and veteran advocates interviewed for this story assign an altogether different narrative to Schwarzkopf’s life and legacy. No one disputes the general’s military prowess, but these veterans say the question people should really be asking now is: will his passing reignite interest in why so many Gulf War veterans remain untreated?
“Why do none of the obituaries of Schwarzkopf mention that there are still 250,000 Gulf War veterans who still urgently need treatment?” asks Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War Army scout and longtime veterans advocate who now works at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that represents veteran-disability cases.
Anthony Hardie, a disabled U.S. Army special-operations veteran who served in the Gulf War and serves on all three existing federal advisory bodies related to Gulf War Illness, says, “It was an honor to serve under General Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War. However, for the estimated one third of us Gulf War veterans who remain debilitated from one of the war’s most lasting legacies, Gulf War Illness, the lack of leadership and deafening silence from General Schwarzkopf and other U.S. generals and admirals remains deeply disappointing.”
There is some cruel irony to Schwarzkopf’s passing just days after the release of two new peer-reviewed scientific studies that confirm that Gulf War Illness, also referred to as Gulf War Syndrome, is related, in part, to chemical-warfare agents released into the atmosphere by U.S. bombings at the start of the air war against Iraq in January 1991.
The Pentagon has repeatedly insisted that most of the ailments suffered by Gulf War veterans, which include acute and chronic muscle pain, fatigue, diarrhea, rashes, and cognitive problems are the results of stress and several other factors, but not exposure to toxic chemicals.
In 1996, Schwarzkopf said that there was “no chemical exposure [to Gulf War veterans] at all that I know of.”
Schwarzkopf did at least suggest in 1997 that there was a possibility that Gulf War veterans were exposed to chemical agents. But he never followed up on it or pursued it, despite mounting evidence that there was exposure, and despite the fact that his own Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical desk officer logs maintained in his office every day reportedly confirmed chemical alarms, detections, and exposures—although most of these chemical-exposure records were destroyed or “lost.”
These logs contained such passages as this one on March 3, 1991, at 15:16 hours: “Lt. Col. Wade advised that Col. Dunn has confirmed that the soldier of the Thirrd Armored Division does have blisters characteristic of h. mustard chemical agent on his upper and lower left arm.”
Mysteriously, there were many missing pages in these logs, including an eight-day period in March 1991 in which the U.S. blew up the Kamisiyah ammunition depot, which was later determined to have contained chemical weapons. Schwarzkopf told The New York Times that he had “absolutely no idea why there are missing parts from [the log].”
The New York Times also reported that the CIA possessed dozens of classified documents showing that tens of thousands of Gulf War soldiers may have been exposed to chemical weapons during the 1991 war. Veterans advocates at the time asked for a special prosecutor to investigate the misplacement, concealment, or destruction of Gulf War military logs showing that soldiers were exposed to chemical warfare.
Sullivan, who was one of the first veterans to discover that these logs showing that soldiers were exposed to chemicals were missing, as well as advocates such as Charles Sheehan-Miles and Patrick Eddington, now a Capitol Hill staffer, have been shining a light on this issue for years. Producers at 60 Minutes used information first obtained by these advocates in their March 12, 1995, broadcast on Gulf War Illness and chemical weapons.
Despite all this, Schwarzkopf somehow managed to stay above the fray. He remains a war hero in the eyes of most Americans. But, says Sullivan, not to many of the Gulf War veterans who are still suffering from an illness that the government has tried to deny exists for two decades.
While Schwarzkopf publicly called for the caring for our sick Gulf War veterans, some veteran advocates insist his lack of action, and the fact that most of his logs showing veterans were exposed to chemical weapons were lost or destroyed, speak louder than his words.
The two new studies showing that American troops were contaminated by chemical weapons in Iraq as a result of U.S. bombings are probably the best evidence yet that Gulf War Illness is real. And they raise new and troubling questions about Schwarzkopf’s legacy as a “soldier who loved soldiers.”
The first study confirms what many veterans already believed: weather patterns carried a massive toxic chemical cloud resulting from the U.S. bombing of Iraqi chemical-weapon storage facilities a long distance before these chemicals ultimately fell on U.S. troops.
This is being dubbed by some as the largest example of “friendly fire” in American history, because the so-called nerve and blister agents that dropped on American troops were supplied to Iraq by the U.S. before the Gulf War. These chemicals were then bombed by U.S. forces, which lifted them into the atmosphere and dropped on our troops.
The second study confirms that Gulf War Illness reports were higher at the places where the chemicals fell.
“Our peer-reviewed scientific findings bring us full circle by confirming what most soldiers believed when they heard the nerve-gas alarms. The alarms were caused by sarin fallout from our bombing of Iraqi weapons sites,” James J. Tuite, who led the first study, said in a statement two weeks ago.
But neither the national press nor President Obama appear too eager this week to point out Schwarzkopf’s unfinished legacy.
A statement from the White House this week reads, “With the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, we’ve lost an American original. From his decorated service in Vietnam to the historic liberation of Kuwait and his leadership of United States Central Command, General Schwarzkopf stood tall for the country and Army he loved. Our prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family, who tonight can know that his legacy will endure in a nation that is more secure because of his patriotic service.”