11 June 2006

Colorado's WMD Legacy

The news is full these days of how North Korea, Iraq, Iran and every other nation on the face of the earth seems to have ambitions to obtain weapons of mass destruction like atomic bombs and nerve gas. They have nothing on Colorado.

The uranium for the only atomic bomb used in anger was mined in Montrose County, near Nucla, Colorado. We processed nuclear materials at Rocky Flats, Northwest of Denver. We made nerve gas at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, near Commerce City. And, of course, the nation's nuclear forces are still commanded from NORAD headquarters near Colorado Springs.

People who create nuclear, biological and chemical weapons don't have horns and a pointed tail. Many are in nursing homes across Colorado.

This doesn't mean that the weapons of mass destruction threat is something to take lightly. It is just as bad as your nightmares imagine it to be. And, it still takes a brutal soul, like Chemical Ali, to order mass slaughter.

Al-Majid [aka Chemical Ali] was appointed governor of northern Iraq in March 1987, marking the beginning of a sustained offensive, known as the "Anfal Campaign", by Iraqi troops against the Kurdish population.

Kurdish organisations describe the events which followed as genocide.

A decree signed by al-Majid, dated 3 June 1987, stated: "Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present in these areas."

Human rights campaigners say the Iraqi army then proceeded to kill tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians in gas attacks and by summary execution.

But, the United States carried out mass killings itself in World War II when it felt that the stakes were high enough, and it could happen again.

The Western Slope nuclear facilities are now a municipal golf course, although the Japanese are inquiring about securing nuclear fuel for their power plants from the area. Rocky Flats is being turned into a nature preserve, and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal already is one (I went fishing there with my kids this weekend, on a catch and release basis), although the cleanup will not be complete until 2011 and the visitor's center haunting notes that some animals in the perserve as expected to die as a result of the chemical wastes on the site until clean up is complete five years from now.

Many of Denver's military bases have closed. One is now an upscale new urbanist development, Lowry, and another is a biomedical research and hospital center, Fitzsimmons. But, we do have a past as a state which isn't pretty, however much we have done to beautify it and put it behind us. It is worth taking a moment now and then to recall that fact.

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