by Janette Sherman, M.D.
It’s terrorism when two deranged people obtain assault rifles and shoot up the local community center, killing 14 and wounding 17 more. It’s terrorism when five men from Saudi Arabia blow up themselves, leveling the World Trade Center and two airplanes. Some 30,000-plus of our U.S. population were wounded last year by a gun. That incites terror too.
Terrorism is nothing new in this country – and has actually been tolerated more than expected. For years, organized crime figures played powerful roles in our large cities, free from any enforcement of the laws they were breaking. They dominated entire industries, infiltrated unions and held certain politicians captive. “Shakedowns” demanding a portion of the proceeds of small businesses were not uncommon. But media, such as the movie “The Godfather,” actually turned these criminals into heroic figures in the eyes of many.
Until recent times, the white supremacist hierarchy was king in the South. Using a combination of police, political leaders, businesses and a rabble element – most famously the Ku Klux Klan – Black Southerners were denied basic rights granted them by the U.S. Constitution by the use of terrorist tactics. Again, there was virtually no punishment of those violating the law. The large majority of white Southerners either turned their heads away or supported these forces.
But maybe we should look more broadly when defining terrorism – as something beyond just foreigners or lawbreakers. Some terrorists may actually operate within the law. One such example is environmental terrorism, generated by those companies that pollute our ecosystem with harmful chemicals that enter human bodies and cause people to suffer and die.
Perhaps environmental terrorism is best reflected in actual anecdotes of its victims. Just what is the terror to which we are subject? Is it the terror we experience when our child is born with major birth defects or learning disabilities? Or when our child is diagnosed with cancer at age 4 or 34? And is it additional terror when we learn that the pharmaceutical industry can charge whatever amount it wants for the drugs to treat and cure?
In one example, the nuclear power industry continues to operate 99 power reactors across the U.S. Data clearly show that there is an increase in birth defects and cancer in people living in the fallout zones of these plants.
Maybe we should look more broadly when defining terrorism – as something beyond just foreigners or lawbreakers. Some terrorists may actually operate within the law. One such example is environmental terrorism.
There is a precedent for nuclear terrorism, namely the period of above-ground testing of nuclear weapons, sending deadly fallout into the diet of all Americans. For years, government and military leaders denied that any harm had been caused, until a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council estimated that up to 212,000 Americans developed thyroid cancer from exposure to test fallout. No estimates were made for any other cancer or disease.
The polluting companies that terrorize our health, such as electrical utilities, are motivated by financial gain. Perhaps worse, those regulators we entrust with our public health allow this terror to continue, either ignoring the carnage or even denying it.
The nuclear field is an example of this. In 60 years of nuclear power plant operations, the federal government has prepared only one study on cancer rates near reactors – and that was done only at the insistence of Sen. Edward Kennedy. A proposal to study this topic was abandoned this summer by federal regulators, after a listless and failed attempt to prepare a report during the past six years.
The polluting companies that terrorize our health, such as electrical utilities, are motivated by financial gain.
Why is our government unwilling to address the deadly aspects of our society? Victims of cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other environmental-related maladies are no different from those who die at the hand of gunmen who would otherwise distort religious principles. And they are much greater in number.
Any discussion of terrorism should be a broad one and include those who are harming our precious planet and its inhabitants.
Janette D. Sherman, M.D., a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 for $150, she has had it republished for wide distribution at only $10. See http://janettesherman.com/books/. Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at www.janettesherman.com.