The fields we liberated are now contaminated
So that was me in Kosovo, the first time I was confronted by depleted uranium. The American A10 anti-tank bombers tipped their rounds with it so they pierced the metal. If they missed and kicked up dust it would blow back in our faces. How radioactive it was, was debatable, how sick our soldiers became coming home from this conflict and others in the Gulf is still being debated. I was young and perhaps silly rather than brave and took a cab across a mine field to take a photo of the only Serb tank hit by the RAF. I gave the cab driver $100 and claimed $500 on my expenses. It's a funny thing war zones. Surrounded by death the usual rules do not apply. It wasn't that brave, we watched another car full of locals go before us.
A Serb tank bombed by RAF Harriers
So I am a journalist, I have been since 1989. That doesn't make me special but I have had my moments and a few years ago was well known but not well liked. Being stupidly honest, presenting unwashed facts and simple evidence was not popular. In Kosovo I made up three grand's worth of expenses, the boss laughed at me, "you got shot at and went through mine fields, you should have done ten," he said. The unpopular truth; journalists go to war to make a lot of money faking expenses.I thought I might become popular when dead, but at the time, especially telling people how much fun it was at News of the World who sent me to Kosovo, I was hated. Tony Blair, on the other hand and the reason I was there, was loved. He even became a devout Christian after successfully ethnically cleansing all the Christians out of Kosovo. For using tanks and bombs and uranium tipped munitions which gave Christian women and children and some Muslims and maybe me too cancer he won a peace prize. For creating a Muslim stronghold in central Europe he was very well liked. In one magazine poll for pointing such things out I was voted 8th most hated man in Britain.
You probably hate me already. No, no, no you say from the safety of your armchairs it wasn't like that at all. The Muslim minority had to be protected. At a KLA roadblock(that's Kosova Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian Muslim separatist paramilitaries' who kicked things off by shooting Serb policemen) made two of my colleagues kneel in the street and shot them in the back of the head for looking and speaking a bit too Western, in their case German. We had all set out for Pristina laughing and joking that day, their bodies came back in bags. I just saw what I saw and thought we were probably on the wrong side. Kosovo was a nightmare to write about, to think about. It all started about the time of Robin Hood, have you seen that film with the Turks steaming into Europe and King Richard the Lionheart going off on crusades. It is about as sensible as all that, well the Kevin Costner version anyway, and actually the Muslims were in the majority in this particular corner of Europe just above Greece and actually they weren't Muslim at all but Bektashi which is a mix of Christianity and Islam. And the Christian's well they weren't even Christian.
Taxi driver's tell it to you straight. He was a Serb. He said: "We look like German's, they look like Turks." "It is not really obvious," I replied. "But we wear jeans and t-shirts and listen to rock music. We are Western, like you." I quickly said: "I am Irish and waved my passport." No one shoots the Irish, we are too busy shooting ourselves.
I was so lucky, I only got cancer, as that day instead of coming across the ethnic Albanian Muslims, who might look a bit like Turks except they don't as 600 years of inter marrying have left them with blonde hair and blue eyes, I met a Serb tank regiment. They shot over our heads instead of at us. To them the Turks had moved into their country as immigrants over the centuries in a slow trickle and they were simply moving them back again. "It is our land it has always been our land, why are the British and Americans giving it to the Muslims. We supported the British in the war, why are they doing this to us? They should be our friends this is crazy." I filed a piece and it got thrown straight in the bin, "nah find some Muslims without any shoes on their feet saying how they are oppressed by the Serbs and make sure one of them has been shot or their house bombed." I did that and I did discover they drank slightly different tea out of a massive great pot but with tiny glass cups and no milk. No milk, well that's certainly worth fighting for. Unfortunately their house had been bombed by either by the Americans or the British, no one was quite sure but it certainly hadn't been bombed by the Serbs. It was quite difficult to crop out the new Audi on the drive and ignore the fact their son had just come home from university in Germany but they invited me in for a cuppa and like all good Muslims had taken their shoes off so the pictures worked out fine. I even cuddled a small child with a teddy bear. I nearly put him down because he didn't look Muslim enough.
My favourite photographer John the Greek, and yes that is his actual name (just kidding it is Alevroyiannis) organised a lovely photo of the village. All the women and children came out and we handed them chocolates, toys and footballs collected by our readers, bless them. I mean it was really appreciated. We tried to give the £20,000 they donated to the Red Cross but they wouldn't take it. They just laughed. These pompous charity arseholes had just taken delivery of some brand new white Toyota Land Cruisers at £35,000 a jeep and didn't give a fig. They were far too busy trying to get off with each other and having a party. "Man we get millions from the Yanks we don't need your 20 grand and we don't want it, from the Screws are you kidding." Perhaps I should have said the Guardian.
The children were running in and out of the bomb crater and John was shouting at them to stand still. I grabbed another child and smiled. Who would have guessed it but now twenty years later John has died of cancer, I have cancer and how many of the men, women and children we were supposed to be helping by bombing their village with radioactive material have cancer or have died of the disease is anyone's guess. I haven't been back.
I got so pissed at the bar back in Skopje, the whole war was bullshit and I was writing bullshit for a total rag, called the News of the World which also just happened to be the biggest selling and most influential English language newspaper in the world. God, why were we backing the government. It was so corrupt. Just three years earlier Blair had flown all the way to Australia to beg Murdoch to support him. Cameron did the same, getting into bed with his ever faithful female lieutenant Rebekah Brooks, not literally Ross Kemp and Andy Coulson were already fighting that battle. But the Screws could phone hack away and blag and steal and cheat and break whatever inconvenient laws they needed to make bloody brilliant newspapers and this was payback.
The villages of Klina and Kijevo saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Kosovo War. Today, Serbian newspapers report those areas are highly contaminated with uranium from NATO forces which is why cases of leukaemia are at an all time high in the region.
Our stories were read by 20million people, discussed on news and daytime TV shows the day and sometimes all week after. It was the editor's ambition to stay at the top, number one, to define and set the news agenda. Surely sometimes at least we should tell the truth. But no, if the truth went against manipulated public feeling it wouldn't sell. We had to love Blair, he was our war hero, we had to love the Muslims and we had to hate the Christians, "that's the fucking story, you stupid cunt, what are you filing this shit for, now find me some Muslims without any fucking shoes," articulated the features editor nicely. "Um Sunni or Shite?" Problems, problems finding Muslims who actually look the part is tricky in Kosovo as the girls wear sexy dresses and the boys like beer and fast cars and you know what, I am thinking of becoming a charity worker, let's get stoned and see who we can shag.
War mongering mass murdering politicians are always right aren't they? Or do some go a little crazy when they get the top job and can't wait to play with their army. But enough of that. That was exactly 20 years ago and I tested negative for DU contamination, I had stood on tanks and wandered around battle fields that had been smashed apart by the stuff. Maybe the test was too early, maybe it was the Gulf war which followed, maybe it was something much more prosaic like smoking and drinking, the chemicals in our food, diesel pollution(another great political masterstroke, do they get everything wrong) my own humble mobile phone(the cancer did start exactly where I kept it for all that time in my left hand pocket) but yes by 2017, my bones were 70% full of cancer. Not just a little bit, it was my entire body, every bloody bone. I was more cancer than non cancer. Not surprising people said I looked ill. John got ill at about the same time. Apparently it takes that long, 20 years. The problem with DU is only just emerging today.
The Serbs, for whom perhaps the war has still not ended are saying their cows are being born deformed after grazing in the fields and their children, after drinking the milk, are dying. Blood and bone and lymph cancers are rife. The epidemic in Serbia looks real. The UK Government says it only used 'clean' uranium and the 'dirty' stuff is the problem. But which is which.
When fuel used by nuclear power stations is reprocessed to make plutonium, depleted uranium 236 is a waste product which has to be stored for decades. It is 'dirty' because it has been through a nuclear reaction and is contaminated with plutonium which is deadly to humans. The clean version, Uranium 235, comes direct from the ore in the ground and is very expensive. The fact the UN found traces of 236 in Kosovo after the conflict meant at some point there had been a switch and someone got very rich.
The UK says it must have come from the Americans, although they admit to buying uranium from the states. The uranium was dirty, the source stinks.
To get the truth, the unpopular truth you have lie, cheat, steal, phone hack and question everyone and as a result you might also be hated. But more than that, you just have to be there, you have to be there when the bombs are falling, blowing the arms off children and babies. You have to see what those who rule us are doing to the world from the smug safety of our Parliament building.
In everything, not just war it is the role of the journalist to be on the scene and report back the horrors unleashed and the terrible damage done. If Blair had not got down on bended knee before Murdoch I just wonder how much better the world would be. And I might not have cancer.The British tanks rolled in with thousands of DU tipped shells but claimed they never actually fired one but NATO, mainly the Americans, admitted to dropping 10 tons in 31000 strikes. Four french soldiers died of cancer within a year, 348 Italian soldiers based in the heavily bombed South are now reported to have died of cancer and the civilians we were supposed to protect between 5,000 and 10,000 have died or are expected to die of cancer. The fields we liberated are now contaminated. Both the journalist, me, and his photographer, John, who took the photos in the articles above had cancer. John has died.