Another Gulf War Syndrome Fad/Theory Fails the Test

By Michael Fumento

March 20, 1997
Copyright 1997 by Michael Fumento

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Alleged causes of Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) come and go like fads. One month it’s exposure to burning oil fields, then it’s pills the soldiers took, or it’s the insecticide they used, or the injections they received. One Gannett news story even suggested it was Scud missile fuel!

The reason the fad/theories come and go is because none ever pan out. Consider the nerve gas theory. It was given a bit of credence when it emerged that a battalion had blown up an Iraqi weapons bunker containing sarin gas. But sarin begins to dissipate in seconds, and the closest of these soldiers was three miles away. Others allegedly "gassed" from this explosion were hundreds of miles away.

Further, as General H. Norman Schwartzkopf pointed out in recent congressional testimony, during the war not a single soldier came down with symptoms of nerve gas poisoning. There is no evidence that an exposure to sarin so low as to cause no symptoms at the time could years later begin to wreak havoc on the body.

Finally, blaming nerve gas hardly accounts for all these stories we’ve been hearing about vets infecting their wives and children. Nerve gas is not contagious.

Thus we have the latest fad/theory, brought to us March 9 by the Los Angeles Times’s J.R. Moehringer. In this one the cause is bacteria, mycoplasma fermentans (MF), and it’s even spreading to health care workers and researchers. The main champions of the theory are Dr. Garth Nicolson, who recently switched from studying cancer to studying MF; his wife Nancy; and nurse and talk-show host Joyce Riley.

But MF is no more credible cause than its predecessors.

First, 123 different symptoms have been attributed to GWS according to Nicolson’s own assistant, a number which correlates roughly with my findings.

But according to the nation’s pre-eminent authority on MF, Dr. Shyh-Ching Lo of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, only one symptom — joint problems — seems strongly correlated with MF. Another — breathing problems — may be related. I confirmed this with two other prominent MF researchers. So how do we account for those other 121 symptoms?

And what kind of a stupid weapon would MF be, anyway? The purpose of chemical and biological weapons is to cripple, kill, and terrorize on the battlefield, so that the user may win the war. Why would Saddam Hussein use an agent that causes no symptoms whatsoever on the battlefield but instead waits five years to cause The Mother of All Aching Joints? Then there is the "weirdness factor." Riley cites a 1970 government paper she says authorized U.S. labs to invent AIDS. But AIDS in the U.S. has been traced back to 1969, and in the world back to 1959. Oops.

The Nicolsons claim they are the victim of a deep government conspiracy, that their phone had been tapped so many times that "It was a record" — as if the Guinness people kept track of these things. Nancy says six attempts were made on her life but, as the Houston Press put it, "Assassins told her they saw her face and just couldn’t pull the trigger."

In a radio debate between myself and the Nicolsons on WOAI-San Antonio, Mrs. Nicolson informed the audience that her family has enough money to sink the U.S. economy and is worth, "hundreds of billions of dollars." That would make Bill Gates a pauper by comparison.

Are these really the kind of people we should trust? Yet so far the Nicolsons have not shared their research methodologies. If they do, I predict their claims will prove as verifiable as the claim researchers made a few years ago to have discovered "cold fusion."

Like marmosets, as soon as one GWS fad/theory goes down, another pops up.

So what is the cause of GWS? Five national panels now have issued reports saying there is none. So-called GWS is simply the normal rate of illness to be expected in 700,000 vets after a period of five years. They’ve been found to have no more deaths, cancers, hospital admissions, miscarriages, or birth defects than vets who didn’t deploy to the Gulf.

The other part of GWS is stress-related symptoms. This stress is rarely from the war itself, but rather caused by a media that constantly bombard poor vets with the message that they SHOULD be ill. There’s no better way to induce psychosomatic sickness.

Conversely, the best treatment for psychosomatic illness is giving people a drug — any drug — and saying it will make them better. That’s why the Nicolsons’ treatment often works. Their anti-biotics are just acting as placebos.

The media have also convinced people that any problem they have can be called GWS. The LA Times article even cited one doctor as having "a Gulf War-type rash on her nose." Pray tell, how is a Gulf War rash different from any other rash? Is it shaped like Iraq?

When the MF fad/theory dies, another will take its place. Why? Because the activists, the politician demagogues, and the media won’t let the GWS myth die. It’s too damned convenient. So doing, they continue to terrorize the 700,000 vets — along with their spouses and children — who served us in our hour of need.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on Gulf War Syndrome.