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Experimental Polygons in Sardinia, Half a Century of Deadly Military Occupation
Guest writer for Wake Up World
“Italy is a huge naval air station on the Mediterranean, leaning toward East and peeking at Orient. Within this huge air station is Sardinia, which is part of the station, but doesn’t have the annoying problem of people and cities.”
This is how the CIA described the Italian island of Sardinia in the 1960s, a “poor” land, thus easy to buy with a handful of jobs in the military bases. And it worked, with the results of creating a war-like zone and buying people’s mind into claiming as their own rights living and working in or near these highly contaminated stations.
Such bases, experimental polygons and shooting ranges are officially under the NATO rule, and the Italian Army and government don’t hold much decision power over them.
Sardinia houses 60 per cent of Italian military property, and today investigations are shedding light on serious health emergencies, such as cancers, tumors and birth defects in both humans and animals.
Lands and water are heavily contaminated and farmers are now being prevented from working in their own farms. The experiments, bombings and simulated war operations have been carried out for more than fifty years, and depleted uranium (even though Italy had signed the international agreement to ban this kind of weapons) and white phosphorus have been repeatedly used, creating in these areas the same conditions of war zones such as Iraq and the Balkans. “Here the question is” asks Carlo Porcedda, journalist and author of investigative book Wind knows. Sardinia’s invisible illness, “if according to the international agreements Italy has signed using white phosphorus at war is a crime against humanity, using it for a test inside a polygon what kind of crime is it?”
Military bases started springing up right after World War II, even though in the Atlantic agreements that followed the conflict Sardinia was supposed to be a military-free region. Only two years later, however, the Italian premier at the time signed another secret agreement, without the Parliament approval (let alone Sardinia’s natives’), according to which military bases could be set up throughout the island open to the allies while national forces merely kept the management of such spaces.
Part of Sardinia’s territory, on its very north, is another small island, La Maddalena, that has been a US nuclear base from 1972 to 2008. Dismantling, the US soldiers have left a highly contaminated and radioactive area, that has been only in part cleared by Italian authorities. Here already mid 1970s malformations were reported, and when the accident of the Hartford submarine that crashed against a rock alarmed the locals, authorities decided to ignore the international law imposing that stricken nuclear submarines must get fixed by the supporting ship offshore. For about two weeks the same Italian state lied to the population claiming that the clash they had heard was an earthquake in the nearby island of Corsica.
Apart from the US base at La Maddalena up north, other stations are to be found in central Sardinia, such as the infamous Perdasdefogu-Salto di Quirra, beautiful area repeatedly violated by explosions since the end of WWII, Decimomannu, in the south, which is the most operative NATO air force base in all of the Mediterranean, and Capo Teulada, in the deep south, which, stretching westward up to Capo Frasca, covers around 100 km of otherwise unspoilt coast.
As the station near Salto di Quirra was devoted to clearing the explosives remained from WWII, it’s like the place has been bombed for years non-stop. The base lies at the beginning of a river connected to the area’s main water supply, and it’s right there that the highest number of tumors among farmers was registered. This is the only case in Europe where civilians are allowed to use the land inside the base when there are not ongoing military operations: 60 companies and about a hundred farmers put out their sheep and cows here to pasture. About 12.000 animals have reported the consequences of this contamination from heavy metals and particles that in some cases also proved to be radioactive due to the presence of radioactive thorium.
The deadly consequences of these bases have been exposed only in the last ten years. The Italian state has never worked toward a proper health protection system because the use of such spaces is highly profitable: a base can be rented for 50,000 euro an hour to both private companies to test weapon prototypes and foreign armies to try military operations.
Despite politicians’ and military operatives’ denial, now the emergency is one of contamination from heavy metals often reduced to nanoparticles, known as “war powder”, that contaminate the lands for decades after the bombings, especially when depleted uranium-based weapons are used, similar to what happened in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and, more recently, in Libya. This substance is highly toxic when reduced in nanoparticles and breathed in, as low radioactive charges interfere with the cells’ DNA.
Awareness of being abandoned by a State that is more geared toward making profit rather than protecting its own citizens, resignation and despondency are the sentiments around these military bases, where people are currently in danger and a deliberate obstructionism is preventing this tragedy from being stopped. Farmers who are afraid to publicly expose the cause of their leukemia, former soldiers with the same lymphatic cancer found in troops sent to war zones, brothers, sisters, mothers who saw their loved ones die and don’t know who to talk to. At the same time, and rather paradoxically, the same citizens who work around those areas defend the bases, claiming their right to “die from work rather than from hunger”.
Whenever the Italian state will decide to clear the island from half a century of military occupation, universities will have a huge experimental laboratory in their hands, along with the possibility to restore those lands and views to their former beauty.
As Carlo Porcedda puts it: “They say that the most unexpected place to find hell is paradise, and this is probably what NATO armies had in mind when they decided to set up military stations in Sardinia.”