California Nurses Association (CNA) Statement on the Iraq War

This statement was adopted by the CNA Board of Directors on Feb. 2, 2003. We have copied it from the U.S. Labor Against the War web site, which now has perhaps the most comprehensive list of labor organizations that have taken a position against the war.

The California Nurses Association joins with scores of other health care advocacy groups, nurses, and labor organizations and local governments to oppose a unilateral war by the Bush Administration against Iraq.

CNA condemns all acts of terrorism. CNA supports peaceful efforts to promote disarmament and the elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological, and other weapons that inflict large-scale destruction.

CNA believes that international disputes are best resolved through the role of broad-based international organizations, particularly the United Nations, to promote a peaceful end to conflict and social and economic justice, not through unilateral intervention.

Whereas the Code of Ethics for Nurses underscores that “the nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient whether as individual, family, group, or community,” and that the “profession of nursing is responsible for articulating nursing values and shaping social policy,” CNA has particular concerns about the health and social impacts of a war with Iraq.

The first Persian Gulf War produced up to 300,000 casualties among Iraqi civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, and devastating long-term health consequences for untold numbers of Iraqis and Americans. Some 160,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans have endured chronic disorders, at 12 times the rate of non-Gulf War veterans, with cancer, birth defects, memory loss, and other elements of Gulf War syndrome.

A new war with Iraq would likely cause even more immense casualties and human suffering. Presently, 13 million Iraqi children, according to the Independent Study Team, “are at a grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma.” A United Nations contingency planning report estimates up to 500,000 Iraqis would require medical treatment, and another three million would face dire malnutrition and require therapeutic feeding. The outbreak of cholera, dysentery, and other epidemics would be likely. The report also projects up to 900,000 refugees would need food and shelter, and endure continuing casualties from land mines.

U.S. personnel participating also face unknown direct casualties and likely long-term health effects, such as occurred to the 130,000 Gulf War troops, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, who were exposed to chemical weapons as a result of the U.S. bombing of one Iraqi arms depot.

At home, the pending war would also have serious consequences for public health and the social safety net. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the war would cost between $9 billion and $13 billion each month, prompting draconian reductions in public spending on health care and other social needs.

The increase in defense spending in advance of the war coincides with a growing health care crisis in our nation and cutbacks in vital funding for public hospitals, community clinics, disease prevention programs, and our emergency response network.

Unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq is likely to increase retaliatory attacks against U.S. civilians, placing a further strain on our overburdened health care system.

Plans by the Bush Administration for smallpox vaccinations for up to 10 million RNs and other health care workers and emergency personnel demonstrate our concern. Local health departments across the U.S. are reporting that many health care programs, including cancer and tuberculosis screenings, immunization clinics for children, and children‚s dental programs are being curtailed as funds are diverted for the smallpox program. The smallpox program is also risky. The Institute of Medicine says the program lacks adequate safeguards.

The CNA Board of Directors will communicate our position to our elected representatives and to CNA members, and conduct an educational campaign for CNA members on the consequences of the war.