World-renowned epidemiologist Rosalie Bertell spoke May 2 and May 3, 2005 at the UN at the Depleted Uranium to follow link

Still recovering from a heart operation, Sr. Rosalie remains on a busy schedule. She arrived in New York City from the Mother House of the Sisters of the Grey Nuns near Philadelphia, then spoke at the UN depleted uranium workshop. As arranged, we catch up with Sr. Rosalie the next morning, in her hotel room. We haven't got much time. We set up as fast as we can, pushing lamps and tables around, trying to find the best light. A Japanese NGO team is coming to pick Dr. Bertell up for her afternoon UN presentation in just an hour.

Snowshoefilms: What did you say at the depleted uranium workshop yesterday at the UN?

Sister Rosalie Bertell: I have been, for a long time, trying to figure out why there's such a tremendous difference between the scientists who study radiation in hospitals and laboratories, and those who look at what happens on the battlefield or in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and you actually see how sick the people are.

On the other hand, in lab tests and hospitals you see the same dose of radiation being given and you don't see this broad range of health effect. So there has to be something very different about the experience in the hospital and the lab from what happens in the real world. I focused in on two major differences. One is that the hospital and lab are clean, whereas the others take place in a world that is a complex mixture of materials and it’s dirty, basically. You know, it’s full of all kinds of debris. So that’s one difference, but the other difference I think we haven’t focused on before, and that is the temperature of the fires. I looked up the temperature of a TNT explosion which is about 575 degrees centigrade. Now if you move to something like the twin tower jet plane explosion, they claim that that is 2000 degrees centigrade. Whether it’s 2000 or not, you can see that it’s a lot hotter than TNT, or even things like the incinerators for hazardous waste. They don't even begin to come up to that. They’re around a thousand degrees centigrade. Now uranium when it’s in a fine powder is spontaneously pyrophoric. It bursts into what they call metal fume which is a gas. Now this metal fume is between three thousand and six thousand degrees centigrade which is, you know – three thousand to six thousand degrees compared to 600 is what you’re looking at…

These kind of DU fires and atomic explosions are so much hotter than anything we have prior to this in terms of explosions and fires. You know, they’re like a different order of magnitude. Now if you look up the melting level of the different metals like steel and iron and silicon, aluminum – all of the things that would be found in a tank that was hit. Or a building that was hit, those materials melt in the 1,000 to 2,000 degree centigrade.

So what you have here is a heat 3,000 to 6,000 degrees and all of the metals and materials that come in contact with this metal fume are going to vaporize. They’re going to melt and vaporize. So when you stop to think of what happens after the fire and after these go into the atmosphere, they start to cool and as they cool, you get a phenomenon that – for one thing, they’re ceramic, they’re now something like when you put pottery in a kiln, it becomes ceramic. When it’s a ceramic, it holds water. It doesn’t dissolve in water or body fluids.

So you've now created millions of small particles and because of the heat you get chemical combinations you’ve never had before. These metals can melt and then combine into new unknown chemicals as they form and they’re not soluble in human body fluids. We call it non-biodegradable pieces and they’re extremely small. Now they've been often comparing depleted uranium with uranium in a mine, but uranium in a mine is dust. It's never been fired to be a ceramic. And also, the size of the dust particle in a mine is about 5 microns. What you're dealing with with this aerosol are nano-sized particles which are a thousandth of a micron. They're extremely small. Anything smaller than 2.5 microns can go into the deep lung. It can pass the lung-blood barrier and travel around the body in the blood. It can also pass the blood-brain barrier and go up into the brain area and affect the brain cells. It can also pass the placenta, so it can affect an embryo or a fetus.


Now it's debris. It's pieces of metal. It's pieces of unknown chemicals. It's pieces of radioactive chemicals. When we look at an exposure to a radioactive particle, we look at two things: One is, how far are you from the particle…. So distance will reduce the dose. The farther you are away, the lower the dose will be. When you look at something that has been breathed into your body, it's the maximum dose because it's the contact dose. You can’t move away from it. So you've got the maximum dose the particle can give – is being given to the tissues and the lung and the heart and the liver and the kidneys and wherever it lands in the body.

The second thing that you look at when you're trying to determine dose is: how long you're exposed. So the duration of time is important. As you know, if you have been sitting in the sun, there's a difference between 15 minutes and three hours, and you can feel the difference. Well, it's the same with radiation. So if this particle stays in the body for long time, then it will give a proportionately higher dose.

In the uranium situation, that of uranium dust, most of it or much of it is out of the body of the miner over a weekend. So on Monday, they're down at a low level of body contamination. What we are dealing with in the DU case is that it's not soluble in body fluids therefore you can't get rid of it by sweating or urine as you would if it were soluble. And you also have particles so small that body's filters can't catch it. So, theoretically a nano particle can stay in your body for the rest of your life. So that it's a totally different situation from the uranium miners.

People probably have some idea of the medical experience with a hip replacement, a prosthesis where after a while the metals deteriorate and it can cause problems, muscle pain, a lot of difficulties. That's a metal particle which is in the body which shouldn't be there. You get the same thing with the silicon breast if it breaks. You also get it with dental fillings when part of it slivers off and you swallow it or it gets into the blood stream.

These are not unknown things, but we have never put together this amount of debris that is put into the human body together with the radiation exposure, and I think it accounts for the tremendous sickness that the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have had for 60 years now and that has been ignored by the researchers who have only paid attention to what was caused by the first flash of the bomb. They never even measured fallout or contamination of food and water or any of the ordinary things you would, you would think. So that the atomic bomb studies are studies only of external radiation given in a flash, and then gone. They have nothing to do with all of the problems people have suffered now for 60 years because of internal radiation, and because of these particles of various metals and various chemicals that occurred because of the intense heat of the explosion and then became aerosolized and you could breath them.

Now the other important thing about these aerosols is that many of them are light enough to remain in the air forever. By the Brownian movement of the air molecules, they can be buoyed up. So you might use a lot of depleted uranium in Iraq, but you can expect it to spread across national boundaries and maybe around the world. I don't know how far. But it can move on the wind. This is a recycling planet. It's built to recycle. So what you're getting here is generalized contamination of very large areas by an invisible and undetectable metal fume. This is a direct violation of the Hague Peace the Geneva Agreements on how to conduct a war which very clearly spell out that any use of gaseous, poisonous fumes is not permitted. So it's illegal. It's irrational. It's making our earth planet unlivable. And it's causing tremendous long suffering for people who are innocent, who have nothing to do with the war, and it will last for many years after the war is over. I think it's more insidious than land mines and it's the same idea. So it will continue. Future generations will still have to put up with it. Uranium has more than 4 billion years half-life, so you're dealing with a hazard that will be around for centuries.

Snowshoefilms: Do you have a sense of the volume of DU used on Iraq?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: The range of DU that was used in the First Gulf War the military claims was 300 tons, and estimates of independent observers go up to 800 tons, so somewhere in there. Now you can imagine if you start with a ton of DU. How many aerosol particles of nano-size would be one trillionth of a gram, and it's two thousand grams to make a ton. So you can produce trillions of very small particles. Now when you have a larger particle of uranium, some of the alpha emissions, some of the transformations are captured in the particle and so large particles don't give off as much radiation as if you had it broken into a hundred points of light or a hundred very small particles that are each emitting radiation. So your radiation is also affected by the fracturing of the larger particles into smaller particles. It can also distribute differently through the body and can cause problems in any organ.

It's difficult to know how much DU was used in the current war but the estimates are it was anywhere from eight to 10 times what they used in the First Gulf War , so it's more, not less. I don't think we can give an accurate amount because the military is too secretive. They used it in Bosnia and Kosovo in Yugoslavia; they also used it in Afghanistan. So we won't know the toll that this has taken on the people until there's more openness, and until the military starts admitting what they're doing.

Snowshoefilms: What sort of understanding of DU is there by the American troops….

Rosalie Bertell: Most of the troops are 18 to 20, 18 to 24…They don't know what DU is. They have no idea. Nor are they given complete training. Someone who is a radiation protection officer in the military probably has at least some training in radioactive material, but if you talk to the people who are sent out to clean up – pick up pieces of shrapnel or clean out a tank or whatever, after it has been hit by DU, they don't know what they are doing.

One thing was different about the First Gulf War and that is an ammunition dump of the US military blew up. It was at Camp Doha which is in northern Kuwait on the border of Iraq. This whole ammunition dump exploded for about six hours. Really active, and wasn't put out for days. Now that would have raised up a tremendous amount of debris and aerosols of DU, so I would think in terms of the military, they had higher exposures in the First Gulf War than the ongoing war, even though more is being used in the second.

Snowshoefilms: A colleague epidemiologist of yours, Dr. Jawad al-Ali of Basra had hoped to speak at the UN disarmament conference but couldn’t make it. Do you have a sense of what he would have said?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: Basra took a beating in both wars. They didn’t bomb northern Iraq in the First Gulf War, but in both wars they had battles and action near Basra, so he has been taking care of children that are severely deformed. Very…. Monster babies. Children with cancer and due to the sanctions, the children were not even allowed to have medicine. If they got anti-cancer drugs, they got not antibiotics. The anticancer drugs lowers your immune system, so they have to take them with antibiotics to prevent infection. So it was a very frustrating experience for a medical doctor who knew what to do but couldn't take care of his patients and had never dealt with so many deformed babies.

Snowshoefilms: When you spoke in Buffalo in 2003, you talked about a neo-malthusianism that was permeating our consciousness. Have you looked into…. For example, 10,000 people, apparently, were killed in Fallujah…. There seems to be a kind of indifference to this mass killing, the backdrop for which is the neo-malthusian conviction that there are too many people in the world and violence is an evitable consequence…

Sr. Rosalie: I would describe it as the limits of natural resources in the world. So right now, globally, the world community is consuming between 133 and 140 percent of what the world can replenish in a year. So we are over-consuming in terms of natural resources which is the basis of life. We've had crashes before, financial crashes, but we haven't had a crash of the life support system. So what we are facing here is a growing diminishment of what the earth can provide at the same time as we have an increasing number of people. So it is a crisis. It's a real one. Some of us, when we look at that, we look at all the life sectors: transportation, health, education, hospitals and so on and we say the thing we could best do without is military in the world, and they're very high consumers of natural resources. So if we stopped all the military functions, we would immediately go below that hundred percent, and we would have enough for everybody.

Snowshoefilms: The mass media dictates the group think….

Sr. Rosalie: America is more and more standing alone. Part of that is because of the control of the media. We have a constant fluff on the news. I listen to the news this morning and it was on Michael Jackson and the bride that ran away in Georgia. And there are serious things going on in the world. Serious decisions being made in Congress. There are deliberations at the UN that are not covered at all on our media. And people are just taking in this fluff as if this was the whole world.

I remember the Soviet Union had very tight control, but the people knew it. And they say to me, why don't the Americans know it…. Why don't they go out and find out what's going on…. We knew we were being lied to. I don't understand. And I think it's because we are too well off, we are complacent. And we don't care what anybody else is doing.

We are also kept too busy. We now have everybody working; some people in three jobs. You've got husband and wife both working. It's a rat race, truly. So people don't have time to politically organize, or even to inform themselves.

Snowshoefilms: Have you looked at the official story on 9-11….

Sr. Rosalie: I have not maybe in as much detail as it deserves, but enough to make me very suspicious of it. The 9-11 attack was certainly spectacular and horrible. The World Trade Center had a very unusual end. In the first place, jet fuel fire does not go to 2000 centigrade. That's the number they're floating. That means it couldn't have melted the steel. So something else happened to bring those buildings down. And Building 7 came down without being… without having a jet plane… It doesn't make sense. And I think the Pentagon is even more problematic. It was hit on deliberately, apparently, on the side that was being reconstructed and where there weren't people. It was a hole not big enough to be caused by a 757. And when you look at the pictures, which seem to be disappearing, but there's no… You don't see the tail of the plane. So there's no plane in sight. They've never found parts of the plane.

If you've ever been to Washington, and you've seen the Pentagon, it's got a very busy street right near by and according to the story, the 757 came low enough over the street to hit this three story building, and so it would have caused devastation on the road. So the story is not credible. It's not credible.

Snowshoefilms: Acceptance of the official story of 9-11, that Osama and al Qaida were responsible, is crucial for the Bush war on terrorism. How do you account for progressives acceptance of this official story, while refusing to consider the evidence….

Sr. Rosalie: Well, first of all it was a very shocking event. And in the aftermath of that shocking event, there was a deliberate whipping up of the crowd. It was very hard to speak out at that point. I think people are trying to deal with the aftermath and they're not going back to the initial point. I remember talking to a taxi driver who was really for going off on his white charger and getting al Qaida. It was a very gut-level response: we are going to go get them. And he said something about the fact it was on the TV all the time and people were irate and they were telling all these sad stories, and he said, Well, you have to keep people charged, ready to fight, and I said, Why…. If you have a court system, you try to calm people down to deal with it rationally, instead of this kind of….. everybody's so angry that they're going to go out and get al Qaida without submitting it to any kind of examination and rational, reasonable decision-making. I was rather amazed that al Qaida was the first thing out of their mouth before they even knew what happened. To me that was very much like the lynching of the local Black person in the South. They said right away it was al Qaida. So I think people got caught in the intensity of the moment. And they really haven't taken a good look at the evidence.

It's very important that we take a look at the starting point of this war on terror.

Snowshoefilms: The Indonesian earthquake was the 2nd largest earthquake in history. [Dec. 26, 2004, 9.1-9.3 on the Richter scale, resulting in the death of nearly 200,000 people.] Have you looked at the anomalies?

Sr. Rosalie: There was an incredibly big tsunami in the Indian Ocean that was devastating for not only Sumatra, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia, and even the east coast of Africa. It was caused by an earthquake, a shift under the Indian ocean. Now we know the technology is out there and many nations can induce earthquakes. In fact, there's been an effort for probably 30 to 40 years to control all natural processes since they would give you a tremendous advantage in war. The US tried to do some weather modification, for example, during the war in Viet Nam. They called it Project Sky Fury and they were trying to control lightning and monsoon rains. So the earthquake technology is out there. It's usable. Probably the US, Russia, Japan, China, maybe India – so there's quite a few countries that would have this ability.

The earthquake was not the usual, and there's even a dispute over where the center was located. Australia claims it was about 350 miles south of where the United States says it was, so there's not even agreement on the location of the epicenter. There was no preliminary warning that there would be an earthquake. Usually there are earth tremors that are picked up by the local earthquake centers. They can pick up these tremors and they know it's building up to an earthquake. But there wasn't any preliminary; there were no identified aftershocks. There were tremors after, but there was none large enough to be identified as an aftershock. The people, in fact, when they felt some of these tremors, they prepared for a second wave – which never came.

If you know anything about artificial earthquakes, such as we had with the nuclear weapons testing in Nevada, you know that the earthquake, say, is nine or eight on the Richter scale, if the aftershock is two orders of magnitude down, it's probably an artificial earthquake. If it goes from nine to eight, it's probably a natural earthquake because the artificial ones seem to give an artificial push to the plate because it doesn't come from a rhythmic pulsing of the earth, then the aftershock falls to a much lower level -- because it's artificial, I think, basically. So there was no aftershock and there was no preliminary.

So we know earthquakes can be formed artificially. There's the dispute over where the center is. And of course there was a lot going on with communications. Diego Garcia was warned and the people weren't warned. Things like that happened. I also found out that a ship run by SAIC incorporated, which is a kind of governmental arm; 80 percent of their work from the government. They're not traded publicly. They're a company owned by the people who work in it. They were sounding for oil and gas under the Indian Ocean right near the epicenter at the time it occurred. So that was another joker put into the situation.

The day after the large earthquake and tsunami, a galactic gamma ray hit the earth's atmosphere. It was the largest one ever recorded. It was quite extraordinary. Now it came after the earthquake, however these gamma rays are also connected with a gravity wave which comes ahead of the gamma ray, so if there was a large gravity wave along with this cosmic ray, it could have cause the earthquake. That is right now the favored scientific explanation, but nobody really has all the dots connected and can really lay out what happened. It certainly, clearly was abnormal and they're looking for what caused it.

Snowshoefilms: Would you elaborate on how artificial earthquakes are caused….

Sr. Rosalie: The artificial creation of an earthquake could be done several ways, but probably the one that would be most likely used with a facility like HAARP: high (frequency) active auroral research project which the government has set up in Gakona, Alaska which is somewhere between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It's an ionospheric heater. It's a grid of -- I think there are 48 now –transmission towers but they've put in a six by eight grid, so there's all these parallel transmission towers. They expect to have 150 when it's finished. But they do have 48 now, and it is operative. It sends a synchronized wave up to the ionosphere, and what happens is, some of it reflects back to the earth. Now this is a flexible, mobile array and they can change the angle so the returning rays go in different directions. So they can aim it. The returning waves are low and extra low frequency. They're the long wave radio waves. And these are rhythmic, and they can go through the center of the earth and if there's an instability somewhere, they can jar it with a rhythmic wave and cause an earthquake.

They're being used now for several purposes. One is, they're calling it deep earth tomography. It's like a mapping of the inside of the earth. They located the core of the earth; they’ve found you have a solid mantle and inside there's a molten metal core and then inside of that is another solid core. So they're studying what's going on internally in the earth itself. They're looking for underground bunkers and underground oil and gas supplies, that sort of thing. So much of their (HAARP) funding from Congress is coming for deep earth tomography. But it can also be used to be a direct wave weapon and cause earthquakes. They could even cause an earthquake accidentally because they were looking for something else.

The fact is that Russia's got these ionospheric heaters also. There's some in the Antarctic. There's one up in Tromso, Norway. So there are different ionospheric heaters around the earth, so we just can't say HAARP did it, because other people also have this technology.

Snowshoefilms: Have you looked at the anomalies in the Iranian earthquake in Bam, southern Iran? [December 26, 2003, over 40,000 killed, the ancient city of Bam destroyed.]

Sr. Rosalie: I’ve not heard anything about that. I really don’t know what happened in Iran, but again, it was huge. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this is accidental because of their manipulation of the weather and the jet stream and the…. There are five large vapor rivers up in the northern hemisphere and five in the southern…. They’re trying to move these things around and control weather. So I wouldn’t be surprised if these are side effects of manipulation of the earth system.

Snowshoefilms: A series of earthquakes were set off in Turkey during the bombing of Iraq…

Sr. Rosalie: They were deliberately using bunker busters in Iraq. A bunker buster goes deep into the earth and explodes, which affects fault lines, so in Iraq you had bunker busters and you had a big earthquake right across the border in Turkey, northern Iraq, then right across the line in Turkey you had a major earthquake from, I think, the bunker busters. In Afghanistan, you had bunker busters when they were trying to find Osama bin Laden in the caves. If you remember, there was a very large earthquake in northern Afghanistan.

What they’re trying to do now, and what they’re asking for implementation of money from Congress, is to make nuclear bunker busters which will be even more powerful. They’re doing this because their bunker busters didn’t get Sadaam Hussein when he was in his cement bunker underground. So their bunker busters weren’t strong enough. So they basically want to make them bigger. They don’t pay any attention to the peripheral damage these things cause. You know, we can do enough damage to our world that it doesn’t survive. It doesn’t seem to enter their head that the earth is alive. It’s alive. It takes in energy from the sun. It produces all this life. You know, we affect its basic operation. It’s survival.

Snowshoefilms: To what degree has the Bush administration's overriding the UN further crippled the UN?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: I think if you look at the UN as it was created, not as you would like it to be – it was created with no finances, no army, no way to enforce its regulations; and it was given a mandate to take care of the world and bring peace, but if you look at the powers of the state, the powers of the UN are zilch. I mean, they aren't there. They don't have it. The UN serves at the pleasure of the states and the major power holder in the UN is the Security Council. And so you have the five nuclear nations with the veto. And so you really can't expect the UN to do anything with no mandate and no power.

Snowshoefilms: Isn't it true that many of the NGOs are funded by the World Bank? Doesn't that by and large keep them focused within parameters acceptable to the World Bank?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: Given the situation of the United Nations, I think they did the right thing to reach out to people of the world. They are respected throughout the world. I used to go to the Soviet Union before glasnost. The people there could do anything if the UN supported it, or it came from the World Health Organization. They never had any trouble. Any program you could get sponsorship for, they (the host country) would implement right away. So it was like a ticket to every country in the world except the United States. The US has never had any respect for the UN. It created it, and it created it to be helpless, and then it criticizes it for being helpless…The UN has benefited and is the most world-friendly organization to the NGOs. The NGOs kind of came out of the woodwork and formed – to help the UN. And they have worked all over the world and they've made a good reputation for themselves for scientific accuracy, for spreading the word, for supporting the UN and UN conferences on water, the environment, children, women – all kinds of social issues. The UN has brought world attention to major problems. So instead of watching the Michael Jackson trial, you have a whole year on the oceans. Focusing people, getting the educational communities involved. This is the genius of the UN, and it's also the genius of the non-governmental organizations which have picked up the ball and run with it, and this is all done below the level of government, because the governments are blockers. The governments are the ones that are causing the trouble. So I think it's a rather remarkable growth and strength here. It certainly needs reform, but it needs reform mostly to cut down the power of the individual nation states that throw curve balls at the UN and then criticize them for not catching them.

I do think the United States seriously undermined respect for international law by aggressive war and by deliberate violations of the treaty against the use of gases and harmful substances of war. They showed disregard for the anti-missile treaty, disregard for an aggressive war which they undertook for no reason we know now, and also for using obnoxious metal fumes (exploded DU) as a weapon of war. They have no need to do this. They have more firepower than any nation in the world. So they have no need to poison everybody.

Snowshoefilms: There have been several high-level DU cover-up commissions…. *

Rosalie Bertell: I think it's significant that the United States has set up an oversight committee to look at the health of the veterans who were exposed – who had the Gulf War Syndrome. And their original mandate was to find out if this trouble was psychological. And they made up a panel of five or six people. They were all neuropathologists or neuropsychologists. I think there was one neuropharmacist and one CEO of Enviroseek Incorporated and this was the panel that the government set up so obviously they were looking for psychological or neurological problems because that's what the expertise was. And they have come out as of September 2004 with a definitive statement that there was no evidence that the veterans were suffering from psychological problems or from battle fatigue. In fact they found that, in terms of other wars, there was less battle fatigue and psychological problems in the Gulf War veterans than there was in any other war. So you can't just keep saying this is people's imagination and they're upset and whatever you want to call it. It's real. They are suffering. They are sick. And it is undiagnosed, probably because they have all this debris in their body and that's just not in their medical books.

Snowshoefilms: Faith is a highly prized feature or quality of being a Christian. Have you considered the possibility that Christians might be especially vulnerable – gullible, even – or susceptible to believing the dominant authority figure who represents himself as a Christian -- as George W. Bush does to millions of Christians?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: Christianity and faith is a question of who, of what person, of who do you put your faith in. I’ve always taken that to mean, in Jesus Christ. Not in George Bush. That is a foreign idea to me, that it makes you gullible to all authority figures. Because the church also teaches that responsibility for our actions lies in our own conscience. And so you’re supposed to listen to what an authority figure says, but you’re supposed to make up your own mind in the light of what Christ has said, or what your experience of what makes you feel like you did the right thing, and what you feel like when you do the wrong thing. To get in touch with your own spirit, and try to make good decisions. We usually know after we’ve made a decision whether it was good or bad. So, if you can get in touch with the way you feel, or the state you’re in when you make a good decision, and when you have to make a decision you get yourself into that state. Otherwise, don’t make it. You know, don’t do things in a hurry, don’t do things because somebody tells you to do them, that sort of thing. But that comes out of Christianity too, so I think that if many people will interpret it that you have to do what everybody tells you to do, that’s irrational. It’s not Christianity. Christianity says ‘my law is written in your heart.’ That’s not that everybody can tell you what to do. You have to do what you think is right. And you have to be willing to stand up to it if the situation is such that you’re being forced.


Snowshoefilms: And yet a large percentage of fundamentalist (literalist) Christians accept Bush as fulfilling prophecy…

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: This, like ‘waiting for the rapture to come’ is a cop-out on life. Life is good, but it takes some tough decisions to live it, and I think it’s a cop-out if you’re waiting for something to happen that’s going to solve all your problems. You know, we have to live here right now, not posit something that’s going to happen in the future, so we don’t have to live, and we don’t have to make decisions.

There’s an odd phenomenon going on in the American political scene, and that is we have a president who claims to be against abortion, yet during his regime, the abortion rate went up in the United States in the first time in years. It’s been going down regularly. And it went up. But this didn’t seem to impress people, because he says good things, you don’t look at his record. The killing done by the United States since George Bush has been in charge is incredible. And those people who’ve died, probably a hundred thousand in Iraq, are never even mentioned. They’re…. You know, it’s just ‘life’ and we had to kill these people because we had to get Sadaam Hussein because of 9-11 which he had nothing to do with. So it’s an irrational trust. And I noticed recently that the fundamentalists are trying to enter into the judgment over the Supreme Court and the other federal judges, and they’re calling it a faith issue. But when President Bush talked to the public, he tried to distance himself from that opinion because that goes down a really bad road of church and state involvement in picking our judges. There’s a difference between a moral judgment and a legal judgment. I know I was taught that there was a big distinction between how you were morally judged and what happened in a civil court. I think this fundamentalism is probably going so far that it’s killing itself.

Snowshoefilms: Are you familiar with the writing of Julian Jaynes?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: No.

Snowshoefilms: The question is relevant to our next question, which is the role of our handling cognitive dissonance so as to maintain a rational course. Jaynes, very briefly, outlines a recognition of what he calls the ‘vestigial bicameral mind’ in his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Consciousness, as he explains and defines it, is only a recent phenomenon [some 3,500 years]. The ‘vestigial’ mind is a kind of mental counterpart to our vestigial tails. Basically, it’s reflected in what behaviorists call cognitive dissonance. Are you familiar with cognitive dissonance?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: Vaguely….

Snowshoefilms: Basically it’s the behaviorist’s description of living with the decisions or choices we make. As you said earlier, “we usually know after we’ve made a decision whether it was good or bad.” After having made decisions, we tend to block critique of those decisions and seek affirmation that we’ve made the correct decision [avoiding dissonance and seeking consonance, respectively]. The pain associated with cognitive dissonance is a fear of being isolated from the group….

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: I think it’s also normal to think that if you’re different and the whole group thinks something else, maybe you’re wrong. I probably look at it a little differently. I think there are people who make a decision and once they make the decision, then they’re not willing to change it. And that can be good on occasion. There can be people who make good decisions, and they stick with it for the rest of their life. This is what holds marriages together, for example. So there are people who can make a commitment, and keep it. But there are times in your life when you really have to break a commitment. But they’re very serious. They have to be very compelling reasons. And I think to stay open, you have to look at reality. Reality is a very good check. It’s a very good check on what you’re doing. And the reality can be the things your body is telling you. Because sometimes your body tells you things when your mind doesn’t. So you need to be in touch with reality. That’s always the check on your theory. The mind can go crazy and you have to keep testing that.


And I think it’s true that the more we fragment our complicated tasks – and that’s what the military does, that’s what the CIA does, and that’s what the FBI does. You have a complex goal like ‘controlling terrorists in the United States,’ say. And that complex goal is then cut up into little fragments and people are given a part, and you don’t know the whole. So you’re told to do that part and do it to the best of your ability. Well, that can be a disaster. You’re not privy to the knowledge of the whole because it’s dangerous to release that to a large number of people. So it isn’t really a holistic effort. It isn’t really using the human mind to accomplish a goal. It’s using people as robots, telling them what to do. This comes out of World War II. They found this was helpful…. I worked at Bell Aircraft right after the war. And they were right under the nose of the Russians who were in an office right within the building.

They [Bell Aircraft] were creating the first guided missiles. And I worked on them. But we were only given a part of the puzzle. We’d be given just a small part to solve. I used to take the ‘pips,’ the printout of the electrical changes when they shot a missile, to tell what the missile was doing during the flight. So they’d get this printout at the end. But it was all little electrical pulses and you had to turn it back into information so you could tell what the missile had done. But we didn’t see anything, then, except how to take those sheets of paper with all the electrical marks on them, and how to turn them into information. We had no idea of anything else in the process.


And so our government system, our military system, our CIA, our FBI are all fragmented systems. So you can’t expect people to use their judgment and their creative ability to choose what is best, or life, or right when you only give them a little information and you tell them to do a job. So we really have created, I think, a horror. We’re not dealing with responsible people acting responsibly. We’re dealing with a bunch a people with only a fragment of information told to do a job. And there’s another thing that’s operating here, and that is that membership in, or birth into the United States of America is like joining a club where you get certain privileges if you belong, and you don’t have these privileges if don’t belong. And so we have rights to privacy at home, but we violate that right of other people all over the world. It’s contrary to our founding documents, where they say the people have inalienable rights. That means you are born with it. It’s not given to you by a club. It’s not given to you by being a citizen of the United States. And I think it’s great to be a citizen of the United States, but I don’t feel that that behavior on the part of my country is acceptable. Because I think everybody has the same rights. We’re all born with rights because we’re human, and that’s not recognized, and I don’t like that.


Snowshoefilms: How do you account for Americans purposely ignoring or eschewing an over-view? Some environmentalists, for example, people who’ve spent their lives fighting for a sustainable world, can focus so small [like restoring a small section of prairie in Chicago’s northern suburbs], paying attention only to local politics, if that?

Sr. Rosalie Bertell: You’re dealing with a death event and people are dealing with it at all different levels. If you’re told you have cancer, you can run around to clinics where they’re doing often bizarre kinds of things and not deal with the cancer. But you feel like you’re doing something. So, I think there’s a stage of denial, and a lot of people are in denial. And there are other people who are very busy doing things and that makes them feel better, but they’re not effective. So that’s another stage. If you really deal with it at a deep level, it’s painful. It’s very painful. But that’s where you’re also most effective. If you’re willing to accept the reality as it is and say, ‘Yeah, this is my world. This is what we have done. This is what we have to live with. And this is what we have to try to make better.’ Then I think you’re healthier. I think you’re dealing with it.

I remember listening to a young man talking about the nuclear scare, and the fact that so many children were affected. And somebody in the audience says, ‘What do you tell your children about the nuclear bomb?’ And he answers, ‘You tell them what you’re doing. What are you doing to prevent it?’ That’s the security of the child, that you’re doing something. That you’re trying. Not the horrors of the bomb, but what you’re doing. So I think it’s the same when you lay out the horrors and wrong direction of our planet community. ‘What are you doing?’ That’s the only basis for any kind of peace in your heart: what are you doing?

transcribed by snowshoefilms