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My Hour of Silence

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After learning two weeks ago about the U.S. government's notification that it had conducted a subcritical nuclear test, and also its failure to provide its customary 48 hour advance notice, I took the advice of my girlfriend. I wrote an oped, circulated it widely on the internet and began observing an "hour of silence" every day to bring attention to the heinous and outrageous subcritical nuclear experiment named 'Bacchus' that was conducted in Nevada. The daily ritual lasted until September 25th; during those bizarre interruptions of mundane errands and interesting discussions we got strange looks whenever we stopped shopping to scribble notes to each other in the center of aisles and in parking lots. But, once or twice, a quiet hour-long drive through the countryside gave me time for deep thinking about subcrits.

What I learned was that subcritcal tests are such a great - perhaps, the great - litmus test for how well developed are ones thoughts about nuclearism. Subcritical experiments, I learned, force one to develop an argument why these tests are bad, which is difficult because they are such a 'grey matter' subject. Subcrits aren't really causing proximate harm to anyone, nor are they part of any overt threat to a sovereign country. How could one persuasively argue they are bad? Because they violate the 'spirit' of the CTBT treaty or some promise to one day abolish nukes? Accusing a citizen of 'violating the spirit of the law' never landed anyone in jail or resulted in any great reprimand.

It is actually hard to make any argument that subcriticals are very bad unless you know several things about them. Those include the history of them (how, I feel, subcrits provoked India's and N. Korea's n-tests), the real reason, I feel, for them (to prime the test site and to keep the nuclear game, or 'machine,' going), the humanitarian crimes that directly preceded them (nuclear testing likely caused millions of diseases and cancers globally but pro-nuclear 'forces' have been and are at work to keep the proof from ever being used in a court of law, or a reputable newspaper) and how they are dangerous for our future (they will, I again feel, totally destroy any hopes of nuclear abolition because they will undermine the CTBT and global trust of the U.S.'s intentions).

If you knew most of this, you too would be acutely sensitive to the abusiveness of subcritical experiments.

Yes, I said it: abuse. Nuclear explosions are acts of violence. How, you might ask? Nuclear bombs are purposed for one thing: to kill and maim and destroy. Therefore, military tests of nuclear bombs are violent acts because they signal the intention, or will, to destroy and kill and hurt (they also spew cancer-causing fallout globally). Why did global powers conduct over 2,000 nuclear tests from 1945 through 1992? Because they were intent on (possibly) annihilating an enemy (and couldn't control their abusive nature - there was also no one to stop them).

In abusive situations, an abuser channels uneasy energies of depression, inadequacy, insecurity, and other negative emotions, onto a vulnerable target. That target - in this case, all of us, the downwinders (yes you too)- is rarely given protection, nor notification, nor advice on how to deal with the injuries or harm. Keep that in mind for a second.


Now, consider that in his final decision in the biggest downwinder court case to date, federal judge Bruce Jenkins wrote in his conclusion that the U.S. government, which was being sued for damages by 'downwinder' victims in Nevada and Utah, had:

* 'failed to adequately warn the plaintiffs or their predecessors of known or foreseeable long-range biological consequences to adults and to children from exposure to fallout radiation from open-air atomic testing'

* 'failed to measure adequately and concurrently with open-air atomic testing the actual fallout in communities and population centers near the Nevada Test Site on a person-specific basis, or its equivalent'; and

* 'failed to adequately and continuously inform individuals and communities near the test site of well-known and inexpensive methods to prevent, minimize or mitigate the known or foreseeable long-range biological consequences of exposure to radioactive fallout'

Judge Jenkins found that the U.S. government was guilty for the deaths or cancers of most of the plaintiffs in that court case yet a more conservative-leaning federal appeals court overturned his landmark decision on the grounds of what is called the 'discretionary function,' which translates to THE GOVERNMENT CAN DO NO HARM.

That hardly seems fair or exemplary of the ethic of justice in America.

To argue that nuclear testing is a form of violent abuse, and I hope to have shown that the victims were treated like abuse victims, one needs to also show that the perpetrators of the testing were abusers. Did the U.S. government act like an abuser? Well, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers fought tooth and nail against the downwinders - then, and still now. There was denial (that fallout didn't' do any harm). Then there was blame (on victims' smoking or 'bad genes'). And there was minimization (as in 'I didn't hit her that hard'). 'They' said that the exposures of the downwinder populations weren't dangerous because they fell below their ridiculously and arbitrarily-set high radiation standards.

Downwinders are violent abuse victims and they have no remedy. Even today, those downwinders who acknowledge their status as downwinders struggle with questions that few scientists, no health agency and only one or two tiny nonprofits can help them with. They have to learn new scientific concepts and medical theories. They have to pour over complicated tables and charts. And all the while they have to learn how to make sense of their exposures by weighing, discarding or succumbing to the disinformation thrown at them by government agencies that have for over 50 years kept from them the truth - of what fallout fell on them, when it fell, where it fell, and how bad it really is destroying their health.

We are all downwinders. And we all have been abused by the arm of nuclear bomb tests. Worse, most of us are unknowing victims. Our abusers have used, manipulated and tortured us with invisible poisons and sinisterly taken great pains to keep the truth from us. It is like something horrible happened to the global public while we were asleep. Those who are able to put the pieces together of this great puzzle and are convinced of the abuse still struggle with the shock of the truth: 'Is this categorically abuse? Did they really hurt me with full knowledge or intent of harm?'

All of this dawned slowly on me when I found myself not yet a downwinder but downwind of the Nevada Test Site. It was the spring of 2006 when I was faced with the prospect of 'Divine Strake' that was planned by the Pentagon. I was terribly confused by this Divine Strake, which we quickly learned was a nuclear bomb simulation but the other truths came very slowly. We were told that it would, and also that it wouldn't, resuspend fallout from the Nevada Test Site. The government told us it was safe. But a few voices came out of the woodwork to tell us that we wouldn't be safe.

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Andrew is founder of NuclearCrimes.org.


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