"You can walk away from these stories today, but if you choose to follow them they will become a profound part of you and will deeply affect your life." ~~Anthony Guarisco, Founder and director, International Alliance of Atomic Veterans (IAAV, with AAV here in the US), to photo-journalist James Lerager. (Note: Anthony was the first of many Atomic Veterans Lerager interviewed)
Sadly, the wars of our fathers are the most unforgiving testament of time. This testament has filled the Pacific ocean to the brim with blood-soaked tears that will haunt our memory for generations to come. In present-day terms, the Armageddon clock may have notched back a tick or two from the days of President Harry Truman to our new modern day President Barack Obama, but we still have many concerns to worry about before the clock has spider webs. In reality, the clock-hand did palpitate nervously during the Bush years, and the world is a much happier and safer place without him. But we have a long way to go before we can call it "safe."
I am a long-standing peace activist who joined the anti-nuclear movement three decades ago to abolish all atomic weapons. Such weapons have proven unequivocally to cause prolonged, inhumane suffering and death. I entered the activist fray as a young lad back in the late 70's with my atomic veteran father, Anthony Guarisco who, after his exposure, was battling the government for his VA healthcare, plus working hard to prevent any further annihilation the likes of which he had already seen while serving in the military during WWII. He was a maverick among men for humanity with a simple dream -- that no one should ever have to endure the effects of radiation exposure as he and many others did.
My father was a powerful voice for those in society who seemingly had no voice at all, and he devoted much of his life to this worthy cause. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was an instant heartfelt relief to everyone involved. And, on September 24, 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 25 years of brutal campaigning against nuclear testing came to an end.
The reality is depleted uranium (DU) munitions are still widely being used on multiple battlefields today. This will breed a whole new generation of atomic veterans. Those of us in the know call it "The Metal of Dishonor" causing many sick veterans to be inflicted with "Gulf War Syndrome." I would like to remind everyone of DU's true meaning to us offspring of atomic soldiers. We call it: "Death Unlimited." Remember this well, when DU particles lodge inside your body, the only thing "depleting" is your health -- and ultimately, your life.
It always amazes me how the world can continue surviving under the threat of such unsettling madness, I have the right to say this because I have already seen the effects on those who walked the plutonium path of guttering death. I still have flashbacks when I remember what happened to many of my dearest friends and loved ones whose lives were tormented in unimaginable ways.
Such was the case for my father's friend, John Smitherman. Like my father, John was a Navy seaman who fought in WWII, one of many unlucky humans to be exposed to radiation at "Operation Crossroads" in 1946. But he suffered much worse than most. After being exposed, he later developed lymphedema which caused his limbs to painfully swell two to three times their normal size, resembling elephantitus. Eventually, after having both legs amputated, and with his left hand largely swelled, he died in 1983 after the cancer attacked his colon, liver, stomach, lungs, and spleen.
Had his cancer not changed course by attacking his vital organs, John would have become "a living-nub" before dying. He is featured in Oliver Stone's "Radio Bikini," which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1987. Even though his limbs were painfully swelled with cancer, he gladly allowed himself to be wheeled around from one podium to the next tirelessly working with the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV) as a living example of how radiation exposure can hideously tear a man apart bit by bit. Disregarding his own suffering, he tirelessly continued his work as the cancer ate away at him. Indeed, he bravely fought the nuclear weapons industry with all his might, allowing himself to be exploited with every ounce of life he had left to give.
Aside from my own father, Smitherman is the bravest and kindest man I ever had the privilege of knowing. He was shamefully denied service-connected disability from an uncaring government and Veterans Administration seven times. How sweet. God rest his soul. May he peacefully rest under God's gracious wing where denial, pain and suffering and "nuclear weapons" will never be included in his vocabulary again.
Over the years, I have thought of John and my father on many a sleepless night. I make use of this time by pounding aching fingers across this old keyboard to write articles, letters to editors, or letters to my representatives to remind them of the many patriots who have paid a very heavy price for the decisions they make. If I am passionate in my writing, it is because -- if we are to have a tomorrow -- yesterday's truth must not be forgotten. I open doors, but others must enter to fulfill our collective dream of peace. I have watched many honorable men and women perish as a result of those who inhumanely considered them to be nothing more than test animals and, therefore, "expendable." Thus, in memory of those who fell victim to this onslaught of misery, it shall remain my catalyst to inspire all those I can to be one collective vigilant voice without end. Hopefully, with enough involvement, maybe it will finally be enough to deliver us to a much better, brighter and friendlier place for which to rest our aching heads, and heal our weary souls.
Never succumb to the powers that be. Americans are a powerful force when we combine our efforts under one banner. When I first arrived here at this outermost edge of the anti-nuclear peace movement with my parents so many years ago, we became a mighty collective force that shook the Presidential pillars, and we dried many inkwells for a number of rubber-stamping lawmakers and legislators. We brought them to their knees with truth that even they could not deny. And it paid off, one small victory at a time. It can be done. Let's rekindle that old activist spark, let us teach the younger generation to carry the torch of tomorrow. Get involved. Spread the word. We must close this Godforsaken nuclear nuthatch once and for all before more radiated Kool-Aid is doled out or before we destroy not only ourselves but the hopes of those not yet born.
Indeed, change is in the air. We must now hound this new Obama administration and all members of both houses of Congress to come to our way of thinking. We must not fail. We must engage the "obstructionists" and battle them in our own home theaters. We must enlighten those individuals with narrow vision, rejuvenate healthy minds who have been told lies without end, and we must again dry the inkwells of those individuals who not give it a second thought to snap the peaceful olive branch of hope like a useless twig to be destroyed. Because they are the scoundrels of human arrogance. And because...we serve a higher purpose in life.
Our mission is clear and not necessarily in this order: fix the economy, give us a comprehensive single-pay health care program, nationalize the banking industry, regulate Wall Street, stop our ongoing wars in Asia and the Middle East, refuse to build a stupid missile shield to restart the cold war with Russia, offer a fair and even-handed approach in the Israel-Palestine conflict with equal land rights restored to the original charter and an equal amount of aid money (if offered) given to both Israel and Palestine. Don't screw-up the New Deal, No more throwing vets to the waste-bin of time like old worn-out shoes once their services are no longer needed. No more secret, covert actions running amuck, get rid of our Nukes and address the needs and wants of the American people so that even the most vulnerable among us can take part in our continued pursuit of happiness...
Will President Barack Obama will rise to the occasion? Only time will tell. If not, he will quickly be added to a very long list of previous war-mongers before him who did not serve the will of the people and could very well be remembered as just another official assassin of peace who helped to foster our eventual annihilation. The moment is here and the choice is his. For now, I will remain optimistic that he will achieve greatness. May the wings of change forever inspire all of us to do our part to guide his leadership. God bless and good will to all...