"Everyone in Utah can tell you a story - or take you to a cemetery and show you where loved ones are buried . . ."
Alyson Heyrend, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, was talking about the experience of being a "downwinder," and she could have been speaking for residents of Nevada, Idaho, Montana and other places as well, where large segments of the population were exposed to fallout from U.S. nuclear testing over the years; suffered dire health consequences and the premture deaths of loved ones despite glib assurances from the government that they were in no danger; who have finally cried, loudly enough to disrupt, at least temporily, the government's oblivious, WMD-smitten agenda, "No more!"
"We have stood down the experiment site and the workforce that was preparing the site for the experiment," read the dry, tersely worded statement issued by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency last week, referring to the "subnuclear" blast known as Divine Strake, initially slated to go off in early June at the Nevada Test Site and twice-postponed because of local uproar and environmental challenges.
Now, though the test isn't exactly dead, the federal agencies hoping to conduct it have gone back to the drawing board. "The details of this plan, the sequence of actions, and schedule are to be determined," the government announcement informed us. "Public information sessions will be part of this plan."
While the announcement added that the test could be revived as early 2007, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported that the DTRA may have given up on the Nevada Test Site as the place to do it. Other sites being considered, the paper reports, are White Sands, N.M., and a limestone quarry near - hold onto your hats, Hoosiers - Bedford, Ind., a mere 70 miles from both Indianapolis and Louisville.
The point of Divine Strake, according to Department of Defense budget documents quoted in the St. George Spectrum, is to "develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter's confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage."
In other words, we're trying to develop usable nuclear weapons. Who's running the show here, Kim Jong Il? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What the U.S. is up to is, in my opinion, far scarier.
The very insidiousness of our weapons development and testing - the perverse secrecy of it, the extraordinary budget it commands that makes it a far greater national priority than health care or education, the momentum that spawns new generations of unimaginably destructive war machinery free from public scrutiny and "civilian" values - magnifies the significance of the effort that derailed Divine Strake.
Maybe, 61 years into the nuclear age, there's a new player in the game: those whose designated role was to be collateral damage.
The downwinders of the Test Site area raised so many angry questions about Divine Strake, and put so much pressure on their elected representatives - Matheson, for instance, is sponsor of HR 1194, a wide-ranging bill that would put nuclear testing under close public scrutiny - that the unelected minions of the military-industrial complex were forced to pay attention.
"Sixty-one years later, the number of nations enamored of evil and enslaved by nuclear weapons is increasing," Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said on Aug. 6, Hiroshima Day, according to Agence France Presse. "I call on the Japanese government to . . . forcefully insist that the nuclear-weapon states negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament."
I recognize the anger and futility in the mayor's words. The wreaths, the white cranes, the prayers, the reading of the names of the dead - what crocodile tears such symbolism produces in the realm of geopolitics.