(Article changed on January 10, 2014 at 15:23)
U.S. Human Radiation Experiments Covered Up by Public Broadcasting
By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
"The bomb will not start a chain reaction in the water, converting it all to gas and letting all the ships on all the oceans drop down to the bottom. It will not blow out the bottom of the sea and let all the water run down the hole. It will not destroy gravity. I am not an atomic playboy."
-- Vice Admiral William P. Blandy, Bikini bomb test commander, July 25, 1946
W hen the military scientists of an advanced technological nation deliberately explode their largest nuclear bomb (and 66 others) over Pacific islands and use the opportunities to study the effects of radiation on nearby native people, which group is best described as "savage"? And what should you call the people who prevent a documentary about these American post-war crimes from reaching a wide audience in the United States?
" Nuclear Savage " is a recent documentary film that explores American nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, 1946-1958, and particularly the secret Project 4.1: an American experiment in exposing Pacific Islanders to overdoses of radiation -- deliberate human radiation poisoning -- just to get better data on this method of maiming and killing people. The public broadcasting establishment has spent more that two years keeping this story off the air.
The preview reel of "Nuclear Savage" includes a clip with a stentorian newsreel announcer reporting on the American treatment of Marshall Islanders in April 1957, and explaining to his predominantly American audience:
"The Marshallese caught by fallout got 175 roentgens of radiation . These are fishing people, savages by our standards, so a cross-section was brought to Chicago for testing. The first was John, the mayor of Rongelap Atoll ". John, as we said, is a savage, but a happy, amenable savage."
So how serious is 175 roentgens (assuming the measurement is accurate)? In 1950, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommended that human radiation contact should not exceed 0.3 roentgen per week for whole-body exposure ["roentgen" as a measure of radiation dose has since been replaced by "rem" (for "roentgen equivalent man")]. It's not clear how long the Marshallese were exposed to radiation levels of 175 roentgens -- or on how many occasions -- but that amount was more than 580 times what was then considered a safe weekly exposure.
Public broadcasting paid for this film -- and is now suppressing it
In 2005, director Adam Horowitz started work on "Nuclear Savage," his second documentary about the American military use and abuse of the Marshall Islands. Horowitz has a contract with Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), which describes itself as "a national non-profit media arts organization" whose mission "is to support, advance and develop programming that enhances public recognition of and appreciation for Pacific Islander history, culture, and society. In keeping with the mission, PIC provides funding for new programs primarily for public television. We work with independent producers to create and distribute programs about Pacific Islanders that bring new audiences to public television, advance issues and represent diverse voices and points of view not usually seen on public or commercial television."
Among its efforts to carry out this mission, PIC supported the production of "Nuclear Savage" with $100,000 passed through to Horowitz from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Horowitz delivered a completed, 87-minute version of "Nuclear Savage" in October 2011 -- the same month it was nominated for Best Environmental Film at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. That was also the same month various public broadcasting officials started putting up roadblocks to keep the movie off the air, a delaying tactic that continues into 2014. FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) reported the story in detail as " Nuclear Stalemate " in Extra!
One of the first requests, from Leanne Ferrer at PIC, was for a shorter version at 60 minutes. Rather than have Horowitz cut his film by 27 minutes, PIC hired its own editor and controlled the editing process. Part of Ferrer's concern reportedly was a sort of politically correct reverse racism, her objection that there was too much of Horowitz in the film and he's not a Pacific Islander. The shorter version has less of Horowitz. And the PIC web site pitches "Nuclear Savage: The Islands of Secret Project 4.1" as a "portrait of Pacific Islanders struggling for dignity and survival after decades of intentional radiation poisoning by the U.S. government."
PIC summarizes the film this way: "Some use the term "savage' to refer to people from primitive cultures, but nuclear experimentation pushed savagery to new levels. In the 1950s, the U.S. conducted 67 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests in the Marshall Islands, vaporizing islands and exposing entire populations to fallout. The islanders on Rongelap received near fatal doses of radiation from one test, and were then moved onto a highly contaminated island to serve as human guinea pigs for 30 years. Filmmaker Adam Jonas Horowitz spent 25 years collecting material -- including original footage, archival clips, and unpublished secret documents -- to create this unforgettable and ironic portrait of American cynicism, arrogance, and racism. Winner of festival awards in Paris, Chicago and Mexico City."