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The Fiftieth

nuclear weapons at the half century mark

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 26, 1995.

It is the Fiftieth Anniversary of the atomic bomb, and now that the half century mark is upon us, we might want to look back on what we have been told and what has been proven about nuclear weapons. It is kind to say that governments didn’t know anything about radiation in the years following Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The US cheerfully allowed news footage of its soldiers practicing on nuclear test grounds, staring balefully at mushroom clouds only some miles away. Life Magazine had them on the cover, making it somewhat difficult for later governments to say people exaggerated the callous stupidity of a nation endangering its own men. We didn’t know that radiation could kill years later, and that the residue could last years and destroy the children yet unborn.

We still don’t know that. In fact, it turns out we still don’t know much about radiation. Fifty years after Hiroshima, the startling facts are these. Of blast survivors, there was a minimal increase of cancer in their children, long suggested genetically damaged. Among their grandchildren, there is no statistical health aberration. A half century of Godzillas and three headed lizards have been for naught. Genes seem to have survived the bomb. I am not arguing the bomb is safe to use, but only that as we once exaggerated - in our ignorance - the safety of viewing the bomb by our soldiers, we have exaggerated the damage it can do for the same reasons. Which brings up a question. Are Americans genetically more unstable than the Japanese? You’d think so by the lawsuits.

Japan has always annoyed the US by adding the death of everyone who survived the two bombs to its victims lists, meaning an eighty-five year old Hiroshima native succumbing to age is said to have died from the effects of radiation. This tends to destroy the statistical value. However, veterans of the American Civil War were allowed the same hyperbole. Joshua Chamberlain, our most decorated soldier of that war, and one of the best, died at eighty-eight and was solemnly stated to have died of his wounds fifty years previous, so we cannot knock Japan for sheer chauvinism in this regard. It is an honor to succumb to wounds, and it is all we can offer the dead after surviving that hell.

Still, nuclear damage now has a solid statistical foundation from which the world ought to learn. Chernobyl, Rocky flats, and other threats are real, but perhaps different and less so than previously thought. At this point, people, we ought to be truthful.