The Man Who Stood Up to Armageddon, by Robert Koehler

Woe to those who got in the way of the US government’s nuclear program back in the 1940s and 50s. From Robert Koehler at antiwar.com:

Suddenly it’s possible – indeed, all too easy – to imagine one man starting a nuclear war. What’s a little harder to imagine is one human being stopping such a war.

For all time.

The person who came closest to this may have been Tony de Brum, former foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, who died last week of cancer at age 72.

He grew up in the South Pacific island chain when it was under “administrative control” of the U.S. government, which meant it was a waste zone absolutely without political or social significance (from the American point of view), and therefore a perfect spot to test nuclear weapons. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 such tests – the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima blasts every day for 12 years – and for much of the time thereafter ignored and/or lied about the consequences.

As a boy, de Brum was unavoidably a witness to some of these tests, including the one known as Castle Bravo, a 15-megaton blast conducted on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. He and his family lived about 200 miles away, on Likiep Atoll. He was nine years old.

He later described it thus: “No sound, just a flash and then a force, the shock wave . . . as if you were under a glass bowl and someone poured blood over it. Everything turned red: sky, the ocean, the fish, my grandfather’s net.

“People in Rongelap nowadays claim they saw the sun rising from the West. I saw the sun rising from the middle of the sky. . . . We lived in thatch houses at that time, my grandfather and I had our own thatch house and every gecko and animal that lived in the thatch fell dead not more than a couple of days after. The military came in, sent boats ashore to run us through Geiger counters and other stuff; everybody in the village was required to go through that.”

The Rongelap Atoll was inundated with radioactive fallout from Castle Bravo and rendered uninhabitable. “The Marshall Islands’ close encounter with the bomb did not end with the detonations themselves,” de Brum said more than half a century later, in his 2012 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award acceptance speech. “In recent years, documents released by the United States government have uncovered even more horrific aspects of this burden borne by the Marshallese people in the name of international peace and security.”

These included the natives’ deliberately premature resettlement on contaminated islands and the cold-blooded observation of their reaction to nuclear radiation, not to mention US denial and avoidance, for as long as possible, of any responsibility for what it did.

To continue reading: The Man Who Stood Up to Armageddon

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