Confronting a Mindset

Imagine the power to erase, in nine seconds, more than 200,000 human beings and everything surrounding them within a two mile radius. Then imagine that power magnified many times over. Then understand that We, the People, are represented by those who are capable of destroying far more people and property in less time. For, according to President Bill Clinton and reiterated by Barack Obama, “nuclear weapons are the cornerstone of the policies” of United States of America – that protector of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Every day of the last sixty-five years since August 6 and August 9 when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have continued to design, test, develop, and stockpile ever more awesome nuclear weapons.

Researchers at the non-profit think tank Tri-Valley CAREs based in Livermore, California found that, contrary to their assumptions, Congress, the Pentagon, and the President do not commission such weaponry. “We found,” says Executive Director Marylia Kelly, “that [members of] the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory rather forcefully sell ideas for and promote weapons to the U.S. government. We’d always thought that the lab responded to the sorts of weapons these entities wanted but found the opposite is true. The weapons labs at Lawrence Livermore (CA) and Los Alamos (NM) really are the tap root of the nuclear arms race.”

It began during the Cold War…and, Kelly says, “this one-nation nuclear arms race has continued ever since. As long as these labs are unimpeded that tap root of continued weapons design and development will flourish.”

There are three main test facilities that simulate nuclear explosions and develop ever more sophisticated – and lethal – weapons. The Nevada Test Site has an underground sub-critical test facility. Los Alamos Laboratory has a new hydro test facility dedicated to the beginning stages of nuclear weapons’ explosions. Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has an ignitions facility that explores the physics of nuclear weapons with respect to the later stages of nuclear explosions.

This testing has, to date, cost the American tax payer more than $90 billion…and that does not take into account the cost of cleaning up the environment and addressing current and future health. Developing this ever-growing arsenal pumps out an ever-growing amount of mortally toxic material.

Lawrence Livermore tests estimate the radiation ‘dose’ – beyond the heat of the blast – released in Hiroshima deposited about one million curies. (One curie of radiation is 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second; radiation has a half life of 28,000 years.)

Tri Valley CAREs documents that more than one million curies of radiation have escaped from this laboratory into surrounding communities. During tests performed at the lab’s Site 300 – located in the hills between the cities of Livermore and Tracy – non-fissile depleted uranium replaces plutonium 239 (the fissile material in the core of a nuclear bomb) and is exploded on outdoor firing tables to atomize into the wind.

Not only is there no workable, long-term, safe solution to deal with toxic materials – including plutonium, tritium (the radioactive hydrogen of the hydrogen bomb), uranium, and cesium – clean up is endless. There are already tens of thousands of known Superfund and National Priorities List sites around the U.S. According to EPA officials and the GOA’s report, Superfund: EPA’s Estimated Costs to Remediate Existing Sites Exceed Current Funding Levels, and More Sites Are Expected to Be Added to the National Priorities List:

EPA regional officials estimated that from 101 to 125 sites – about 20 to 25 sites per year – will be added to the National Priorities List over the next 5 years…higher than the average of about 16 sites per year listed for fiscal years 2005 to 2009…At over 60 percent of the 239 nonfederal NPL sites with unacceptable or unknown human exposure, all or more than half of the work remains to complete the remedial construction phase of cleanup…. By the end of fiscal year 2009, EPA had expended $3 billion on 75 sites with unacceptable human exposure and $1.2 billion on 164 sites with unknown exposure….

Historical amnesia

If We, the People, are unaware of this ongoing pollution so, too, have we lost sight of our history. How many Americans understand that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had almost nothing to do with the end of World War II? Rather, these horrific deeds positioned the U.S. so that we would not have to share influence with the Soviet Union and Asia; the A bombs were used to intimidate the Soviets for the post-war period.

The Emperor of Japan understood by 1944 that the war was lost. He changed governments and the mandate of the new Japanese government was to negotiate a peace treaty with the U.S. with a fundamental condition that the Emperor remain on the thrown and avoid a trial as a war criminal.

General, later President, Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed dropping the A bomb. “Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of ‘face’. It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Admiral William D. Leahy, Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against the Japanese…already defeated and ready to surrender. …in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was taught not to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying woman and children.”

J. Samuel Walker, Chief Historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that, while, experts continue to disagree on some issues…critical questions have been answered [among them that] “alternatives to the bomb existed and that [President] Truman and his advisers knew it.”

Yet, powerful forces within the U.S. continue to fight against the American people understanding this history. In 1993 the Smithsonian, for example, suggested the launch a major exhibit as an opportunity for people to understand more deeply the effects of the atomic bomb and to surface the circumstances surrounding its use. Controversy ensued for two years and included twenty-four members of Congress sending a letter on August 10, 1994 to the Smithsonian expressing “concern and dismay” that the planned exhibit portrays Japan “more as an innocent victim than a ruthless aggressor” in World War II.

The Smithsonian canceled the greater exhibit on January 30, 1995 and began work on a completely different plan, one that displayed only the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the bombs.

When even that trimmed down, more palatable exhibition finally closed in May 1998, it had drawn almost four million visitors. Imagine if the original exhibit had gone ahead as envisioned. Four million Americans would better understand how deeply enmeshed we are in war as a nation and a society. Perhaps then we would face real facts…and remove our sense of legitimacy in preparing for nuclear holocaust.

Voices in the wilderness

As Direction of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England and AFSC’ss National Disarmament Coordinator Dr. Joseph Gerson advances U.S. and international movements for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the ratification of the limited “New START” treaty. He served as co-convener of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review International Planning Committee, a network of 25 leading disarmament organizations created to help ensure a successful NPT Review Conference.

During this service a U.S. senator’s aide told Gerson that “the Bombing of Hiroshima was Right.”

“This,” he says, “just reflects enormous ignorance” sixty-five years after the cataclysmic events in Japan. “The reality is that each thermo-nuclear weapon today has the capability to kill far more people than were killed at Auschwitz. Yet, such genocidal, if not omnicidal weapons are the cornerstone of U.S. policies. It is in every American’s interest to understand this element in our society and to transform it.”

The opportunity is there. For the last 55 years there has been an annual international conference to commemorate what were, says Gerson, “war crimes and the memory of the victims of those war crimes..and to press for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

In in a recent Raising Sand Radio interview Dr. Gerson told of his first visit to Hiroshima twenty-five years ago. “I fully engaged with the pain of what happened there and with the ongoing damage, including genetic, from radiation.”

While there, however, he did not dream at all. After he returned to the U.S. his dreams resumed and, at first they were crowded with images of cinders and destruction. But, “The “waking image I had was of the colors and angles of the peace cranes – symbols of peace and affirmation of life.”

The letter versus the spirit of the law

The U.S. signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Essential elements of this, one of the seminal treaties of the 20th century, are that:

1) non-nuclear nations – excepting Israel, Pakistan, and India – commit not to obtain nuclear weapons;

2) nuclear nations promise they would a) provide technology and recognize the inalienable right of all nations to produce nuclear power for peaceful purposes and b) engage in good faith negotiations to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

When non-nuclear nations see the nuclear nations ignore this second promise (Article 6) they suggest it undermines their commitment when they are threatened by nuclear nations. So, despite President Obama’s rhetoric, the May 2010 conference saw the U.S. beat back the non-aligned and other non-nuclear nations pressing for a mandate that nuclear nations negotiate to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

As signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (the Senate has never ratified the CTBT) the U.S. abides by the letter of the law by following the moratorium on above-ground testing. It does not, however, abide by the spirit of the law when it tests nuclear weapons’ components, simulates explosions, and extrapolates the results to develop yet more deadly weaponry.

During May’s review conference the Arab League initiated a demand – followed by the non-aligned nations – toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel balked. Dr. Gerson said that the Obama Administration in not particularly interested in this either although if finally agreed to the demand in order to advance Obama’s larger strategies and to avoid the collapse of the conference. Israel finally agreed and is now named in the document.

Glimmers of hope

While it is dispiriting to see how little progress has been made toward a nuclear weapons-free earth in the sixty-five years perhaps one can take comfort in such micro increments. If Israel is finally named in the latest treaty document – despite the deep consternation within that country and within the American community for whom Israel can do no wrong – perhaps there is a glimmer of hope.

Moreover, Hiroshima is, today, a beautiful, modern city. And the Japanese – a community that knows deeply, genetically, the reality behind nuclear warfare – have a deep commitment to life and a peaceful world. Perhaps there is hope for humanity….

SUSAN GALLEYMORE is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host of Stanford University’s Raising Sand Radio, and a former “military mom” and GI Rights Counselor. She was born in apartheid South Africa, lived in Israel from 1975 to 1977, and visited again in 2005. Contact her at




SUSAN GALLEYMORE is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host of Stanford University’s Raising Sand Radio, and a former “military mom” and GI Rights Counselor. Contact her at