The Fallout

July 16, 2017
Posted in Blog
July 16, 2017 Editor

The Fallout

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July 10, 2017

In St. Louis, America’s nuclear history creeps into the present, leaching into streams and bodies.

photo above: For the first three months, the AEC didn’t own the property onto which it was dumping. The drivers worked for an independent company; one, Tom Greene, was a navy veteran of the war. None of them were told what they were transporting, but six or seven days a week from the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s they transported from the downtown plant to the airport property anyway. The barrels were left exposed to the elements for decades, and the waste leaked into the ground, and into nearby Coldwater Creek. The creek runs through hundreds of miles of subdivisions — including Hazelwood, Florissant, and Ferguson — before it reaches the Missouri River, which joins the Mississippi River, which runs out to the sea. Soil all along the creek has tested positive for radiation contamination, and the Army Corps of Engineers is currently in the process of remediating backyards, parks, and gardens all along the creek. Source: Army Corps of Engineers.

WN: The story told in the long article highlighted below is beyond tragic. Homo lupus homini — Man is wolf to man.


“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” President Obama’s speech in Hiroshima begins. It’s May and he’s standing next to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a podium in front of the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. His choice of words is interesting, as if death arrived in Japan that morning of its own volition. As if the United States government didn’t have everything to do with it.

“A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city,” he continues, “and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.” But at that point, in August 1945, there was only one government in the world that had succeeded in generating a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, only one military with an atomic weapon, only one aircraft that opened its bay doors on the morning of August 6 over Hiroshima and dropped a fission bomb containing 141 pounds of uranium, which fell for forty-three seconds before incinerating several square miles of a city and every person, animal, and structure in it.

Three days after Hiroshima, after the Japanese refused to surrender sovereignty to the US government, Bockscar dropped a plutonium bomb over a small community in the Urakami River Valley. A ring of fire spreading outwards for miles from the hypocenter became a ball of fire, and then a pillar of fire rising forty-five thousand feet into the air.

When Japan surrendered on August 14, Life magazine reported that people across the United States celebrated without reservation, “as if joy had been rationed and saved up for the three years, eight months and seven days” since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two million people from all over New York flocked to Times Square, where they kissed and drank and danced in conga lines through the street. Scraps of cloth snowed down from windows in the garment district onto people parading below. In Chicago, enormous crowds flocked to the Loop and celebrated with wild abandon.

In St. Louis, the news came over the radio at 2:30 a.m. Bar owners rushed to re-open, and the parents of deployed soldiers tapped kegs in their front yards, pouring beer for their neighbors into pails and buckets. Those who bothered to go to work the next morning threw reams of paper out the windows of office buildings and then descended the stairs to dance through the piles of paper in the street. Impromptu parades sprung up all over the city.

At the Mallinckrodt plant in downtown St. Louis, workers were given the day off. For many of them it was only the second or third day off since they’d begun purifying uranium for a project with a strange name and a secret purpose. Only as they joined the celebrations did they understand what that purpose had been.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all the Mallinckrodt workers got these gold pins to show they had worked on the atomic bomb. Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent these to anyone who had worked on the bomb as an honor to their service. Source: St. Louis Rad Waste Legacy.

Uranium, thorium, Agent Orange, dioxin, DDT. I am thinking of all the ways our government has poisoned its citizens as I board the plane that will take me back home. The sky grows darker; blue gives way to purple, to red and orange near the horizon. I read recently about a housing project in St. Louis, the infamous Pruitt-Igoe, where the government sprayed nerve gases off the roof to see what effect it would have on the people living there—testing it for its potential use as a weapon in war.

“On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal,” President Obama says during his speech at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. “Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.” At no point during this speech does he apologize for what some have called a war crime. The closest he comes is this: “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

A 2005 Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans still approve of the dropping of bombs on Japan. Admittedly, this is down from near-total approval in August 1945, but it’s hardly a “moral revolution.” One factor in the decision to use the bomb was that their destructive power would end the war and save American lives—some estimated as many as a million American soldiers would have perished in a ground raid on Japan. Does saving one life require taking another? Must they both be soldiers, loyal to their countries and their neighbors? After Nagasaki was bombed, a woman walked through the burning streets asking for water for her headless baby. A four-year-old boy burned alive under the rubble of his crushed house was crying out, “Mommy, it’s hot. It’s so hot.” President Truman called this bombing an “achievement” in his solemn radio broadcast from the USS Augusta: “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.”

In the last few months of his term President Obama was reportedly considering the idea of adopting a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons—an official promise that we would only use them in response to an attack by our enemies—but ultimately his advisors talked him out of it, arguing that it is our responsibility to our allies to maintain the illusion of ultimate power. Now that we have a new president with access to the nuclear codes we must face the consequences of projecting, and protecting, that illusion.

There are about sixteen thousand nuclear warheads in the world right now, enough to destroy the planet many times over. The United States and Russia own 90 percent of these, and though various treaties prevent them from making additional weapons, both are working to modernize the bomb-delivery systems they do have. The US government recently approved a plan to spend one trillion dollars over the next thirty years to make our arsenal more modern, accurate, and efficient.

One trillion dollars. This number is staggering, not least of all because one factor—a minor one but still a factor—deterring the EPA from fully excavating the radioactive waste created by the program that developed these nuclear weapons in the first place is how much it will cost. Maybe as much as $400 million. That’s a lot of money for an EPA project. Budgets are not so simple that one government program—like the Department of Defense—could direct money to another, but the fact that they are not does makes our priorities apparent.

Even if every gram of radioactive waste were removed from the landfill, where would it go? There are facilities in Idaho and Utah willing to accept it. But those facilities are located in communities, or near them, and those people don’t want this waste in their backyards or their gardens or their rivers or their drinking water either. Even if we box it up and send it in train cars to remote places, it will be there, ready and waiting to kill any of us long after we’ve forgotten where we put it, or what “it” even is.


“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity?” Rachel Carson asks in Silent Spring. Nothing is sacred, or safe, or protected. As a species we have evolved to recognize threats to survival: plants we cannot eat, animals we should not approach, places we cannot safely go. Fear of the other is perhaps an enduring trace of this ancient instinct: that barbaric impulse to attack and destroy anyone different from ourselves, anything we do not understand. But increasingly it seems our ability to invent technologies that destroy one another has evolved faster than our ability to survive them. Carson asks: “Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”

Not all radiation is fatal. Radiation is around us always, and each of us are exposed to radiation on a daily basis: from the sun, from the dirt, from sources we would never think to suspect. We ourselves are a source of radiation, since each of us also contains radioactive elements we carry inside our bodies from birth. Throughout our lives we are constantly irradiating one another, not only with charged microscopic particles but also with suspicion and fear and blame. We find infinite directions in which to project our rage and bewilderment and grief.


“Do you ever think about just walking away?” I asked Dawn Chapman recently. She’s just learned that her own daughter has developed a tumor on her salivary gland. It’s not cancer, the doctors say. Not yet.

“I don’t know. I dream,” she answers. “This weekend my husband and I dropped the kids off with my family and drove around and dreamed for a while about what it would be like to walk away. But I don’t know how to walk away from it even if I wanted to, knowing what I know about what’s going on, how it’s hurt people. In the end, I’m not even fighting to win. And even if we could win, a win isn’t what you think it is. A buyout isn’t a win because we could move but this poison would still be inside us.”

For Karen, winning means the government finally caring for its citizens like it has always promised it would. “I am shattered. I am broken,” she says. “And now my children and my grandchildren have those chances of being sick as well. Our human rights are being violated and it has to stop. It has to stop here.”


As the plane lifts off the ground, I open the tiny window shade to see, one last time, that familiar green that never fails to make some bell in me ring. This place has always been a confluence of things, like the two rivers that converge just north of the city, where the glaciated plains meet the Ozark Highlands, where an eroded mountain range called the Lincoln Hills rises now only a few hundred meters above the alluvial floodplain, all of it pushed into place by the Laurentide Ice Sheet half a million years ago. All of it divided into neat rectangles and squares by city streets, subdivided, fenced into single lots—as if a few planks of wood and slabs of concrete could isolate any one place from the world.

We are all connected. The rivers and streams and tiny creeks wind through the city and go on winding. They twist and bend and run backward on themselves, changing course and direction a thousand times over the ages. The water swells and leaves its banks with the seasons, swells into the streets we build, and our backyards and gardens, into the places we never think of because we do not want to see them: our landfills, our factories, our toxic dumps, all of the remote places we send our worst creations. There is no fence to keep it all out. The disaster that approaches is ourselves.

Lacy M. Johnson

Lacy M. Johnson is a Houston-based professor and activist, and is author of the memoirs The Other Side (Tin House, 2014) and Trespasses (University of Iowa Press, 2012). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, Los Angeles Times, Dame, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, TriQuarterly, Gulf Coast, GOOD, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her third book of nonfiction, forthcoming from Scribner. She teaches creative nonfiction in the Low-Residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and at Rice University.

Please click on: The Fallout

  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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