Saturday, February 25, 2012
Nuclear Savage: The Islands of Secret Project 4.1 
Nuclear Savage (directed by Adam Jonas Horowitz) is a pointed and poignant documentary about the pacific islanders of the far-flung Marshall Islands where the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the late 1940s-though the 1950s. The documentary played recently at the Peace on Earth Film Festival held at the Chicago Cultural Center between Feb 23-26, 2012.
The accusation of the documentary is that the U.S. government purposefully used these Pacific Islanders as de facto human guinea pigs to the study the effects of nuclear contamination on people.
The accusation is based on a protocol (Project 4.1) written-up six months prior to a massive nuclear test (Bravo) in the Marshall Islands. The protocol outlined a procedure of how to study the effects of radioactive contamination on people. Six months later, the Bravo test did, in fact, contaminate the Rongerik Atoll of the Marshall Islands along with its residents. The U.S. Navy then took its time, several days, to evacuate the residents of this Atoll by which time the residents were already thoroughly contaminated by the radioactive fallout.
The U.S. government has always maintained that the contamination of the Rongerik Atoll and its population was "an accident," the result of a sudden change in wind-direction in the hours just before the test. The islanders and their advocates have maintained that by the U.S. weather service's own records the U.S. government knew of the change in wind direction and made the decision to go along with the test anyway.
My own sense would be that while _perhaps_ the irradiation/contamination of the residents by the blast was nominally "an accident," it was one that was more or less obviously foreseen by the U.S. government that eventually there would be such an "accidental exposure" of the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and hence why the government already had a protocol to "study the victims" of such an "accident" even before it occurred. That is to say that even if the islanders had not been irradiated and contaminated by that particular nuclear test, then probably _others_ would have been irradiated/contaminated by another one...
In any case, the effects of the irradiation and contamination were devastating. Surviving islanders interviewed in the film described bouts with cancer, leukemia, and horrendous, horrendous birth defects -- "My first child was born looking like a sack of grapes. My second was born without muscles or bones. He was like a jellyfish. Both died within a day of birth," reported one woman. Another reported giving birth to a child whose appendages "looked more like the fins of a sea turtle than arms or legs." Another reported giving birth to a "child who you couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl, but had a tail." All died early.
Worse, in 1957, the evacuated residents of the Rongerik Atoll were forced to return to live on the island even though the government knew it remained highly contaminated. And the cancers/birth defects continued. The Islanders were finally evacuated in the 1980 a second time -- by Green Peace -- but as of 2011 they were being forced (under the current Obama Administration) to once more return to their island to live there or risk have their compensations cut off. Needless to say ... the Islanders don't want to go back.
What a nightmare and what terrible things happen when sin occurs "far away," "in darkness," when "no one is looking".
A note about the title, Nuclear Savage. The title is taken from actual language used by U.S. scientists in 1950s era newsreels describing these poor people who had their islands blown-up and contaminated by American nuclear tests while _nobody_ except Christian missionaries actually cared about them.
Indeed, most of those "Savages" (1) contaminated by the Bravo test and evacuated sometime afterwards, (2) forced later to return, (3) evacuated once more, and now (4) being forced to return again to the contaminated Rongerik Atoll WERE CHRISTIANS ALL ALONG. Among the ruins on the contaminated and abandoned island are the ruins of a Christian church and a Christian cemetery....
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