No Immediate Danger

Soldiers observe bomb

Green Planet Monitor Podcast

GPM # 23

Seventy-eight years ago, on August 6, 1945, the US dropped a uranium-enriched fission bomb – ‘Little Boy’ – on the Japanese port city, Hiroshima.

Three days later, anxious to test their second innovative device before the war ended, they detonated a second bomb — a plutonium-triggered implosion device called Fat Man — over Nagasaki.

Why Nagasaki? Because Nagasaki lay in a bowl, surrounded by hills nuclear scientists figured would reflect neutrons. They wanted to check that out (listen to Glenn Alcalay here).

When the dust settled, a couple hundred thousand lay dead or dying. Most were civilians. Thousands more would sicken and die in the years to come.

America’s official rationale for dropping bombs on Japan: avoiding huge casualties a ground invasion of Japan would supposedly have incurred. Harry Truman’s non-mea culpa was immediately accepted by the American media and public.

The real reason would emerge in time: one-upping the Soviets, setting the stage for global supremacy, with the bomb as gold standard.

Gar Alperovitz has written a pair of books about the nuclear bombing of Japan. Alperovitz is a historian, political economist, activist and writer, and the author of two books about the nuclear bombing of Japan. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam was published in 1965.

His 1995 work, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, updated the story.

Alperovitz is also the co-founder of something called the Democracy Collaborative, a research centre on ecologically sustainable, community-based economics, and the Next System Project.

Listen to my conversation with Gar Alperovitz. Click on the play button on top, or go here.

‘Bravo Shot’ over Bikini atoll, the Marshall Islands, March 1, 1954

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just the start.

Building bombs would become a booming business for America and the other four ‘Permanent Members’ of the United Nations (the ones franchised to possess nuclear weapons and to threaten their use), Russia, China, the UK and France.

Nuclearism was a bonanza for the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’ of course, and for the Pentagon too. Each military service hustled for its own nukes. The Air Force had dropped their first two on Japan. Soon, the army had a growing arsenal of its own, mounted on missiles. So did the navy, to detonate at or below the surface of bodies of water.

Hungry for their slices of protection, prestige and power, a half dozen other countries developed smaller but equally deadly arsenals. Here’s a great song about that.

In the fields of the bomb, there was no shortage of profits to go around — digging up uranium in desolate, underdeveloped areas of the world inhabited by disenfranchised indigenous people; enriching it; selling it; designing warheads of the latest sort; testing nukes in the atmosphere or just below ground, spreading radionuclides all around the planet.

Power plants put the peaceful atom to work. Their radioactive wastes got dumped in the seas, buried or processed into fertilizer to be spread on farm fields.

Plutonium from spent fuel rods would be enriched and packed into warheads.

Untold numbers of nuclear workers and innocent bystanders would die in the course of all this atomic industriousness, especially islanders and other First Nations people.

Tens of millions more would perish (and continue to do so) in wars fought or engineered by the possessors of the ultimate weapon — the weapon that determines who wields bona fide power and who doesn’t.

This is something I produced back in 1986. In order of appearance: Rosalie Bertell was a Canadian-American anti-nuclear activist and authority on the health effects of ionizing radiation. Bertell, a sister of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, founded the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, in Toronto. Her book — No Immediate Danger – Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth — was published in 1985. In 1986, Bertell received the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Prize. Rosalie Bertell passed away in 2012.

You’ll also hear two voices recorded at the ‘Crimes of the Official Terror Network Tribunal’, a four-day popular summit organized by the Alliance for Non-Violent Action, in Toronto, in June 1988: Al Draper, a Royal Canadian Air Force serviceman, was one of many US and Canadian servicemen recruited to observe US nuclear bomb tests in the Nevada desert, to see how it affected them.

Ward Churchill was a professor at the University of Colorado at the time of this recording, and an activist with the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Donna Smyth was an English professor at Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and an anti-uranium mining activist. Smyth’s 1986 work, Subversive Elements — drawing on her experience opposing uranium mining in Nova Scotia in the early 1980s — was described at the time as “a multi-generic, postmodern, ecofeminist, Maritime novel.”

Thanks to Terre Roche, Robert Fripp and Peter Gabriel for their song Exposure (written by Gabriel). According to Ira Kantor at “Roche makes it clear the vocal you hear is not hers entirely as Fripp’s production expertise would elongate her voice to make it sound as if sustaining for several seconds. The album’s liner notes indicate her voice had been “fritched.””

Listen to No Immediate Danger. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Uranium mine tailings near Moab, Utah

Out of the ashes of World War Two, in response to Nazi and Imperial Japanese crimes (not American ones), four treaties were drafted, updating the laws of war. The four Geneva Conventions came into force in 1949, and would be ratified by 196 nations.

Thirty years later, in response to evolving war-fighting trends, two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions were drafted. Article 36 of the first Additional Protocol dealt with new weapons and methods of warfare.

“In the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare,” Article 36 reads, “a High Contracting Party is under an obligation to determine whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by this Protocol or by any other rule of international law.”

Today, Article 36 is cited as the basis for banning weapons that kill autonomously. Killer robots, in popular lingo.

It’s no joke. Robotic dogs (‘quadrupeds’) are now on the market. The New York Police Department uses them (two acquired for US $750,000), and Los Angeles City Council has reportedly ordered one of its own, for $278,000.

Robotic dogs have not been weaponized — yet.

Then there are drones that swarm, drop tear gas and shoot, and automated gun sentries that read faces.

Now, a UK-based NGO is calling for legal standards and bans. Article 36, they call themselves. Elizabeth Minor is an advisor for Article 36.

Listen to our conversation. Click on the play button on top, or go here.

Thanks to Dan Weisenberger for his virtuoso guitar instrumentals.