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Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Forgetting Fukushima


By lisa savage - Posted on 07 August 2012

I had a dream in early summer, one I suspect I'll always remember. I was the passenger in a car with an old high school friend at the wheel, which might explain why he was humping my leg and I was pushing him away in the opening scene. Next the car began to roll forward carelessly, and I perceived that we were at the edge of a grand canyon vista of reddish layers of earth, eroded, beautiful and vast. I called out in alarm and my classmate applied the brake; he wasn't much concerned, he had it under control. Moments later we were rolling again and I repeated the alarm, now scrambling my foot over to the brake pedal, my hand upon the wheel as the car teetered on the edge, dipping forward in its dance with gravity, flooding my view with menacing, beckoning beauty. 
 
We surpassed the tipping point, and the car began to fall. At the same instant I gave up the struggle and heard my inner voice say, without regret, I had a good life. The car fell gently, and I checked out before impact. A final scene consisted of meeting with bewildered elders in a place nearby; they weren't there to assign blame, but they genuinely wanted to know how I could have let it happen.
 
In Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step Cecile Pineda has delivered a poetic, profound meditation on the slowly unfolding death of the natural world by man-made radiation. She's not the only one who sees it, but she's in a very small group of people currently alive on the planet who are able to face annihilation without blinking. Oprah will likely not be picking up her book, but I will be finding Pineda's novels (Face, The Love Queen of the Amazon, Frieze) to read as we coast downhill toward oblivion.
 
When I remember Hiroshima (the first place destroyed with nuclear weapons 67 years ago yesterday) and Nagasaki (the second place destroyed by a different type of nuclear weapon 67 years ago) I can't help but continue to remember Fukushima. Here I think in terms of a table or chart juxtaposing what my fellow citizens think they know about these far off places with names difficult to pronounce, and what I think I know about places I visit only in my mind.

 

Place in Japan What U.S. citizens “know”
What I “know”
Hiroshima

広島市
Bombing it saved untold numbers of U.S. lives by making a ground invasion of Japan unnecessary Japan was already negotiating for surrender, and had long since lost the war; their economy was so crushed that they were building kamikaze planes without landing gear in order to save yen; President Truman said: we have spent so much money building these weapons, we have to use them.
Nagasaki

長崎市
The Japanese still didn't surrender after Hiroshima, so we had to show them we weren't kidding. We were in too much of a rush to allow three days for Japan to react to Hiroshima with unconditional surrender; we were testing a completely different type of nuclear weapon; we were making an example of Japan so the Russians, the Chinese, and anybody else would think twice before challenging our power to destroy.
Fukushima

福島市
The nuclear plant failure was caused by a tsunami, it contaminated a rural area right around the plant, and it's all under control now. Radiation alarms went off when the earthquake hit, hours before the tsunami; the Mark I Boiling Water Reactors at Fukushima have a design flaw that dooms them all to fail eventually due to containment vessels that grow brittle; General Electric made them and sold them to Japan following the Marshall Plan economic buildup of Japan as a de facto colony/aircraft carrier of the U.S.; TEPCO has successfully argued in court that it has no liability for the radiation released by Fukushima's venting; the radioactive plume continues to unfurl across the skies and in the oceans of the Northern Hemisphere; Reactor #4 is still in critical state and, if its fuel rods go, Earth could become uninhabitable by humans for 4.5 billion years or so; President Obama takes huge campaign contributions from the nuclear power industry, and continues to budget tax-funded expansion of both weapons and nuclear power production; the U.S. quietly stopped monitoring radiation levels on the West coast, and agreed not to ban any food from Japan, post-Fukishima; women and especially mothers and grandmothers in Japan hold daily protests against the use of nuclear power which are almost never reported in the mainstream press in the U.S.
The Guardian July 30, 2012 ran this photo with the caption Protesters hold placards and shout slogans as they march to form a 'human chain' around Japan's parliament in Tokyo, to demonstrate against nuclear power plants. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
Pineda uses Fukushima as a jumping off point to make a convincing case that production of nuclear fuel for whatever purpose is effectively conducting war on the living inhabitants of the world. She acknowledges that a culture built on attending to the shiny surface of things is designed to overlook: The hundreds of thousands of nameless Russians who died burying Chernobyl. The fact that your government makes weapons out of depleted uranium, weapons that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other places, creating soil and dust that produces human fetuses so deformed they are not recognizably human. The fact the U.S. is full of G.E.-built Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, many sitting on top of seismic faults, others sitting right on the shoreline of the Pacific or Atlantic region of Earth's one ocean. 
 
The fact that, if you're my age, you can probably no longer count the people you've known who survived, or did not survive, cancer. Cause and effect break down when cause is an invisible, tasteless, odorless substance that takes longer to break down than does the human body.
 
Pineda suggests reading Greg Palast's Vulture's Picnic for a more detailed examination of the central nuclear industry truth, "it turned out that fixing the regulators was cheaper than fixing the problem." In case you want to know why your government uses your own money to kill you for the profits of a few. Pineda herself is more interested in examining the details of who stops cooperating in the death-for-profit game. She quotes a farmer who helped bring a lawsuit to block yet another Japanese nuclear plant from starting up, Hatsumi Ishimaru: "Women are at the head of the anti-nuclear campaign because we value life more than economic gain."
 
Official pronouncements coached by top dollar public relations firms can steer public perception, but they cannot change facts on the ground. Pineda writes:
...it's conceivable that in the larger scheme, Mother Earth may be the "decider" notwithstanding her failure to be recognized by the government -- or any other government for that matter -- with the exception of the government of Bolivia.
If she has any hope left, it's riding on the rise of the global 99%. She quotes Takanobu Kobayashi, an activist who leads Japanese citizens in the relentless pursuit of life over death: "We do not trust the government anymore."

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