August 29th marks the international day against nuclear testing. Today is a chance to remember all of those who have suffered during the race to build, perfect, and demonstrate the audacious megalomaniacal ability to destroy every living thing. Today is a day that the United Nations, at the urging of one of the most heavily bombed nations- Kazakhstan- has dedicated to remember the countless victims of nuclear testing.
For me, this day has special resonance. When I began my journey into the nuclear resistance world, I was guided by someone who came from the most bombed nation on earth. I was fortunate enough to work with Corbin Harney, a leader from the Western Shoshone nation- Newe Sogobia. The Western Shoshone have, and continue to resist the use of their traditional homeland for nuclear testing.
I learned stories about the how on-continent nuclear testing began when I lived in Nevada in the late 1990s. I learned about the way that these indigenous people were removed from their home at gunpoint. I learned about how a fever took over the surrounding area- how people would get up early and drive out of the Las Vegas valley so they could watch the bombs go off. I met people who, as children, were thrown from their beds by the aftershocks of these blasts. I met downwinders….
For a time, I was traveling around the rural desert countryside encouraging people to attend environmental impact hearings for a planned nuclear waste dump. I will never forget meeting a woman from Caliente Nevada. This woman had lived in Caliente (population just over 1,000) her entire life. She was a schoolteacher, at the same elementary school where her father had been principal. She loved children, and always wanted to have them, but after 17 miscarriages realized that she would never have any of her own. You see, the Nevada Test Site (now called the Nevada National Security Site) was located directly west, or upwind, of her hometown.
She recalled a story ‘shot’ gone wrong. A nuclear test accident occurred, and her father as principal of the school was called by test site workers. He was told that there was a risk of earthquake, and he should evacuate the children from the school- it might collapse. He did so, and they went into the schoolyard.
As the children came into the yard, the ‘air got sparkly’. It was mesmerizing. Two of her classmates were albinos, and when the air cleared, were covered in bruises. One died of leukemia a few years later, many others have been sick throughout the years.
This is just one of the many stories of victims of nuclear testing. There are thousands, thousands of others. Women giving birth to boneless babies in the Marshall Islands, cancer clusters around every site nuclear weapons exploded; people displaced and forced from their homes to make nuclear bombs and demonstrate their prowess.
These memories, these stories, encourage me to act. You can find more stories here:
Corbin Harney, Western Shoshone Spiritual Leader
Eugene and Zenna Mae Bridges on the exposure of Downwinders to radioactive fallout.