Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Can't We Say Sorry?

In Senate Resolution 330, the U.S. Senate has designated January 27, 2012 as "a national day of remembrance for Americans who, during the Cold War, worked and lived downwind from nuclear testing sites and were adversely affected by the radiation exposure generated by the above ground nuclear weapons testing."

The first nuclear test explosion at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles from Las Vegas, was conducted on January 27, 1951. The United States proceeded to conduct over 1,000 nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test Site over the next 40 years.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a resolution with the one line synopsis above was actually passed by this Senate. The U.S. government is admitting that people are adversely affected by nuclear weapons? Our nuclear weapons?

Then I read the full text of the resolution, and my shock turned to dismay. Here are the key lines in the full text:

Whereas the downwinders paid a high price for the development of a nuclear weapons program for the benefit of the United States; and
Whereas the downwinders deserve to be recognized for the sacrifice they have made for the defense of the United States

The downwinders certainly paid a high price for the development of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Families were torn apart by sickness, death, birth defects and the profound fear that the air they were breathing every day was killing them. 

Downwinders were not choosing to make a sacrifice for the defense of the United States; it was forced upon them. They are Native Americans whose families have been on that land for many centuries. They are farmers and ranchers committed to their work in that part of the country. They are poor people who could not have afforded to move to a safer part of the country even if they had been aware of the significant health risks associated with nuclear weapons testing in Nevada.

Here's how a real resolution would look if the Senators actually cared about the people who suffered the consequences of nuclear testing:

Be it resolved that:

(1) The Senate sincerely apologizes for the death, destruction and heartache caused by nearly five decades of nuclear weapons testing in Nevada, New Mexico, the Marshall Islands and other Pacific islands;

(2) The Senate will work to immediately ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which we unwisely rejected in 1999;

(3) The United States will fully cover all medical issues that arise in downwinders due to the U.S. nuclear testing regime and compensate them for their losses; and

(4) The United States will immediately commence a full environmental cleanup of the Nevada Test Site, Pacific islands and all affected communities.


  1. As a political science major, Senate resolutions often disappoint me, but this truly saddens me. Will we ever learn?

  2. Goodness, the Senate is admiting that nuclear weapons tests have hurt our own people? Mercy sakes, what's next, ratifying the CTBT so testing never happens again, anywhere in the world?

    If the Senate feels this way, they should have no problem with ratification.

    Bob Farquhar


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