Robert ‘Bo’ Jacobs was brought up under the shadow of nuclear war. A world expert on the cultural and social impacts of radiation, he lives and works in Hiroshima. Julio Godoy caught the chance of an interview … and discovered that nuclear war is still going on today – in slow motion.
First you will see the bright flash
Back in the early 1960s, Jacobs learnt at school that “The first thing we would perceive (on a nuclear attack) would be the bright flash of the detonation. Teachers told us to always be prepared for this flash and to take shelter.
“I remember going home that day and sitting on the steps in front of my house in suburban Chicago and just sitting there for an hour waiting for the flash.”
This dreadful experience marked Jacobs’ life, for it led his studies and professional life towards analysing the consequences of the nuclear age on humankind.
War in slow motion
“We live through a slow motion nuclear war”, he says, referring to the sheer amount of nuclear and radioactive material stored across the world, which will be part of the global ecosystem for millenniums to come.
As professor at the Hiroshima City University, Jacobs spends most of his time in one of the two cities (along with Nagasaki) destroyed by nuclear annihilation in the final phase of World War II (1939-1945). He is a privileged witness of the social and psychological responses of society to such a tragedy.
Furthermore, the nuclear accident of Fukushima (in March 2011) has given him again a excruciating opportunity to analyse social, psychological, and bureaucratic reactions to such catastrophes.
‘Second class citizens’
What other humanitarian consequences has the catastrophe provoked?
RJ: There is almost no way to calculate this. Many families have divorced over conflicts about whether to move or to stay, whether to eat local food or not. Many children are unable to play or spend time outdoors because of contamination.
Many wear dosimeters that record their exposures (they don’t alert the children to the presence of radiation, merely record the exposures for later diagnostic purposes) and they will grow up with a sense of being “contaminated.”
Children in families that move away have been experiencing bullying and discrimination. Many people have no idea if they have been exposed to radiation, but are aware that they have been lied to repeatedly; about whether they will be able to return to their homes, about the dangers of radioactivity, about nuclear power in general.
My work with radiation exposed people around the world has shown that those exposed to radiation often become “second class citizens.” They are shunned, they are lied to, they are observed for medical information but rarely informed of this information, and they are marked as contaminated for the rest of their lives. In this way they are denied the dignity that other members of the same society expect.
Now to nuclear weapons: Western countries in possession of the bomb have over the years carried out experiments in faraway locations, in Oceania, in the North African deserts, not near London or Paris … It is an extraordinary abuse, and yet such countries have never been made accountable for the damages they have caused…
RJ: I view nuclear testing as linked to military colonialism. Nuclear powers tend to test in the far reaches of their military empires and contaminating people with little political power or agency to protect themselves.
As is true in general, colonialists rarely have to face any consequences for their exploitation. This is an extension of the brutalization of the colonized by the colonizer.
When we look at the history of colonialism, the British have entirely retained the great wealth that came from the slave trade. When the French lost Haiti, Haiti was forced to pay compensation to the French for their “loss.”
In the case of the nuclear powers, we can see this dominance both sustained and rewarded. Consider the Security Council of the United Nations, its five permanent members are the first five nuclear powers.
Obtaining nuclear weapons has earned them a permanent veto over “lesser” countries. Those exposed to radiation from nuclear weapon testing have almost never been given any health care or compensation for loss of life or the contamination of land and food sources. It is criminal.
Read more at We are still fighting a slow nuclear war