I am a child of the nuclear age.
My father was a radiologist. He witnessed the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki. He wrote the first paper that appeared in the American literature about the effects of the bomb. He documented the injuries to the bone marrow and to the skin. He noted that the thermal injuries to the skin felt warm, but radiation injuries to the skin felt cold.
My father was left with the 1,000-yard stare characteristic of people who have been exposed to trauma, as were so many other members of the Greatest Generation, the victors of World War II. They were advised to go home and keep secrets; they were to be silent. Those with severe moral and physical injuries filled the beds of the VA across the nation for decades.
My father died of a brain tumor, as did my older brother. I suspect they were radiation-induced.
Between 1945 and 1980 the U.S. had 330 above-ground nuclear tests, both in the U.S. and the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. There were the ‘down winders” of Utah. The radiation was also carried by the wind to the east, and much of the radiation “fallout” fell with the rain into the Mid-West, the bread basket of the country. Children were ordered to play indoors. Cattle could not graze in the fields.
In Connecticut, my father would watch the clouds go by. When he learned that the entire country was contaminated with strontium 90, we switched to powdered milk; it had an awful taste but was apparently safe.
We have been destroying both ourselves as well as the environment with the development of our nuclear arsenal. There has been injuries where radioactive ore has been mined, such as the Sioux Indian Reservation in the Dakotas. The processing and enrichment of the ore has lead to superfund sites in Hanford, Washington.
The consequences of radiation exposure, including cancer, vascular disease, and birth defects, persist long after the exposure is over. Untold numbers have suffered and died. This destruction is occurring in a state of peace.
For love of the world and its continuation I believe we must renounce the use and further development of nuclear weapons before we destroy ourselves.
Andrew Larkin, MD, lives in Northampton.
Read more at My Turn: ‘Renounce the use and further development of nuclear weapons’