Ever since humanity discovered fire, they have been seeking ways to set their enemies on fire. Burning sticks became fiery torches. These torches became flaming arrows, and eventually someone discovered a powder that goes boom. Gunpowder ignited the imagination of our species, and we've been on a quest for the biggest boom ever since.
Albert Einstein, unintentionally, created the mathematical framework for our biggest boom yet. Splitting the atom was a revolutionary discovery that held the potential to solve the energy crisis. Instead, it was immediately militarized and used to build the strongest bomb in history.
Before the bomb could be used, it had to be tested. Nothing is more embarrassing than going to all the trouble of blowing up a city and then the bomb fails to make the boom.
That test not only included uninformed civilians living nearby, but also soldiers made to observe the nuclear explosions, unshielded. This is the story of the Atomic Veterans.
Trinity – The First Ever Nuclear Blast
Few moments in the history of war are more poignant than Robert Oppenheimer's words following the first nuclear explosion. He quoted a passage from the Bhagavad-gītā:
“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
The Trinity blast created by a bomb simply called the Gadget, exceeded all expectations. Releasing a blast the equivalent of 21,000 tons of TNT. The 100 foot (30 meter) steel tower upon which the Gadget had been placed was vaporized. Asphalt underneath the tower was turned to a green glass called Trinitite.
Residents of Alamogordo, New Mexico, were near enough to be effected by the radioactive wind from the blast. They were not evacuated, or even informed that a test would be occurring at 5:30am on July 16, 1945.
Several witnesses were blinded after looking directly at the explosion. Many more were effected by the radiation left by the blast.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki – The Clean-up
Soon after the Trinity test, the plan to drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities went ahead. Despite the war already winding down in Europe, the idea was that Japan would never surrender. The only logical solution was for the USA to drop their new toys on civilians.
Following the horrific damage caused by Little Boy and Fat Man, the Japanese government surrendered. Their emperor, Hirohito, admitted that he was not a god. American soldiers immediately occupied Japan, and inherited the devastation they caused with their nuclear weapons.
Luckily for US military officials, they had disposable soldiers. Three units of soldiers were sent to Nagasaki to clean up the destruction of the city. Two units went to Hiroshima. All told, around 255,000 soldiers were stationed in the irradiated wastelands which were once bustling cities.
Marine Corporal Lyman Eugene Quigley developed sores on his head and ears soon after returning from his deployment. His injuries were similar to those suffered by survivors of the attacks. Later he developed debilitating stomach ulcers and cancer of his fatty tissue.
Continued Experimentation – Human Life Has No Value
For the next 17 years, several governments experimented with the atomic bomb. They had so many questions. What happens to a person who sees the blast close-up? Do they go mad? Turn into CHUDs?
So they had no choice but to station live humans near their atomic bomb tests. Hundreds of nuclear blasts were witnessed up-close by American, British, French, Australian, Chinese, Russian, and New Zealanders.
These soldiers were told that there was no risk in participation. Signing a lifetime vow of secrecy was a totally normal thing to do. Everyone does it, it's like signing an indemnity form before getting on a mechanical bull.
One British Serviceman describes his experience as such. They were ordered to wear long pants, shirts with long sleeves, and a pair of blackout goggles. At just before 4 am they sat down on a football pitch with their backs facing the blast site. When the nuclear bomb exploded, the serviceman describes being able to see the rib cage of the man sitting next to him. He covered his eyes to stop the horrific vision, but found that he could see the bones in his hands and the blood pumping within.
No long term studies were conducted on these men following the 24 detonations they were exposed to over the course of 75 days. They, and their children, suffer from the effects of radiation exposure. Children of nuclear veterans are often born with severe deformities and autoimmune disorders. The veterans themselves are at a tremendous risk of developing cancer.
Investigation and Declassification
Atomic veterans tried to get financial support from the US Veteran's Administration. They were denied because, officially, they hadn't been exposed to much radiation at all.
The VA (Veteran's Administration) released a guide in the 70s for regional offices. This guide listed the cancers that the administration was willing to help veterans with. It didn't include the genetic damage, random tumors, or muscle diseases caused by radiation exposure. They refused to help with those cases.
Throughout the 70s, several servicemen testified before the US congress concerning their participation in the experiments. Finally, in 1988, the first compensation bill was passed. This bill allowed those affected to seek financial aid for the diseases they developed after deployment, even if they were deployed in peacetime. Many of the common types of cancer suffered by atomic veterans weren't included.
In 1994, the US president, Bill Clinton, launched an official investigation into the atomic veterans and the tests that they endured. He apologized for the tests in 1995. Apparently it didn't take very long to ascertain how bad things were.
The next year, in 1996, the US congress repealed the Nuclear Radiation Secrecy Agreement Act, which declassified the veterans' experiences. Atomic veterans could now freely speak about what happened.
Too bad most of them had died already.