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Transcript: #23-98 Nuclear Hypocrisy: The U.S. and Atomic Tests
Phillip Babich: Welcome to Making Contact, an international radio program seeking to create connections between people, vital ideas and important information. This week on Making Contact:
Jacqueline Cabasso: The United States leads a small elite pack of declared nuclear weapons states who arrogate to themselves the right to posses and threaten to use nuclear weapons, while at the same time castigating any other would-be nuclear weapons state as a rogue.
Phillip Babich: In May, India detonated five nuclear bombs underground. That country’s neighbor, Pakistan, followed with several nuclear tests of its own. The United States, along with many other countries, reacted swiftly to denounce the blast. But even as U.S. officials scold India and Pakistan, the United States military continues to spend billions of dollars on nuclear weapons research and technology. I’m Phillip Babich, your host this week on Making Contact.
We begin our program with some background on the development of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan. Correspondent Michael O'Rourke traces the history of South Asia’s arms race, and examines Indian and Pakistani attitudes toward the bomb.
Homi Baba: A widespread atomic power industry in the world can necessitate an international society in which the major states have agreed to maintain peace.
Michael O'Rourke: Homi Baba, the founder of India’s nuclear program, was the chairman of the first International Atoms for Peace Program held in Geneva in 1955. Baba’s chairmanship symbolized not only India’s keen interest in atomic energy, but also substantial scientific achievement on the part of Indian scientists, including a 1928 Nobel Prize in Physics. But while India’s budding nuclear program may have had sufficient brain power, it lacked the sophisticated industrial power necessary to build nuclear class. The Atoms for Peace Program gave India access to Western technology. And it gave the still young nuclear industries of the West what they needed to grow: new markets. By the early 1960s Canada, the United States, and other countries had supplied India with the nuclear reactor and the ability to produce plutonium, nuclear fuel that can be used to build the bomb. But very few people in the West were worried about India’s nuclear program. India had pledged to use its new technology for peaceful purposes only, and Jawaharlu Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was an outspoken advocate for nuclear disarmament. Nehru’s foreign policy rested on non-alighment and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, especially China. But this policy didn’t last.
(m.) : India found the path of neutralism a hard one in a world torn by strife. Red China poured troops over her northern frontier, and India’s people mobilized to meet the threat.
Michael O'Rourke: China’s limited 1962 invasion of India to settle a border dispute, and China’s first nuclear test two years later, shattered the policy of peaceful coexistence. It also brought the first call for India to develop its own nuclear weapons.
Indira Ghandi: The entire nation rejoices in this historic event. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. We are proud of our own armed forces ...
Michael O'Rourke: In December 1971, India’s Prime Minister Indira Ghandi claimed a decisive victory over Pakistan in the third war between the two countries. The war resulted in Pakistan’s dismemberment and the creation of the new nation of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan. It all but eliminated Pakistan as a security threat to India, and left India in a stronger position than at any time since Independence. Ironically, it was near this time that India moved forward with its plan to conduct a nuclear test. On May 18, 1974, India became the sixth nation to conduct a nuclear test. Scientists sent the code message: "The Buddha is smiling," to New Delhi, indicating a successful test. India described it as a peaceful nuclear explosion. Most Indians reacted to the news with elation and enthusiasm. Radii Hazari is a lawyer in Bombay, and is a student of military history.
Radii Hazari: I remember my father woke me up and told me, "You know, India has exploded a nuclear bomb." Well, I was very thrilled. There was a great sense of pride and achievement that our boys have done it. And the fact that you have now gate-crashed into a very elite club, which now must salute India’s unsolicited entry into these exclusive premises.
Homi Sathna: Some countries didn’t like it, and some countries liked it. For instance, Pakistan did not, naturally that is to be expected for obvious reasons, because we are neighbors. U.S. did not, they didn’t want many more horses working out of the stables, so they didn’t like it.
Michael O'Rourke: Homi Sathna was the head of India’s Atomic Energy Commission at the time of India’s 1974 test. The test did create great concern in neighboring Pakistan. Pakistan’s own nuclear program was just barely under way at this point. Prime minister Zophikar Ali Bhutto, Benezir Bhutto’s father, started the programs after Pakistan’s disastrous defeat in the 1971 war with India. After India’s ‘74 test, the developed Western nations canceled assistance to not only India’s nuclear program, but also Pakistan’s. But the Western embargo didn’t stop Pakistan’s weapons program. In fact, it picked up speed after the Indian test. How did Pakistan, a relatively un-industrialized country, get what it needed? Pakistani politician Abida Hussein:
Abida Hussein: Beg, borrow, and steal. You know, we live in a world which is not very tidy, is it? Nobody’s systems are all that scientific. You have guys in your systems that are willing to sell just about anything. And if we have the money, somehow begged, borrowed, stolen, to buy, then we buy.
Michael O'Rourke: A Pakistani scientist Aku Khan, who was working abroad in a Dutch Unranium enrichment plant, did steal the plans for the plant, and brought them back home. Aku Khan is today the director of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pakistani bomb makers were also able to purchase embargoed machinery on the black market to construct the plant. Once the plant was finished it gave Pakistan the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons material. By 1979 Pakistan’s intentions were obvious and the United States Congress passed a bill to cut off aid to Pakistan unless it gave up its weapons program. But Pakistan forged ahead with its plans, and the U.S. aid dollars kept flowing throughout the 1980s.
Abida Hussein: Ours is a direct reaction to the India nuclear program. We cannot hope to attain parity with India in conventional defense. If we have five tanks the Indians will always have forty. If we have ten planes, they’ll always have a hundred. India is a country which is five time our size. So we just simply cannot afford to have parity in conventional defense. And if India has a nuclear program and we don’t...we fought three wars with India. India has dismembered us once already. You know, what does the international community expect?
Michael O'Rourke: By 1990, Pakistani defense planners were privately admitting that their country had the bomb and they were working out military strategies to use the new weapons. Sharon Bazari is the head of the department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Kaili Azum University in Islamabad.
Sharon Bazari: I personally think that the nuclear option is an extremely attractive option for Pakistan, and we would have a very viable military strategy based on counter-city targeting, not counter-force strategy. It will be aimed at the civilians in India.
(m.) India is driven purely by a lust to have status and prestige. It’s like the very poor man with a very expensive gold watch. And he hopes to be taken seriously by the other countries of the world because he’s got a gold watch. But meantime his clothes are in tatters, he’s totally malnourished, his children are dying of disease, and yet he thinks he’s going to get some kind of prestige out of it. This is absolutely crazy. India has stood for all kinds of principles. We are the ones who should say, "We have shown you we can make nuclear weapons. We are the first to voluntarily renounce this for all time." Think what an impact that would make!
Mian Avenal Hok: They are the same people across the border. They will not be Muslims, but they are still human beings. We have no enmity with them. It’s just a line, an invisible line between the two countries.
Michael O'Rourke: Mian Avenal Hok is an office manager in Islamabad.
Mian Avenal Hok: I have relatives in India. I have never gone across, but they have been here once or twice. I haven’t met all of them, but the few that I’ve met, they share the same feelings as I do. If today, the borders are opened, I think you will find half of India in Pakistan looking for their relations, and half of us Pakistanis in India looking for our relations over there. I’m not going to war.
Phillip Babich: You are listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. If you want more information about the subject of this week’s program, please give us a call. It’s toll-free, 1-800-529-5736. Call that same phone number for tapes and transcripts, or if you want to make a comment or a suggestion for future programs. That’s 800-529-5736.
Shortly after India conducted its underground nuclear test, correspondent Dennis Bernstein spoke with three long-time anti-nuclear activists. Anthony Guarisco is executive director of the Alliance of Atomic Veterans in the United States. He was a sailor in the U.S. Navy stationed at the Bikini Atoll in 1946, when the United States detonated two nuclear bombs. Jay Truman is the director of Downwinders, an organization that represents thousands of victims from the fallout of U.S. nuclear testing at the Nevada test site. And Jacqueline Cabasso is with the Western States Legal Foundation, which seeks to abolish nuclear weapons. This interview first aired on radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, just before Pakistan conducted its own nuclear test.
Anthony Guarisco: When I seen this explosion, it came home to me what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I could see how 55-65 thousand people could die in one and a half seconds. It was very awesome. When I seen the second explosion, which was on the water, I seen a target array of approximately 100 ships go up in the air like little toys. I seen the U.S. Arkansas go up about 200 feet in the air and come down in two pieces. I seen aircraft carriers just flinging around as if they were toys. We went back into the ground zero area immediately after each of the detonations, and I spent a total of 67 days in the Bikini lagoon within one mile of the epicenter. And I became ill after the second detonation, approximately four or five days after that. The second detonation I had symptoms similar to having a bad case of influenza. I had welts on my body, I broke out with welts, and it was scary for me. I was urinating blood, I was very sick. It lasted about seven to ten days at the very first, and then I began to feel a little better. I wasn’t the only one, other people on my ship were also feeling very sick. And for many, many years I thought that, well, certainly if there was anything wrong that surely they would let me know that. But I found out many years later that that’s not how it is. You know, the government and the U.S. military are not about to say anything about anybody who’s exposed to high levels or low levels of radiation. It was hard for me to come out of denial, to understand that I was dealing with people who really were not interested in anything else but waiting for me to die.
Dennis Bernstein: That is the voice of Anthony Guarisco. He’s the director of the Alliance of Atomic Veterans. But also on the telephone is Jay Truman. Jay Truman is the director of the Downwinders Organization. During the 1950s Truman grew up in Southern Utah where he watched mushroom clouds rise from the Nevada Test Site, about 110 miles to the west. I would like to get your earliest nuclear memories of being a downwinder. Tell us the initial impact of the tests, and how you came into... were born into this nuclear age.
Jay Truman: I was born in a little town called Enterprise, Utah, in December of 1951, testing had started in January of that year. And one of the first vivid memories I have was of going out with my father, where we had cattle west of town, and sitting on his knee in the early morning hours when it was pitch black, and looking off to the west and then watching the whole western sky light up in a purplish red color. And something I’d never seen, it was very frightening to me, and then a few minutes later the rumble would come over of the explosion, of the actual detonation come over. And a slight breeze a little bit later. It was something that I never forgot. It scared me a great deal. Shortly after that, we had a habit of going out and watching them. Probably over the years, 30 or 40 of them. Actually went out and watched the flash go over. They did them about 5 in the morning. By nine, nine-thirty, ten o’clock, we had this mountain west of town, we called flat top, it was a lava flow and it was flat on top and you’d see this pinkish gray cloud come up over that mountain. And on occasion it would actually come down right into the valley and hang like fog or a mist. You’d get the metallic taste in your mouth, kind of a tingling sensation on your skin. We had an old black Ford, and you could actually see the dust settle on that car, write your initials in it, which was the fallout. A few years later, people started to have problems. The first leukemia cases, then it was a virtual epidemic of cancer.
Dennis Bernstein: That was Jay Truman. He was a downwinder in Utah. He has now founded the Downwinders Organization. Also on the line with us is Anthony Guarisco, He’s the director of the Alliance of Atomic Veterans. And in the studio with us is Jackie Cabasso. Jackie Cabasso is executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation. She recently returned from international meetings in Geneva on Nuclear Nonproliferation. When you see the United States supposedly taking the lead to suppress any further expansion of nuclear weapons by putting pressure on India, what’s your first response.
Jacqueline Cabasso: It’s gross hypocrisy, that’s my first response. I don’t want to minimize the terrible impact of the Indian test. It’s an extremely dangerous development, and like most people I was completely horrified. But I also am very familiar with the history of the nuclear age, and particularly the current history in which the United States leads a small elite pack of declared nuclear weapons states who arrogate to themselves the right to posses and threaten to use nuclear weapons, while at the same time castigating any other would-be nuclear weapons state as a rogue. And India has, since 1954, when it first proposed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, always taken a very forthright and principled position on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. India is not a hypocrite in the sense that it has refused to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty because it believes rightly that that treaty is discriminatory, and that it in effect reinforces a sort of nuclear apartheid condition where there are nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots. They also made it clear that they would not join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, because when it was finally agreed to, in 1996, it was quite clear that once again the declared nuclear weapons states, the U.S., Russia, U.K., France, and China. had put in place other means of maintaining and improving their nuclear weapons without underground nuclear tests, so it amounted to another example of pulling up the ladder behind them. The current situation is that despite a sort of public amnesia on the dangers of nuclear weapons, while we sit here talking today, there are anywhere between eight and eleven U.S. ballistic, nuclear submarines patrolling the world’s oceans, ready to target any city on earth in a matter of seconds, and that’s the same rate as at the height of the Cold War. The Russian submarines are also out on patrol. They have officially been detargeted. All that means is that somebody has to press a button on a computer. It would take less that a second to target the preselected coordinates.
Phillip Babich: Anthony Guarisco, as I said earlier, you once told me that you believe that the atomic veterans were in fact the sacrificial lamb laid on the altar of the nuclear age. Well, we’re now going into another generation of the nuclear age. Are we all on this altar now? What are you thinking about all this in the context of the Indian explosions?
Anthony Guarisco: I’m thinking that right now all of us are atomic veterans. You know, the government has side stepped this Iodine 131 that happened over throughout the United States and throughout the world, Chernobyl. And you know, through this year and coming into next year, there’s no doubt in by mind that you’re going to hear of all the terrible things that this country, this government, has kept from the American people. The institutions that are supposed to be delivering the outcome of these exposures are refusing to release the data to the American people. It’s really terrible when you think about people dying from cancer in this country, and people have become so used to seeing it, that they seem to accept it. And as far as nuclear weapons, as far as we’re concerned, the bottom line about nuclear weapons is the bottom line of the profit margin. These people are tiptoeing around picking our pockets. I’m talking about the people in the nuclear industry. I’m talking about the people in the laboratories, the researchers. We are the victims, and these people are the profiteers. And as long as people refuse to accept the fact that we are being taken financially, these people will continue on.
Dennis Bernstein: What do you think is the first and foremost thing that people should be doing to influence, to change, to try and create a new era that’s non-nuclear.
Anthony Guarisco: I think what we have to do is stand up and just, together, make a statement that the abolition of all nuclear weapons is a requirement for human survival. I mean ‘Deterrent’ or ‘first strike’ is strictly there to keep the nuclear industry building more expensive weapons. And the fact is that we have seen what World War III will look like. We have seen the firestorm, we have been witness to the sacrilegious devastation that nuclear weapons put forth, and we have seen our brothers and our sisters die. Our brother and sister veterans die from being exposed to this terribleness.
Phillip Babich: Jackie Cabasso, give us your analysis of what needs to happen, what you think people should participate in.
Jacqueline Cabasso: Well, first of all I want to endorse Anthony’s very eloquent statements. I mean, he’s right. That’s what it boils down to. But I think that somehow we’ve got to use the Indian test as a wake-up call. And what I mean by that is, it’s a real challenge to us and to the American public generally to wake up from what General Butler has called the terror-filled, terror-induced amnesia that has gripped us for the last 50 years. We’ve got to come to grips with reality. Our government is spending 34 billion dollars a year on nuclear weapons and related activities right now. So how do you turn that into action? Well, I do think education is part of it. I think acknowledgment is part of it. Specifically, there is a very vibrant and growing international movement that’s just called the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which has drafted a wonderful eleven-point statement calling for, as its core, immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework. And with that treaty to be completed by the year 2000. There are more than 1000...well over 1000 non-governmental organizations in 75 countries now who are part of Abolition 2000. A model nuclear weapons convention has actually been drafted by a working group of the network. It has been submitted by Costa Rica and accepted as an official United Nations document, and is being circulated in the six official U.N. languages. And Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of Santa Rosa is about to introduce a resolution in the house supporting the model nuclear weapons convention, calling on the President to begin negotiations, on, multi-lateral negotiations, on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, and to inform the Secretary General of the United Nations about our progress. I think that is an excellent piece of legislation for people to get behind, to try to get cosponsors on. It is very concrete and is a very appropriate response to the Indian tests.
Phillip Babich: Jay Truman, what do you say to people? What do you say to keep yourself going and to keep your battle alive against nuclear weapons?
Jay Truman: Well, first of all I think it’s important to take a good look at what Anthony brought up. One point we haven’t mentioned, that is, that we’re all victims of this. Myself, I’m a Downwinder, but so are 160 million Americans who were alive during the time of atmospheric testing. Last summer the National Cancer Institute released a report that said that the Iodine from testing alone, one of 360 isotopes, it alone had resulted in 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer across the United States. When you take the amount of cancer, the amount of leukemia, the amount of breast cancer, death and illness from those other 359 isotopes, the toll of American lives is in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And I found it very interesting because we’ve just started a program where we’re going door to door into the areas where the heaviest fallout occurred. We’re starting right now in Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and the Dakotas. And it’s amazing that in those small rural farming communities, it’s the same identical story as in those small rural farming communities of Utah, Arizona, Nevada. There were no cancer cases, one or two, until the testing started, and then as he died, she died, they got sick, their kids having reproductive problems, they’ve got thyroid problems. That’s something the public needs to be told. It’s something they can understand. If faced with the truth, I don’t think the public will allow our politicians to give us the Nuclear Arms Race Round 2.
Phillip Babich: Jay Truman, of Downwinders. He was joined by Jacqueline Cabasso of the Western States Legal Fountain, and Anthony Guarisco, of the Alliance of Atomic Veterans. They were interviewed by Dennis Bernstein.
That’s it for this edition of Making Contact. a look at nuclear testing. Thanks for listening. I’m Phillip Babich.
If you want more information about the subject of this week’s program, call the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736. Call that same number for tapes and transcripts, or if you’d like to make a comment or suggestion for future programs. That’s 800-529-5736.
Making Contact is an independent production funded by individual contributors. We’re committed to providing a forum for voices and opinions not often heard in the mass media. Our national producer is David Barsamian, Phillip Babich is our managing producer, our senior advisor is Norman Solomon, Peggy Law is our executive director. Our theme music is by the Charlie Hunter Trio. For everyone at Making Contact, thanks for listening!