By promulgating its policy of nuclear deterrence abroad, and
by promoting nuclear energy at home, a series of United States governments
forgot what they stood for. They abrogated the moral principles on which this
republic was founded, and they betrayed the citizens that they were sworn to
These are serious charges. To sustain them, we must first
review the founding principles of the United States of America, and survey the
moral revolution in Western Europe and the new world, from which these
"The Wartime Defense" a Rebuttal.
What might the perpetrators of the "casualties" of
the atomic age have to say in their defense? What might they tell to the
surviving families of the Navaho Uranium miners and the "downwinders"
who resided in southern Utah and Nevada? Weve heard it many times:
"The loss of lives and property, caused by the development of atomic
energy, and the deception and secrecy of the government agencies, were most
unfortunate. And yet they were justifiable: after all, we were at war! And as we
all know too well, at times of national emergency, liberty and due process have
to be sacrificed, paradoxically, in the defense of liberty."
This excuse is unsupportable on its face. First of all, it is
an argument by analogy, for we were not, of course, literally "at
war." The "Cold War" was only metaphorically a "war."
The economic sacrifices and centralized power typical of wartime mobilization
were never proposed for the "Cold War," and for good reason: such
measures would never have been tolerated by the public. Even so, the huge
investments, and the arrogant abuses of power by the AEC and the military,
needed some justification, and so we were told of "the Communist
Menace." Information that has freely passed across the fallen "Iron
Curtain" since the fall of Communism, shows that this "menace"
was, in large part, an invention born of caution, xenophobia, investments, and
In economic and technological terms, "the Red
Menace," a it turns out, was a toothless tiger. True, in strategic terms,
the Soviets had the capacity to reduce our civilization to radioactive ruble.
But the threat could have been completely contained with only a fraction of our
retaliatory force. A far greater threat, to both sides, was the obscene scale of
nuclear armaments tens of thousands of warheads, piled upon each other,
resulting in a danger of war by miscalculation, technical failure, or mid-rank
derangement, that far exceeded the risk (if any) of a deliberate first-strike.
In short, the hypertrophic nuclear arms race was a result, not on any
"present danger," but of our mutual fears combined with a resulting
military-industrial complex which took on a life of its own. And before this
institutional and economic behemoth, the lives and liberties of ordinary
citizens and of our posterity were trampled.
The excuse that "we were at war" fails for more
fundamental reasons. For even in war, soldiers are informed of the hazards they
face. In fact, in especially hazardous wartime missions, volunteers are sought.
And throughout our history, not even soldiers in wartime have been made the
unconsenting subjects of medical experiments.
Furthermore, "national defense" would have in no
way been compromised by warning the citizens of Utah and Nevada beforehand of
the hazards of atmospheric testing, nor by adopting more circumspect safety
measures in the uranium mines and weapons manufacturing facilities. Nor would
"national security" have been compromised by compensating these
citizens and workers after the dreadful effects of their exposure to radiation
became apparent. In short, even if we concede the dubious defense of
"national emergency," the atomic officials were not without
alternatives to the assaults they mounted upon our own citizens.
Finally, the rationalization, "we were at war," has
no application to the development of "the peaceful atom." And yet, in
the development of commercial nuclear power, numerous anonymous lives were lost,
and many more lives and much property were put in peril, with the citizens
right to financial compensation constrained by the Price-Anderson Act.
No, the "national security" excuse will not survive
critical scrutiny. Instead, under the cloak of "national security,"
normal safeguards, checks and balances, and legal redress, were all swept aside,
as the combined force of institutional, economic, technological and career
imperatives ran roughshod over the lives and property of our innocent and
unconsenting fellow citizens. In the name of "defending" our own
people and our free institutions, the atomic establishment assaulted our
citizens and subverted those institutions.
At War With Ourselves
When, in the remote future, historians list the
accomplishments of great civilizations, they will take special note of the
philosophy of classical Greece, the political institutions of the Roman Empire,
the art of Renaissance Italy, and the literature of Imperial Russia. And they
will note, as the greatest accomplishment of the American civilization, the
realization in Law of the political ideas of liberty, equality, inalienable
rights, all based upon a recognition of the innate dignity and value of the
Immersed as we are in this tradition, we too easily forget
how rare and fragile are these cherished institutions rare, both in history
and among contemporary societies, and vulnerable to assaults from outside and
The ideals of our founding documents come from many sources.
And it was our very great fortune to have established our nation at that most
opportune time in history that has come to be called "the Age of
Enlightenment," and to be founded by individuals well-verse in the thought
of Rousseau, Monstesquieu, Locke, and other illustrious thinkers of the European
The Declaration of Independence, and later the Bill of
Rights, issue from a fundamental assumption (proclaimed at the same time by the
moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant), that deliberative, rational beings possess
an intrinsic worth and dignity that can not legitimately be violated for any
demands of convenience or status or office that liberty is only legitimately
curtailed in the name of the like liberty of others or in the defense of
liberty. And that, in the words of the contemporary philosopher, John Rawls,
"each person possesses and inviolability founded on justice that even the
welfare of society as a whole cannot override."
While these ideas and ideals are familiar to all of us, they
are worthy of reiteration as we reflect upon the political consequences and
implications resulting from the introduction and development of nuclear weaponry
and power. And as we review the sad chronicle of usurpations and violations
which have been brought on by the atomic [and defense] establishments, and the
legitimate complaints of aggrieved citizens against their government, we find a
melancholy parallel with the complaints of the American colonists against King
In the latter half of the Declaration of Independence a
portion rarely cited Thomas Jefferson lists a bill of complaints against the
English Crown. While many of these complaints are peculiar to that time and
circumstance, others ring true in the context of the history of the atomic age.
"[The Sovereign] has refused his Assent to Laws,
the most wholesome and necessary for the public good...
"He has affected to render the military
independent of and superior to the Civil Power...
"[He has deprived] us in many cases, of the
benefits of trial by Jury...
"[He has taken] away our Charters, abolishing
our most valuable Laws and alter[ed] fundamentally the Forms of our
"[He has suspended] our own Legislatures, and
declared Himself invested with power to legislate for us in all cases
"He has abdicated Government here, by declaring
us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
"He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts,
burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."
In this last indictment, substitute for "seas" and
"coasts," "our land (above and below surface), our atmosphere,
our gene pool, and the parallel becomes painfully compelling.
Might not these complaints against the British Crown have
been made, just as validly, against the atomic establishment, but the victims of
unprotected uranium mining, fallout, genetic mutations, and by future
generations, still to be contaminated with the by-products of nuclear mining and
The Nuremberg Code
Not only were the political ideals of liberty, equality and
human dignity enshrined in our founding documents, these documents have, in
turn, been echoed in the constitutions of many emerging nations, and they have
inspired such manifestos as "The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights," and "the Nuremberg Code" of 1946.
In view of the assaults by the atomic establishment upon our
citizens, it would be useful to quote relevant sections of the Nuremberg Code.
"[In experiments with human subjects] the
voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.... There
should be made to him the nature, duration and purpose of the experiment;
the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and
hazards reasonably to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person
which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment. the duty
and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon
each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment...
"No experiment should be conducted where there
is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will
During the course of the experiment the scientist in
charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he ha
probably cause to believe ... that a continuation of the experiment is
likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental