FEBRUARY 23, 2005
Mary Dickson, 801 232-3471
Preston Truman, 208 766-5649
LAS VEGAS -- February
23 -- Downwinders from across the West have denounced
Sunday’s grand opening of the Atomic Testing Museum in
downtown Las Vegas as nothing more than a monument to
The Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Desert Research Institute in association with the Smithsonian Institute toestablish the museum, which the foundation says will consolidate and preserve atomic testing history and artifacts.
Downwinders, however, charge that the museum excludes the largest group of participants in the four-decade testing program – the tens of thousands of Americans living downwind who developed cancer and other fallout-related illnesses. They also question why taxpayer dollars were spent on the museum and why the Smithsonian participated in a project that celebrates nuclear testing and denies its far-reaching consequences.
“This is the biggest propaganda con job on those living downwind since the Atomic Energy Commission published their little green book on the atomic tests in Nevada after they got caught in public with the lethal fallout from the 1953 shot Harry,” says Downwinders Director Preston Truman of Malad, Idaho, referring to the booklet that assured the public "there is no danger" and urged them to "participate in a moment of history" by watching the tests.
“Where,” asks downwinder Darlene Phillips of Bountiful, Utah, “are the exhibits to the victims of the Cold War? They once called us a ‘low use segment of the population.’ Apparently, we’re such a low-use segment, we don’t even exist and don’t deserve a place in history. The Cold War was no different from any other war. There are always people killed by friendly fire. Those of us who lived downwind and have buried far too many relatives are examples of friendly fire, but we aren’t included in the exhibit.”
Says Salt Lake City writer and downwinder Mary Dickson, “I haven’t seen this kind of love fest with the bomb since Dr. Strangelove. It’s a crushing blow to all of us who suffered the health effects of nuclear testing, who have lost loved ones to fallout-related disease and to all of us who believe that an unexpurgated history of the Cold War in all its aspects is critical, particularly when renewed testing is being discussed as an eventual possibility and the government is twisting arms to develop new nuclear weapons. If you look at it, this is a museum to weapons of mass destruction.”
According to the NTS Historical Foundation Web site, nearly 50 percent of the funding for the design and construction of the museum space and exhibits was received from congressional appropriations secured with the help of Sen. Harry Reid. Remaining donations came from individuals and corporations including Bechtel Foundation and Lockheed Martin.
“What is the government doing out there funding historical revisionism?” asks St. George, Utah downwinder Michelle Thomas. “Removing the downwinders from history is revisionism at its worst. This is like visiting a museum that historically documents the Holocaust but leaves out the stories of the victims. This is a shrine to the wrong thing. It’s even more insulting that the government is authorizing and financially supporting this effort when downwinders are still struggling to pay for their chemotherapy. This is unconscionable. They’re not telling the rest of the story.”
Says Eleanore Fanire of Mohave Downwinders of Arizona, “The government doesn’t want to acknowledge downwinders in the museum because they’d have to admit to America that they used their own citizens for guinea pigs. Every downwinder in every state was a guinea pig for all the testing at the Nevada Test Site.”
Like other downwinders, Brown questions why tax payer dollars are being spent for a “walk down memory lane” for testing enthusiasts. She has also written to the Smithsonian asking that directors explain why they decided to be involved in the museum.
The museum's curator told Newsweek that the exhibit gallery may “expand on those ideas.” But Truman says he wonders how open to the idea of telling the downwinder story they’ll really be.
When Idaho downwinder Valerie Brown posted a message to the NTS Historical Foundation Web Site asking to hear from other Idaho downwinders, she was surprised to receive an email from Ginger Swartz, a member of the Board of Trustees, informing her that her posting would be removed from the message board and noting that “Political messages will not be posted.” Swartz told Brown the board was to be used as a “communications link between past and present U.S. weapons complex participants and other interested parties” and as a way to reunite with friends and colleagues.
“Ms. Swartz used the phrase ‘past and former U.S. weapons complex participants and other interested parties’ to describe appropriate users of the message board, the museum and the foundation,” says Brown. “She then excluded downwinders from that group. This is categorically wrong. Downwinders are by definition ‘participants and interested parties’ in the work of the NTS, the museum and the foundation. The involuntary nature of their participation in nuclear weapons research does not exclude them, and they cannot help but be ‘interested’ in the policies and events that have so profoundly shaped their lives.”
troubling to downwinders is that the archives for the official
records on the testing program are now being kept by the NTS
Historical Foundation. “And they can’t even keep
history straight,” says Truman.