Ryan shares his 20-year quest to dispel nuclear madness. That journey began when he married Tomoko, a Japanese woman, and visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum with her in 1991.
Dangers are mind-boggling
Ryan interviews experts on both sides of the nuclear weapons issue. Thousands of nuclear devices are still on alert. Facts about leaking plutonium waste, broken arrows and nuclear weapons accidents worldwide since the 1950s are reviewed.
- The U.S. has spent over $7 trillion on nuclear weapons defense.
- There were 23,000 nuclear weapons in nine nations during filming.
- Thousands of U.S. and Russian weapons remain on alert, years after the Cold War.
- Only one nation, South Africa, has dismantled all of its nuclear weapons.
MAD: mutual assured destruction
“Nuclear weapons have pretty much disappeared from public consciousness since the end of the Cold War,” says Ryan. Yet the U.S. and Russia still have 2,000 nuclear warheads on alert, pointed at each other. Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is alive and well.
“It’s a very unstable situation. I think it’s outrageous that it still exists. It’s senseless,” says former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz. “We’d better pay attention because there is proliferation going on,” he adds.
The U.S. has had three major opportunities to obliterate nuclear weapons. Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Obama all failed to reach that goal.
Peace through deterrence?
Yvonne Morris, Executive Director of the Titan Missile Museum, was a crew commander at the Titan II missile site. Several “high alerts” were called while she served in the U.S. Air Force.
Peace through deterrence was the mission, says Morris. MAD means that “we would be able to retaliate with such force that we would wipe the Soviet Union off the Earth just as they were wiping the United States off the Earth.”
Some 32 broken arrows, or nuclear weapon accidents, have happened worldwide since the 1950s. In 2005, employees at a Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas were dismantling a nuclear device. They almost detonated a hydrogen bomb 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
Hiroshima survivors speak
Japanese atomic bomb survivors, called hibakusha, share their memories of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
“It was a very beautiful day. Blue sky. And I could see two American B-29 bombers flying very high in the air. I just thought, oh, beautiful planes, shining in the morning sun, silver white.”
“I felt like I had been thrown into a smelting furnace,” says another survivor. “A rain of fire was coming down around me.”
“Everybody was simply black from head to toe, and you couldn’t tell if they were male or female,” Emiko Okada remembers. “Amongst the people who were escaping, you could see their bones sticking out. Their skin and muscles simply hanging from their bodies as they stumbled forward.”
Horror up close
Steve Leeper, Chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, accompanies Ryan to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. In one exhibit, bloody, melting figures run through a dark, red glow.
Survivors say that fires raged. Faces were unrecognizable as human. Eyes hung out of faces.
Enriched uranium from nuclear power plants can be used in nuclear devices. Just a few nuclear explosions would wreak havoc with the earth’s climate, Leeper adds.
Did bombing Japan win the war?
Many of us were told that nuclear bombs won World War II. Research disproves this. “Japan was essentially defeated by 1945,” says Gar Alperovitz, author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. Tokyo, the capital, was three-quarters destroyed long before the atomic bombing.
As a condition of surrender, the Japanese wanted to keep their Emperor in power. Secretly, the U.S. military agreed with this.
Impressing the Russians was a strong motive for the bombing, believes Ivan Oelrich, Vice President for Strategic Security Programs for the Federation of American Scientists. Ryan’s research also suggests that the U.S. wanted to collect data from a real nuclear bombing, and get “plain old revenge” for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Scientists disagree on bombing
Manhattan Project scientists developed the nuclear bomb. Most of that group petitioned the U.S. not to detonate a nuclear bomb over Japan, says George Cowan, one of the scientists. They urged the government to show force by bombing a remote area instead.
Harold Agnew, another Manhattan Project scientist, traveled on the Enola Gay as an observer when Hiroshima was bombed. He and others believe that the bombing won the war and saved lives. Agnew went on to direct Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Youth get positive nuclear spin
At the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico, there are no pictures of Hiroshima burn victims. Smiling, happy Japanese children are shown. Ryan asks museum director Jim Walther why.
“This is a public museum and a family museum,” Walther says. Videos of the attack can be seen in the museum theater. Nuclear history includes rebuilding, Walther says.
Filled with bright colors, nuclear theme toys and shiny model war planes, “the museum is designed to entice children, young people, into it without any critical thinking, any views to the consequences of the use of these horrible devices which are genocidal,” says Bob Anderson, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
“It made nuclear weapons seem necessary, and a big part of our peace and prosperity,” says Ryan.
Are we safer?
Over 2,400 nuclear bombs have been exploded all over the world “in the name of testing and national security,” says Ryan. This steadily raises the level of background radiation.
“Have these weapons done us any good? Have they kept us safe?” Ryan asked the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which governs the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The agency declined to speak with him, as did U.S. Senators and House members from New Mexico.
Nuclear waste follies
Ryan traveled to Los Alamos, New Mexico with Joni Arends, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS). They monitor activities around LANL.
Some 18 million cubic feet of nuclear waste is buried at Los Alamos. That’s enough to fill 4,500 tractor trailers, says Ryan. Arends insists there is not enough monitoring of the area’s groundwater and air.
Plutonium and other radio nuclides have been detected 200 miles south of Los Alamos, at Elephant Butte Lake. “All of that waste is migrating to the Rio Grande,” she says.
During a 2005 prescribed burn in New Mexico, flames traveled within a half mile of LANL’s Area G nuclear waste disposal site, Arends notes.
Serious but upbeat production
I rarely see a serious subject treated with such respect, intelligence, liveliness and even optimism. Excellent production values include editing by Overbey. Director of Photography David Garcia strikes the right notes of macabre reality and humor with archival photos, animation and newsreel footage.
Thinking like bombers
Leeper confesses that when he first visited the peace museum, he shut off his feelings. He focused on the bomb’s power. Reading Children of the A-Bomb two years later, he broke down and cried.
“We are not open,” says Leeper. “We are thinking like bombers. We are not into seeing the suffering. We only see the power.”
Public pressure needed
Author Jonathan Schell endorses “a serious and determined policy of the United States to join with the other nine nuclear powers on Earth to get rid of their nuclear weapons, bring it down to zero, while at the same time putting in global verification and enforcement measures.”
Public pressure can help. “Without that public movement, the Obama administration is battling tremendous pressures” from powerful military contractors and special interests, he adds.
Groups advocating nuclear disarmament, peace and social justice are listed at The Forgotten Bomb website.
Religion teaches peace
Representatives of Christian, Jewish, Methodist and Buddhist faiths speak out against nuclear weapons.
Jesuit author Father John Dear declares, “If you want to be a Christian, you have to get on this road to peace and pursue this vision of non-violence, which means also standing up and saying ‘no’ to war, poverty, executions, global warming, and ‘no’ to nuclear weapons. We have to abolish them to reclaim our souls.”
“All the core teachings of Jesus are this visionary non-violence,” says Dear. (5 out of 5 stars)
The Forgotten Bomb / 2010 / NR / 1 hour, 35 min
Cast Overview: Harold Agnew, Gar Alperovitz, Bob Anderson, Joni Arends, Father John Dear, Jim Douglass, Roshi Joan Halifax, Sakue Hinohira, Steve Leeper, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Mike McCally, Yvonne Morris, Ivan Oelrich, Emiko Okada, Jeanne Pahls, Dave Robinson, Bud Ryan, Jonathan Schell, George P. Schultz, Kathleen Sullivan, Jim Walther, Jim Winkler
Director: Stuart Overbey Co-Director: Bud Ryan