Callous bombing of America by autocrats told in film

| January 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

Downwind (10/10), 93 minutes, NR. I’m devoting my entire column to one film that makes its debut at the Slamdance Film Festival because it is an important film that might not get much exposure.

Of all the nonsensical decisions with deadly consequences made by the autocrats in Washington who run our lives, including financing and fighting multiple foreign wars (excluding WWII, in which our participation was justified  since we were attacked)and opening the border, none equates in moral depravity with the “testing” of nuclear bombs within the borders of the United States for more than 40 years.

From 1951 to 1992, the United States detonated 928 large-scale nuclear weapons in Nevada. While they claimed they owned the land, in fact it was part of the Shoshone Reservation, land which is held “in trust” by the federal government for the Shoshones. So that was a lie, unless you believe that it was not a breach of trust for the trustee to blast the land into total uselessness. It was, basically, Shoshone land. These people knew that, but their reasoning was obviously, “Hey, we’ve screwed the Indians from the start (see the Cherokees and Georgia and President Andrew Jackson et seq.), nothing can stop us from continuing.”

Producer/directors Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller have pointed their cameras at the story and it’s about time. They let it all hang out. People today are only vaguely aware of this bombing of America. In fact, probably the only reason they know anything about it is because RKO filmed the John Wayne film “The Conqueror” (1956) in St. George, Utah, which was downwind (hence the title) from the Nevada desert location of the blasts. At that time, there had already been nine blasts. Out of 220 people on the set, 110 died of cancer, including Wayne, Susan Hayward and director Dick Powell.

But they weren’t all. Everyone knew that the nuclear fallout was as dangerous as the blast, if not more so. These Machiavellian buffoons didn’t care about that, even though they were aware of it. According to the film, one reason they held the tests where they did was that they didn’t want the fallout to go to Southern California, where there were so many people who could be infected. The prevailing winds would blow it eastward where there were fewer people, and eastward it went. How callous is that?

Claudia Peterson, a medical social worker in St. George, says the authorities were passing out potassium iodine pills after the test to inhibit the absorption of the radiation. There’s a radio broadcast from the government played in the film that says that due to a change in wind, the fallout will be over St. George, adding, “There is no danger.” Oh, yeah? Then why were they passing out potassium iodine pills they (probably falsely) claimed would help? Peterson tells how it infected six members of her family, who all died of the effects of the blast, including her beautiful 3-year-old daughter, Bethany, who died of neuroblastoma / leukemia at age 6. Watching this is heartbreaking.

The film has interviews with victims and with people like Ian Zabarte, Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians, who tells of all the members of his family who died of cancer caused by the blasts. Also interviewed are Patrick Wayne, John’s son, who spent two weeks on location for “The Conqueror,” and Michael Douglas. Patrick told me that his father blamed his cancer on all his smoking throughout his life, but that is unknowable.

The film shows the hypocrisy of the evil people sponsoring these blasts who put out PR films by the Atomic Energy Commission lying about their effects — one in 1957 saying things like, “Radioactive fallout more than 2-3 miles from the test site has not been known to be serious.” That, of course, was blatantly false. If these blasts that killed innocent Americans were not criminal, how else can they be described?

Unfortunately, the film does not get to the essential question of why did these insular, callous despots think they had to drop 928 nuclear bombs on America? What did they say afterwards? “Yep, it’s a bomb!”? “It really goes ‘Boom!’?” “And it always has a mushroom cloud! Let’s do it again… and again… and again….”?  And the bodies kept piling up. There is lots more in this film; I’m just scratching the surface.

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Category: Entertainment

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