The United States government is no stranger to committing atrocities. They left nearly four hundred African American males untreated with syphilis (when penicillin was available) over a span of forty years in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Then there were the Japanese Internment camps during World War II. There are even modern examples, such as the Flint water crisis. But the most infamous example of all is the inhumane treatment of Native Americans. Based on these travesties, we should all be aware of what our government is capable of.
Despite this knowledge, it’s still shocking (yet not wholly unsurprising) to learn in co-directors Douglas Brian Miller and Mark Shapiro’s documentary, Downwind, that we have conducted nine hundred and twenty-eight large-scale nuclear weapons tests in Mercury, Nevada. The tests were from 1951 up until 1992 and left radiation almost three times that of Chernobyl, which the wind’s blowing across the United States (with the most concentrated areas being Nevada, Utah, and Arizona) and the world.
Sadly, the most heavily affected group by this is the Native American people of the Shoshone Nation. Ian Zabarte, Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians, has seen far too many of his people die young from cancer and other radiation-related ailments. To quote Network, Ian comes across as being “mad as hell, and (he’s) not going to take this anymore!” Frankly, we should all be that mad.
“…we have conducted nine hundred and twenty-eight large-scale nuclear weapons tests in Mercury, Nevada…”
To make matters worse, this doesn’t only affect those downwind of the area because the cattle in these radiated places are served all across the country. It’s lightly touched on in the film, but studies and documentaries should be made on this aspect of nuclear-related collateral damage alone. Everything in life is connected, from plants to insects and animals to humans.
Some heavy-hitting celebrities are a part of Downwind, with the legendary Martin Sheen narrating, and interviews with Oscar winner Michael Douglas and comedian Lewis Black. Patrick Wayne tells the chilling story of how his father, Western icon John Wayne, along with one hundred and ten members of the two hundred and twenty people on the cast and crew of The Conqueror died from cancer due to their exposure from the radiation on a site in Utah.
At the very least, the U.S. government has admitted to this atrocity by granting those who can prove they are a “downwinder” the paltry sum (comparative to the pain, suffering, and medical bills) of fifty thousand dollars. The problem is that very few people actually receive the money since cancer and other radiation-related maladies are so prevalent these days that it is a difficult thing to prove.
I applaud the filmmakers for putting this essential story out for the world to see because it has been covered up for far too long. The government is considering resuming nuclear testing in Nevada again, so it’s more important than ever that we band together to stop the additional needless death and destruction that will inevitably come from this. Tell everyone you know about Downwind because we need it to travel further than the radiation that can harm your loved ones.
"…I applaud the filmmakers for putting this essential story out for the world to see..."