Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Greenland and Nuclear Bombs

Reading Barry Lopez’ Arctic Dreams has made me reflect on how I might have taken the opportunity to live in the arctic by volunteering for duty at Thule, Greenland when I was in the Air Force. At some point during my security police training, perhaps midway through, all of us in the same graduating class were given the option to volunteer for duty virtually anywhere in the world. At the time, there were about fifty openings at Clark AFB in the Philippines; otherwise, we would be put on a waiting list and, once graduating from our training, sent within the continental US to where the Air Force decided would be best for us until an opening were to appear at one of the places we had selected. Thule, Greenland was an option; it was considered a hardship tour and only required a year tour of duty because of the isolation and the extreme cold.

In keeping with American history, constructing the base at Thule required the displacement of the native people who had lived at that location. Apparently, the Americans had convinced the Danish Government that this location was the most suitable site, perhaps because of the harbor that was ice-free and open to shipping during two months of the year. Although these native people sued their government, they were denied the opportunity to live where they had for generations.

News reports have emphasized some of the changes occurring in the Arctic as a result of global warming. We tend to think of the arctic as pristine. Only recently have I discovered that Thule was the site of a nuclear accident in 1968, what was known as a Broken Arrow within the Air Force. A fire had broken out inside a B52 carrying four nuclear bombs. It was military policy at that time to keep bombers constantly aloft in the event of an attack and to have these planes carry nuclear bombs. When the plane missed the runway at Thule, all but one member of the crew bailed out. The plane ended up crashing a short distance away on the sea ice. The government claims to have recovered all four of the warheads. One of them might have been recovered from the seafloor but the government denies having to make that recovery effort. Even so, there was radioactive material scattered among the wreckage, and both the American military and the Danish government spent a considerable amount of time on the clean up of this site. The Danes who assisted in the recovery effort developed higher than normal rates of cancer. No report to my knowledge describes the health effects that the American military personnel might have known (this event occurred about ten years after American troops, without the aid of protective clothing, were in trenches downwind from nuclear detonations in the Nevada desert). Eventually, even the contaminated snow and ice was placed in barrels and shipped to an underground facility in Georgia.

I don’t remember whether any of the sources found on the Internet indicated what type of bomb was involved in this accident. Wikipedia includes a long list of the kinds of nuclear bombs developed by this country and the Soviet Union at this link . Years ago, when I was called out of bed by the klaxon in my barracks signifying the existence of another alert, I was assured of five or six hours in the proximity of either a B28 or B43 . Every combat ready fighter at the airbase where I was stationed in England was loaded with a nuclear bomb during these alerts. I stood guard as the munitions people brought out a bomb from one of the silos, eventually loading it onto a F100. These alerts were marked by incredible amounts of tedium as I ensured that at least two people were present when they were working around the bomb. This surveillance was meant to prevent any one crackpot from harming the bomb in some way.

The list of nuclear bombs, nuclear shells, and nuclear warheads at Wikipedia represents the sheer waste of money and research that went into developing these weapons and stockpiling them for future conflicts. Just think of all of that money that could have been used for so many more important things than creating the resources for destroying the Earth and all of the living things on it. It’s hard to imagine that our government would consider using any of these weapons in the near future. Despite the assurance of government officials telling us that the radioactive fallout from nuclear bombs used to destroy underground facilities will not reach the air and will not affect any other location, I doubt those claims and believe that any detonation will create serious complications. Our governmental officials, who have repeatedly lied about war and the negative effects of weapons in the past, cannot be trusted with such deadly weapons in their arsenals. Maybe it is up to individual members of the military to reject their orders when they are given their commander-in-chief’s directive to use nuclear weapons. I personally don’t feel very safe knowing that George Bush has the authority to launch nuclear missiles and to authorize the dropping of nuclear bombs. No one should have that kind of power.