HALF LIFE, A PARABLE FOR THE NUCLEAR AGE

Dennis O’Rourke
Australia 1985 | 86 Min. | 35 mm, OmU
Q&A with:
Dennis O’Rourke

Short­ly after the nuclear bomb­ing of Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary wanted to find a ‚suit­able’ site for fur­ther nuclear test­ing. They choose the Mar­shall Islands, a group of small atolls in the Pacif­ic Ocean. The Amer­i­cans had just cap­tured these islands from the Japan­ese. The islanders them­selves made up a rel­a­tive­ly small and polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­less group of melane­sian abo­rig­ines. The United Nations Strate­gic Trust Agree­ment, signed in 1947, oblig­ed the United States to rec­og­nize and respect the fun­da­men­tal rights and free­dom of the pop­u­la­tion. This did not keep the U.S. Atomic Energy Com­mis­sion from set­ting off at least 66 atomic and hydro­gen bombs on these islands between 1946 and 1958. ‚Bravo’ was the code-name for the first H-bomb test. Doc­u­ments have revealed that the main goal of oper­a­tion ‚Bravo’ was to demon­strate to the Soviet Union that the U.S. did in fact have such a bomb and to col­lect as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble on the effects of the fall­out result­ing from the explo­sions. Also the ‚Bravo’-bomb was five hun­dred times the size of ear­li­er test­bombs, the inhab­i­tants of the island of Ron­ge­lap were nei­ther warned nor evac­u­at­ed. The bomb was set off on a desert­ed island, but the winds blew the radioac­tive fall­out towards Ron­ge­lap. The same night the entire pop­u­la­tion showed seri­ous dis­ease symp­toms. The Amer­i­can ships in the waters around Ron­ge­lap could have saved the people but were ordered to leave the area instead. When these events were final­ly brought to public notice, the offi­cials claimed that the winds had sud­den­ly changed and that Ron­ge­lap was hit by the fall­out by mis­take. In HALF LIFE O’Rourke shows that the tragic event was by no means a mis­take, but that the U.S. gov­ern­ment had delib­er­at­ly fol­lowed this course of action, degrad­ing the people of Ron­ge­lap to guinea-pigs for a cyn­i­cal sci­en­tif­ic experiment.