Sixty five years ago today, the US Department of Defence launched a nuclear missile test in Nevada, as they would hundreds of times again. But this time, five guys and a cameraman were placed right underneath the massive atomic explosion. Why?
The DoD, NPR explains, wanted to show that nuclear warfare was safe, and that an atomic detonation was no more hazardous than watching a sunset or puppy pile. So these poor saps were rounded up to play public propaganda guinea pigs, subjects to an experiment of consequences far above their pay grade.
The footage above shows that test, and is perhaps the most absolutely surreal moment of the Atomic Age. The five men huddle together like college freshmen being hazed with a water hose, shielding their eyes from the sun. One of them tried wearing sunglasses. Meanwhile, a DoD narrator, frothing with nuclear ecstasy, sounds positively orgasmic as he watches the warhead drop from the silvery F-89 and float through the air. Then that air is burned into red mush and hellfire, as the narrator gushes, near orgasm: "It's directly above our heads! Ah Ha Ha! Good, good! There is a huge fireball!" His glee surpasses the ominousness of the actual nuclear bomb. The men then shake hands and agree that the whole show was "such a thrill."
So did they all die of cancer? It's hard to say, but NPR did some archival sleuthing:
Col. Sidney C. Bruce - died in 2005 (age 86) Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball - died in 2003 (age 83) Maj. John Hughes - very common name, but I'm guessing he is Maj. John W. Hughes II (born 1919, same as the above) - died in 1990 (age 71) Maj. Norman Bodinger - unclear (not listed in the database), he may still be alive? Don Lutrel - I think this is a misspelling of "Luttrell." There is a Donald D. Luttrell in the DVA database, US Army CPL, born 1924, died 1987 (age 63). Seems like a possibility.
It was a low yield warhead, and very high up, and of course the Pentagon wouldn't be rushing to go out an admit these men died from radioactive exposure that they were placed into by the Pentagon — but the record of such atomic test bystanders croaking from fallout is strong and storied. It's possible these men died from what they saw 65 years ago, and it's possible they didn't. It's certain, however, that the government handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in the 20th century to victims of its nuclear testing program. This video just happens to show five men and five men only.
America stopped testing atomic bombs in 1992, but we can only hope the perverted schoolboy enthusiasm for nukes died sooner — and stays that way. [NPR]