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The Cost of Concealment

Following quote from:
Lifton, Robert Jan and Mitchell, Greg
Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995)

“In the beginning were the secrets. The facilities where the bomb's components were built, the men and women who worked on it, the entire enterprise and its desired product-all existed outside the known, visible world in a mysterious realm separate from that world. The word secret means 'kept from knowledge or observation' and is derived from words meaning 'to separate' or 'divide off.' To be privy to the secret, to be part of the secret megamachine, was to share in a privileged mystery, much in the manner of a childhood secret. Secrets take on great significance for small children and can be associated with a sense of specialness and life-power; but also with confusing and fearful aspects of sex; with one's own destructive, sometimes murderous feelings toward those one is supposed to love; and, most fearful of all, with the idea of death and dying. The atomic-bomb secret could encompass all these psychological dimensions, any of which might become associated with feelings of guilt. Still, until the bomb was actually exploded, the secret was a matter of arcane mystery.

“In respect to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became more a matter of concealment. Secrecy and concealment are used almost interchangeably, but the latter suggests more active steps to suppress actual knowledge and is related in its derivation to the idea of covering, hiding, and (as a concealed place) 'the underworld.' From this standpoint, we can say that the bomb sequence has been from the secret to that which is actively concealed, and finally, to falsification. It was that sequence, for example that permitted the nuclear 'medical' experiments on Americans and the intentional releases of radiation affecting American populations.

“But the source of concealment and falsification, as we have seen throughout this book, can be traced back to Hiroshima-or even before. It actually started with the decision to build a weapon of mass destruction and hide the nature of that device from most of the 124,000 people who built it. 'Only a handful, of course, knew what they were creating,' Dwight MacDonald observed shortly after Hiroshima. 'It hardly needs to be stressed that there is something askew with a society in which vast numbers of citizens can be organized to create a horror like The Bomb without even knowing they are doing it.'

“Unfortunately, the concealment not only escalated but settled into American institutional practice and individual American psyches. Forces could oppose the concealment, however, as Susan Griffin makes clear:

    Those who worked in the factories at Oak Ridge were not told that they were making a fissionable material to be used in atomic weapons. Almost none of the military men assigned to this project knew its purpose. But wherever a secret is kept it will make its way, like an object lighter than water and meant to float, to the surface. A Navy ensign posted to Oak Ridge suffers a mental breakdown. Is he the repository for the unspoken fears of others? He begins to rave about a terrible weapon that will soon bring about the end of the world. Because his ravings are close to the truth, the Navy builds a special wing of the hospital at Oak Ridge for him, staffed with psychiatrists, physicians, orderlies, and janitors, each chosen especially for this work, judged trustworthy and able to keep secrets. The ensign is given continual sedation. Whenever he begins to speak, he receives another injection. His family is told that he is on a long mission at sea.

“Concealment also succeeded all too well in distancing Americans from what happened at the other end of our weapons. Much of our book could be understood as a description of an extraordinarily effective American cover-up. That cover-up, moreover, has been apocalyptic in at least two ways: the grotesque human dimensions of what is being suppressed an the relationship of that cover-up to our continuous embrace of still more destructive devices.”

(Lifton and Mitchell, Hiroshima in America, pp. 329-31)


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