Atomic Warm Fuzzies
“Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts.”
My dad died as a result of injuries sustained during the Cold War. I don’t make that statement with any kind of bitterness or even regret. He was an Atomic Warrior and the service he performed for our country in the 1950s and 60s eventually lead to the conditions which killed him in 1984. “Snick” Snyder mined Uranium in the regions of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado during the height of the Uranium Boom. The ore was enriched for the creation of nuclear weapons, and so were the prospectors and mining operations that dug it out of the earth. It was a prosperous time for towns like Moab, Utah and Uravan (Uranium/Vanadium), Colorado. The Uranium Boom was the 20th century Gold Rush, populated with men who dug and coaxed treasure from the ground, rough and tumble boom towns, and roller coaster rides of wealth and poverty.
I can’t speculate whether or not Dad knew just how valuable his work was to our Cold War national defense strategy. And at the time of his death at the age of 62, his body had been so ravaged by disease that it was almost impossible to conclude whether worked in the Uranium mines ended his life at a relatively young age. A decade later, in the mid 1990s, the government was forced to confront the disproportionate number of Uranium miners that were dying of cancers, lung disease, and other conditions related to the exposure to radiation and dust from the ore and yellowcake the miners handled every day. They wore little or no protective gear. Respirators were not made available to ordinary miners. It was determined, however, that Dad died as a direct result of having worked in the Uranium mines and so my mom became a “Uranium Widow.” She received reasonable compensation from the government in a joint effort of the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to give something back to the families of America’s “Atomic Veterans.”
I was youngster during those Boom Town years in Moab. Local businesses often referred to the “atom” in their titles; the Atomic Motel, Atomic Cleaners, The Uranium Building, to name a few. In the late 1970s the creeping wet blanket of political correctness reached the Utah desert and “atomic” became a hiss and byword. The “China Syndrome” and the entire anti-nuke, leftist, new-age contagion of fear politics took hold, and once radioactive businesses were eliminated and replaced with the ridiculous.
“Kokopelli,” a cool graphic image, but insignificant character in Native American lore, replaced “Atomic” as the symbol of the Uranium southwest. Innocuous, multicultural, standing for nothing at all, except maybe the squishy mentality of a tourist-centric economic shift, Kokopelli kicked out the atom in favor of a dreadlocked flute player with a suspiciously placed instrument.
The rule of thumb when studying propaganda from the Left is that what is asserted is usually in direct opposition to what is true. The American Left claimed that in order to avoid Armageddon in the nuclear proliferation age, that the United States should take the high-ground and show peaceful leadership by eliminating our nuclear shield. While this dogma advanced on the world stage, it also took place in the towns that grew up around the very elements that made our nuclear arsenal. “Atomic” signs were taken down, “The Uranium Building” was renamed, and the symbols of American strategic superiority were reduced to scrap metal. But the truth of the Left is always a lie, and with disarmament and the abandonment of atomic progress, our country became less safe, and more exposed to dangers much greater than Uranium-235.
Nuclear-non proliferation, beginning in 1970, though noble in theory, was not terribly effective in dealing with enemies who key political strategy was. Ronald Reagan shifted the argument from proliferation to protection. SDI, if fully implemented, could potentially render all of the nuclear arsenals in the world tactically ineffective. Reagan rejected the idea that even one nuke should be allowed to reach our shores. An effective land and space-based defensive shield would provide safety for America that the nakedness of disarmament would not. The Soviet Union was the major antagonist of the Cold War. But all Communist regimes, bent on world domination make formidable enemies. While the super powers have squared off in “high-ground” efforts to solve the problem of nuclear holocaust, madmen in smaller nations like Iran have been evolving technologies and materials that will produce and deliver a nuclear weapons.
The Soviet Union fell to its own profligate spending. Nuclear non-proliferation treaties, most recently START 2010, essentially guarantee American inferiority in nuclear offensive and defensive capabilities. There are no robust and comprehensive defensive shields to protect our allies in Europe, or North America itself. The passing of the “Atomic” age has America teetering on the edge of military and economic incompetence.
I miss the Uranium Boom of my childhood. Americans were aware of the threats presented by the Cold War, but we felt safe because we knew that we were actively involved in building our defenses. We knew and named the enemy for what it was. “Communism” was the hiss and byword of my youth. The Soviet Union was the “focus of evil.” And the boisterous patriotism of the people who toiled toward American exceptionalism and invincibility defined the character of the Uranium Boom era. I would love to find those old “atomic” signs, and resurrect them somehow in a kitschy memorial to 50s and 60s industrial art. Their symbolic power runs just a little deeper for me, than bygone industrial style. The vigorous efforts to protect America with her own resources and muscle, having a clear understanding of the nature and locations of her enemies, gave us a form of security that our current nebulous defense policies, undefined and naive enemies, lack of resolve, and denial of American superiority can ever provide.