The Worst Boomers of All

Nuclear testing has severe consequences on marginalized, indigenous peoples, that many world leaders are often indifferent to.

More stories from Priyanka Joshi


Between North Korea silently developing their nuclear arsenal, Iranian investment into terrorist organizations, and our own illustrious president’s desire to “bomb the sh**” out of ISIS, catastrophe seems inevitable. With this uptick in political tension comes the topic that’s been omnipresent on the American public’s mind since the Cold War: nuclear weapons. The United States, Russia, and China have all drastically increased nuclear weapons spending as of the past three years. Nuclear weapons haven’t been used on the battlefield since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But here’s the thing; the damage has been occurring and will continue to occur in the communities of the most vulnerable. 

In 1954, 7-year-old Marshall Islander Nerje Joseph witnessed one of the United States’ thermonuclear tests in Bikini Atoll, one hundred miles away from the island she was living on at the time.

But even from that distance, islanders experienced severe burns, hair loss, and vomiting. Surely, this must have occurred before we knew how widespread the effects of radiation poisoning were? Well, yes and no.

As Merrill Eisenbud of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission testified, “Data of this type has never been available. While it is true that these people do not live the way that Westerners do, as civilized people, it is nonetheless also true that they are more like us than the mice.”

Essentially, the United States suspected the effects of nuclear testing, but withheld that from the Marshall Islands when they made a nuclear testing agreement so that they could study the effects of radiation poisoning on human beings—more specifically, indigenous human beings who the government decided weren’t worthy of the choice to opt out of their lethal science experiment. And the effects of our nuclear nationalism continue to plague the Marshall Islands today. Not only are the rates of cancer and birth defects still at their peak, but the remaining nuclear waste is leaking out of Bikini Atoll and contaminating all surrounding seawater because of the rapidly rising ocean levels (to which the United States has contributed more than any other country). The Marshall Islands is still reconciling itself with the consequences of our actions, almost seventy years later.

And it isn’t the only one. In China, nuclear testing has given President Xi Jinping a convenient excuse to kill off large swaths of Uyghur Muslims under the guise of preserving national security. Over forty nuclear weapons tests were conducted on the autonomous Uyghur land Xinjiang in China in the late 1990s. Conservative estimates put the death toll at about 194,000, with 1.2 million more being affected by solid cancers, leukemia, and fetal damage.

At its peak, the radiation levels in the living area of the Uyghurs equalled that of Chernobyl directly after its explosion in 1986. The idea behind nuclear testing places Uyghur lives in direct contradiction to the farce of the safety a nuclear arsenal can provide. So their death en masse is seen as a justifiable sacrifice, all in the name of public welfare. 

Nuclear testing is an insidious stain in human history. While atomic war in itself is unlikely, inciting another nuclear panic could lead to the resurgence in the development of these dangerous weapons in an ego measuring contest. I can promise that you, living in the Bay Area, attending a private school like Mitty, won’t know the true extent of our nuclear imperialism for a long, long time—if at all. So before you turn to weapons of mass destruction, take a moment to consider who’s really going to face the consequences.