To Fellow Adults Of My Generation (1) Regarding “A Generation Exposed to Radioactive Materials”
It’s nearly forgotten now, but after the war, there was a period when Japanese people were exposed to large quantities of radioactive material. This period lasted roughly from 1950 to 1960. During this time, the USA, Soviet Union, Britain, France, People’s Republic of China, et al. conducted upwards of 100 atmospheric nuclear tests (including detonations of atom bombs and hydrogen bombs). In August of 1963, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States signed an agreement to cease testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space, or underwater (The Partial Test Ban Treaty), but France and China continued their atmospheric testing. As a result, large amounts of radioactive material were emitted into the air, much of it reaching the stratosphere, and ended up riding the high-level airstreams to be disseminated all over the world.
The above graph [from here] shows the levels of Strontium 90 (Sr90) and Cesium 137 (Cs137) found to have fallen on the city of Aomori [in north-eastern Japan] between 1955 and 1995. The tiny spike in the latter half of the 1980s resulted from the accident in Chernobyl. Compared to that, one can see how horrific the 1960s were. Contemplating this, old memories have come back to me. I remember that during class in elementary school, the teacher would announce, “China has conducted nuclear tests today. Please be careful not to let the rain touch you.” I remember bratty kids whispering to me that a certain bald-headed teacher had “lost his hair because he got caught in the radioactive rain.” Thinking about it now, it seems like the 1960s of my childhood were a time of being showered in radioactivity from the sky, infiltrated by harmful heavy metals absorbed from polluted soil, and fed food and drink filled with carcinogenic artificial additives of all sorts (the sodium cyclamate in Saccharin, etc.).
The children of this era (born 1955-1964) were often told that they were unlikely to live long or healthy lives, that their generation would likely die in droves from cancer. And in fact, Nishimaru Shinya’s 1990 book The 41 Years of Life Theory – The God of Death Embraces the Society of Hedonism sold quite well when it came out. Happily, both my partner and I have managed to live past 41 and are now in our fifties. But looking around, I do notice that compared to members of the Baby Boom generation that just preceded ours, our cohort seems a bit sickly, a bit weak, and will perhaps end up living shorter lives on average than those oppressively vivacious, strapping Boomers. Which does not particularly bother me, really. The meaning of a life lies elsewhere than simply extending its length.
So anyway, the point of me talking about this is that it strikes me now to be a bit late for those of us aged 45-55 to get all whipped up declaiming this and that about the dangers posed to us by radioactivity. We’ve already been well steeped in Strontium and Cesium as children. But what I do want to do is prevent the children of today from having to grow up in the same kind of toxic environment my generation did.
Indeed, I remembered something similar when I heard the government warnings about the rain today [March 22 — http://illcomm.exblog.jp/13205411/. The government warning advised that the rain did not contain enough radiation to endanger people’s health, but nonetheless, people were encouraged to stay indoors if possible and to avoid getting their hair and skin wet]. I was born in 1966 and raised in the countryside of Fukuoka, but I remember experiencing the same kind of thing. I don’t recall where it was supposed to have occurred exactly, but I do remember clearly being told that somewhere or other a “nuclear test” had occurred and that we should be careful not to get wet in the rain on our way home that day. It seems likely to have happened more than once or twice. I’d read the manga Barefoot Gen, which had already been collected after its serialization by then, so I had an idea of the horrors caused by actual nuclear weapons, but I didn’t have any real idea of why it would be dangerous to get wet in the rain, and I remember getting soaking wet on those days from splashing each other while shouting things like, “Watch out! The rain is dangerous!” and “You’re gonna go bald as a cueball!” (I was, indeed, a brat among brats as a kid). When the downpours were really bad, we’d let the rain fill our rainboots and pour the Strontium-laced water over each other’s heads (I’m speechless myself as I recall this). On top of this, two doors down there was a candy shop, and though I remember being told not to eat the candy that might have sodium cyclamate in it, a kid doesn’t know how to make those kinds of distinctions, so I grew up gorging on sweet, dangerous candy filled with so much sodium cyclamate (or Saccharin) it was practically poison. Moreover, I started smoking in my teens and have no plans to stop, so it seems I’ve been sucking down however much radioactive polonium for decades now. Different people have different individual experiences, but even so, this is the kind of generation I belong to. And I too have happily avoided death at 41, and now, at 45, my bangs cut straight across my forehead like they’d been in elementary school, I’ve lived, at least so far, a life free of major illness. I don’t know how I compare to the Baby Boomers, but I too believe that “the meaning of a life lies elsewhere than simply extending its length,” and as I said while borrowing a line from Hanamori Yasuji, I tend to believe that “we’ve lived quite long enough.” But I also believe that our duty as children is to, at the very least, live longer than our parents, and that we should do all we can to achieve this; and once we get there, we should “become what we become.” So anyway, the point of me talking about this is that even as I risk repeating what is already a repetition of another’s words, I find myself, in the end, also reaching the conclusion that “what I do want to do is prevent the children of today from having to grow up in the same kind of toxic environment my generation did.”
Posted by illcommonz | 2011-03-22 23:38