I turned on NPR this morning. Morning Edition was on. The news story I heard told about the fact that a few days after the tragedy in Japan, Wikipedia watchers found a big spike in searches…for “Godzilla.” I knew at that moment I had to share this information but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. Is it funny? Is it tragic? It is worth taking note of? I’m sure of that.
Events in the world have always been shaped by culture. The movie “Godzilla” was made almost 57 years ago. We were already afraid of radiation. Godzilla films, many zombie films (“Night of the Living Dead”) and films about huge frightning genetically disfigured insects are all about radiation. After the US bombed Japan…twice…we started thinking about what real effects radiation might have. It was scary. People and animals died and we couldn’t SEE why. Radiation was an invisible entity. If we can’t see it, it can’t hurt us. That kind of power is hard to visualize. What could we do?
So we created an unstoppable anthropomorphic monster able to eat whole freight trains, kill untold numbers living things and we named it Godzilla. It’s easier to be afraid of something we can see instead of something that we can’t see. We can control only what is visible. We could see the big green giant. We could rid the world of this monster Godzilla with our weapons and our extra special magic human abilities. Hooray for us! Even though Godzilla was forced back into the sea (the Pacific Ocean by the way), quiet again but still alive, we had used our human strength for good and everything turns out ok. That’s the American way.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief. The monster was controlled. We saw his face. We knew we had the power to keep him from doing any more real harm. We could even possibly find a way to use him for good in the future. We would tame him and domesticate him. Humans are insightful…and smart…and responsible. Right? Then came the “accidents” at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Hanford Nuclear Power Plant. Americans aren’t famous for learning lessons from history.
Pictures of the ruined nuclear power plant in Japan don’t look so bad. The buildings are still there and the talking heads are telling everyone not to worry. The news comes in waves. No radiation detected. Perhaps some contamination. Workers contaminated by stepping into radioactive salt water. Steam rising from a few of the reactors. No electricity to power the cooling of the rods. We’ve been so careful. Things will work out.
Does the monster really exist? We hear rumors but can’t really see the enemy. Politicians talk calmly of continuing to build new nuclear plants. The financial perks are greater than the danger. Will Godzilla have to re-rise from the Ocean, this time in his cloak of invisibility and take the world way past the point of being able to fix?
The last news report I heard from Japan said that dozens of workers are INSIDE the plant, sleeping there and then continuing to work in high level radioactive conditions. 24-7. People are suffering. Let’s put on our back of a comic book X-ray glasses and see what really has happened, face the consequences and make some changes.
“The world has achieved brillance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”—General Omar Bradley
“All the waste from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk” —Ronald Reagan