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Congress must ensure RECA stays in Defense Bill

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


Compassion makes strange bedfellows.

I loathe some of U.S. Senator Josh Hawley’s views. Neither his conduct on January 6 nor his sympathy with the Trump scam alleging voter fraud are remotely justifiable, or good for our country.

But we agree that if you harm people, intentionally or with reckless disregard for their safety, justice may require you to compensate those folks for their injuries, medical expenses, even their pain and suffering.

Well, our country harmed our fellow New Mexicans. And some Missouri folks, too.

In July 1945, the U.S. exposed New Mexicans to a new, poisonous force our leaders knew could cause great harm to anyone in the vicinity. The government planned to deploy the same force to win World War II. So it knew there could be serious harm to U.S. citizens who lived in danger zones, raising their children and growing their crops. Those residents were not told that they were about to be subject to a historically poisonous event. If it didn’t kill them, it poisoned their crops and their animals and their water, and made their very homes poisonous. Many would die slowly and painfully. While the government wrongly figured people wouldn’t be hurt, that’s like me killing that motorcyclist because I hoped I could run the red light. What arrogance! Like a kid trying a highly explosive experiment in his yard, and being sure he had everything under control.

Much is debatable. You can visit the Trinity Site, the Library of Congress, or the terribly moving Hiroshima museum right near the epicenter of the bomb dropped on August 6, 1945. My father and others who fought in the war felt “the Bomb” saved at least 500,000 lives. Other evidence suggests maybe the Japanese military was on its last legs, its most fanatical leaders were even beginning to see that, and the Bomb was a stern message to our next enemy, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. All that is interesting, but perhaps immaterial.

The circumstances explain the secrecy: if you’re about to try a surprise weapon on the Japanese, warning people around the test site might endanger national security. And the neighbors were mostly a bunch of Mexicans, so who cared?

Having an urgent reason to keeping the potential victims in the dark doesn’t make them any less victims. It cures none of the cases of various forms of cancer the U.S. caused its own citizens to suffer, some fatally. Yet for nearly 80 years, we’ve added insult to injury: we’ve let ‘em suffer and die unacknowledged. Not covering their medical costs. Long after any need for secrecy. Whether that was to save face or money, could any government official justify it? Sure haven’t heard anyone try.

Finally, the U.S. may add those folks to the other covered by the Radioactive Exposure Compensation Act. The Senate approved that, 66-31. A majority in the House apparently agrees; but there are fears that Republican House leaders will slyly remove this from the Defense Bill behind closed doors. That ain’t my suspicion, but Senator Hawley’s, a conservative Republican. He’s warned fellow Congresspersons they might be in Washington all through Christmas if they try.

What can we do? Urge Congressional leaders to ensure the RECA amendment stays in the final Defense Bill.

It’s the least we can do.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.