American Ground Zero

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the era immediately following World War II, the U.S. defense establishment began a series of nuclear weapons tests over the Nevada desert. The scientists and engineers conducting the tests operated outside the limits of civilized morality. Completely cavalier about the human consequences of their actions, they allowed technicians to work unshielded at the test site and ordered military maneuvers at ground zero to gauge the impact of atomic warfare on unprotected personnel.

Downwind from the tests site, in mostly Mormon communities such as Twin Springs, Nevada, and St. George, Utah, people described by the Atomic Energy Commission of the 1950’s as a “low use segment of the population,” were regularly dowsed with nuclear fallout. The immediate results, irritated eyes, radiation burns, and hair loss were mere preludes to the real horrors to come: cancers and birth defects; babies born mentally retarded, with shriveled, blackened limbs or with no limbs at all.

The people suffered silently at first, as it is considered sinful among conservative Mormons to challenge the powers that be. Ultimately, however, the victims brought a series of law suits to which the government turned a deaf ear. Carole Gallagher exposes this fifty-year program of calculated indifference by permitting the survivors to speak for themselves. Intimate photographs amplify the text. AMERICAN GROUND ZERO is a sobering look at what must surely be one of the darkest episodes in recent U.S. history.