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Used Razor Blades

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Hidden agendas unfold and a sinister veep whips fear into a froth one more time: "Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

The words he never adds, though many Americans, I imagine, silently do it for him, are: "It takes one to know one."

This is the thing. We're gaga over nukes ourselves. It takes one recklessly driven government with a God-complex to spot another one. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Blanket permission to use the planet's resources for our short-term ends was rescinded on July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was set off at Alamogordo, N.M. The real struggle in the world right now is the one between those who know it and those who don't -- between those who see our relationship with Planet Earth and its inhabitants as one of stewardship rather than dominion, reverence rather than contempt.

Speaking of a recent visit to the Four Corners area of the United States, Robert Hager, a Reno, Nev.-based lawyer, told me of the "sense of timelessness and awe" he felt in the presence of such natural beauty, a soul-deep joy that was instantly interrupted by another awareness: "Our government has saturated the area with nuclear fallout that will be there for millions of years." He paused. "Who are these people? . . . How dare they?"

As the lead attorney in a lawsuit filed last year against the Pentagon and other government agencies that ultimately resulted in the cancellation of a subnuclear blast, code-named Divine Strake, at the Nevada Test Site -- which would have been the first aboveground explosion (and the first mushroom cloud) at the site since 1962 -- Hager in fact knows as much about "who these people are" as anyone. And what he has to say about them is dismayingly germane to the current looming horror of war with Iran.

The Cheney-Bush administration may be uniquely reckless and cynical in its pursuit of "American interests," but the narrow, hegemonic worldview -- the WMD- and fossil-fuel-addicted blindness -- this term usually conjures up predates it by more than half a century. The current officeholders didn't invent the military-industrial complex. They're merely the latest to serve it, the inheritors of the mind-set embedded in a 1950s-era comment by an Atomic Energy Commission official on the appropriateness of testing nuclear weapons Out West: "Nevada is damn good place to dump used razor blades."

You don't pursue dominion over all the earth, apparently, without at the same time reducing it to landfill status. And it was an AEC report that famously referred to the people who would soon be breathing the radioactive fallout from the tests as "a low use segment of the population."

These are the people, including Western Shoshones and other Native Americans, that Hager's lawsuit represented. The suit was initially filed in April 2006, shortly after Divine Strake was announced. Interestingly, the government kept avoiding court appearances, where it would have had to address the testimony of the radiation experts Hager's team had assembled, who were prepared to talk about the disastrous health effects of a 700-ton blast that would resuspend contaminated soil, and postponed the test twice, then finally canceled it altogether.

Furor over Divine Strake grew among the downwind population, several public hearings were jammed and politicians took a united stand against the test, but Hager maintains that the court hearings were the key to the test's cancellation.

"People need to know that protest is not going to stop this government," Hager said. "They need to get into court and focus on stopping the government there. That's where the rubber meets the road. We have evolved as a society -- with (expert testimony) they can be stopped. We couldn't do that in the '50s and '60s.

"But," he went on, "there's no indication they will ever do the right thing. If they can get away with it, they will. . . . My biggest concern," he said, "is that the Pentagon (will decide) its biggest mistake was announcing they were going to do it. (Next time) they may just set a bomb off without notifying anyone."

Hager awaits a legal ruling on his request for a permanent requirement that the government give a 60-day notice about any future blasts at the Nevada Test Site, both to let opponents have a chance to make their case and, as his deposition states, to "remind the agency that real people live in Nevada and Utah."

Bizarrely, the canceled Divine Strake blast may have been a simulated test for the B61-11 bunker-buster, or Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a new-generation nuclear weapon that Seymour Hersh, writing a year ago in The New Yorker, said was under consideration for use against Iranian underground nuclear sites.

If they can get away with it, they will.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

© 2007 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.