Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jon Wiener's "How We Forgot the Cold War"

Jon Wiener is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine and teaches 20th century US history at the University of California – Irvine. He sued the FBI for their files on John Lennon — the story is told in his book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files and at the website www.LennonFBIfiles.com. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before most of the outstanding issues were settled in 1997.

Wiener applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America, and reported the following:
The book reports on my visits to monuments, museums and memorials to the Cold War, where I try to figure out people’s views of the well-known argument that “Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.” I found that many of the monuments had few visitors, while others had changed their focus to more popular topics – both of which suggested there was little public interest in visiting sites where people would be told that Reagan’s refusal to compromise with evil led to the eventual collapse of the USSR.

Page 99 deals with another pattern: historic landmarks where the message is not celebration of America’s victory, but rather reassurance about the dangers posed by Cold War weapons production. The Hanford site, a former nuclear weapons production complex in eastern Washington state, includes America’s newest National Historic Landmark, the Hanford B reactor, which produced plutonium, the most dangerous substance on earth. Hanford is the most contaminated site in the Americas, and the cleanup underway is the most expensive in US history.

In the Reagan version, visitors on the official tour bus ought to be told that the weapons produced here helped preserve freedom when the Soviets threatened to destroy us. But instead the Cold War is barely mentioned. The message is, basically, you won’t get cancer at Hanford today, because the cleanup is working.

From page 99:
The bus passes some low, abandoned factory buildings undergoing demolition. This is the fuel fabrication plant, which made twenty million pieces of uranium fuel, the first step in the manufacture of plutonium for weapons. Each piece, the guide explains, looks like “a roll of quarters.” But quarters never gave anybody cancer.

The tour has had some skeptics, like James Long, who wrote for the Portland Oregonian for more than forty years. As his bus headed out, he wrote, the view out the big windows “looks more like a national park than a nuclear wasteland.... There’s the occasional ugly building, of course. But no bubbling pools of waste. Nothing that glows. The damage isn’t easy to see.”
See more about How We Forgot the Cold War at the University of California Press website, and read Chapter 1, "Hippie Day at the Reagan Library."

Learn more about the book and author at Jon Wiener's website.

Writers Read: Jon Wiener.

--Marshal Zeringue