History in the repeat?

by George Pletnikoff

September 12, 2007

Thirty six years ago this month, September 1971 President Richard M. Nixon said, perhaps from his oval office in the White House, “FIRE!” Suddenly the entire Island of Amchitka, in the Aleutian Island Chain, erupted. Boom! The ground heaved in sudden turmoil, ripped apart. Wildlife, unprotected and not even given a warning, suddenly were thrashed to the point that even the eyeballs of the sea otter slammed through their skulls. Birds ran, literally, and some flew, to find cover. The world shook and would never be the same. The largest underground nuclear test bomb in history was triggered on and in Alaska; on and in an Island Chain that is on the Great Pacific Ring of Fire. A big bomb, suddenly destroying a National Wildlife Refuge.

I was there last month as part of a team of people from Greenpeace to bear witness. I walked up steep unforgiving cliffs, slogged through deep tundra, crawling to the exact site of the test, of a nuclear bomb they called Cannikin. And it was….wow, lack of words. Scary. We did this on a National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And today, although there is lots of greens, plants, berries and fresh water, we could not, dared not even taste of this dirge. It is, was, and perhaps forever will be dead.

Greenpeace went there because thirty-six years ago, we got started by a few people in Vancouver B.C. who felt, as we all do today, that this act was not acceptable, not in Alaska, not anywhere. We went there because we wanted to bear witness that we must not allow anything like this to happen anywhere in the world again. We must not build bombs to destroy anything; people, plants; animals; the earth, our Mother Earth.

While there, one has so much to think and meditate about. It is silent. Empty. It is alone. By itself. Not a part of any other thing. Not even a partner to its neighboring Islands. Not even a self-respecting jellyfish was seen. And we could not drink the water!

Now, we did this with the idea that perhaps we might be able to warn the Soviet Government of Russia that we have big bombs, that we are someone to be afraid of, that we are powerful. The result of that thinking? They built more and bigger bombs with nary an end in sight.

Sadly, being at Amchitka was like looking into a future devoid of life. Even more sad is that perhaps what happened there is in some sense happening again, but this time with another big bomb, and right under our noses. Like that bomb, legal and sanctioned by our United States Government, is the bomb of bottom trawlers, legal and sanctioned by the same Government. They are destroying the habitat of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, and are protected by our laws to do so. We saw that. We witnessed their destructive fishing practices by diving into the underwater canyons by the Pribilof Islands. Just like being at ground zero on Amchitka, by Cannikin lake, we were at ground zero in the Pribilof and Zumchug Canyons.  They are almost totally devoid of life and history is repeating itself. It is happening in Alaska, on the most productive Oceans and Seas of the North Pacific.

We planted a cross there. We wanted, when doing this, and want to, express our desire that no longer is it acceptable to kill and destroy, no matter the form or manner. Once life is gone, as was evident on Amchitka, we cannot pray or will life back. We saw the future and we must not allow it to come, not in that form. So, now comes the marine cultural heritage zones. Perhaps these zones will be our cross, one which we are told to pick up and carry. Perhaps by establishing some protections for our foods to survive, we will not allow someone, five thousand miles away to say, “FIRE!” Perhaps we can learn from our history and put an end to building and enabling ways to destroy. Perhaps we can. But you must help by doing your part. You must join us in commemorating an awful time in our history, if for no other reason than to say, we will not participate.

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