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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2012

20 - Critical mass for the earth and ocean


Three hours north of Auckland, New Zealand, in the waters around Moutapere Island lies one of the most famous wrecked ships in the world. The Rainbow Warrior is today an artificial reef, encrusted with polyps and festooned with kelp and sea grass, the ocean home of schooling fish, fluorescent jewel anemones, and speckled moray eels. This seems appropriate for a ship once registered to Greenpeace, the globally activist environmental organization. How the ship came to be lying under more than eighty feet of ocean is a story that goes back at least to the final days of the Pacific War and engages the history of colonialism and decolonization, especially in the French and American territories.

On August 6, 1945, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay passed over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and dropped a single weapon, the “Little Boy.” As the atomic bomb exploded, some 70,000 Japanese were instantly killed and a square mile of the city incinerated. Much more of the city went up in flames and as many as 140,000 people staggered out with trauma and injuries, dying in the next few months. The blast collapsed buildings, melted steel, and left shadows on stone buildings where passers-by had been instantly vaporized. Survivors were left with disfiguring burns. The atomic bomb also brought something never seen before in warfare, with the power to terrify across generations: radiation sickness, and a growing documented record of leukemia, cancer tumors, birth defects, and deformities, some immediate, some developing over the course of years.

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