The word "savage" has been used to refer to people from so-called primitive cultures, but in his 2011 documentary, filmmaker Adam Horowitz turns the concept on its head and asks who was the real "savage" in the US nuclear human experiment "Project 4.1".
In the 1950s, the U.S. nuclear test bombed the Marshall Islands 67 times, vaporizing islands and exposing entire populations to radioactive fallout measured at 750 times the level of emitted by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. After the people of Rongelap received near fatal doses of radiation from one of these tests, the US intentionally moved them to a highly contaminated island to serve as nuclear test subjects for 30 years, to measure the affects of nuclear radiation on humans. The experiment was conceived by scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of two U.S. governmental laboratories that designs nuclear weapons.
In Nuclear Savage, the people of Rongelap describe an unbelievable level of suffering from recurring cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects (babies that look like jellyfish) that have affected multiple generations.
Horowitz, a Santa Fe, New Mexico native, explains his life-long interest in this hidden history:
I always felt like I had nuclear weapons in my backyard. I wanted to find some story to tell about nuclear weapons that hadn’t been told. When I found out about this, I knew that this was one story to be told. It’s captivating about how these people have lived with this mess that was created around them...A 7-minute preview (from 2012) may be seen at the website of the Peace on Earth Film Festival and on YouTube.
“You imagine blue skies and clear water. But when I arrived it was so much worse than I dreamed.
“I didn’t believe it and was quite skeptical of the stories I was being told. But I started to meet a lot of survivors of the experiments and the story became stronger. I think in northern New Mexico, we get a pretty rose-colored view of the labs. We are taught that the labs created peace and kept the Soviet Union at bay. We’re getting a very sanitized view, and I found the history is so much darker than we were ever taught.
“I made this film to give the people in the Marshall Islands a voice. They had their land ruined and contaminated. Now the people are living with birth defects. I felt the responsibility to tell this story because people did need to hear it.