In the summer of 1990, I interviewed Dr. John Gofman at a conference at Northwestern University. Gofman, PhD and MD, was speaking about the medical effects of radiation. He had manufactured the first teaspoonful of plutonium for the Manhattan Project, and now he was an anti-nuke activist.
Gofman made headlines three years after Chernobyl, when he predicted that 475,000 people would die from cancers directly attributed to the meltdown. The official UN report, published in 2005, belied that prediction, stating 4,000 people were killed by Chernobyl fallout. In 2006, the book “Chernobyl: Consequences for the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” published by the New York Academy of Sciences, stated that 1,000,000 people had been killed including 170,000 deaths in North America. Gofman had been off by half a million people.
I mentioned to him that, at the behest of a committee of concerned citizens, I had recently stood in an illegal nuclear dump outside of Sheffield, Illinois. A cancer cluster was spreading around the area. At the time, there were tens of illegal nuclear dumps over all fifty states. After our interview, he turned to walk back into the conference, stopped and said, “Read about the Aztecs.”
This led me to learn about Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and sacrifice. The great Mesoamerican culture, which flourished between 1300 and 1521, had its core a firm belief that the sun was a deity, that darkness was a sign of the sun’s displeasure with its people. Huitzilopochtli, the priests decreed, demanded sacrifice—removing the beating hearts of enemies. Untold numbers of people were killed in frequent bloodletting rituals.
Hernan Cortes, with a small band of soldiers, brought down the Aztec empire with relative ease. The Aztecs, because of the need for human sacrifice, chased down and captured their enemies as opposed to killing them outright. Cortes, with the distinct advantage of guns, was a slaughterer.
John Gofman’s analogy, Aztecs and their “bond” with what he called the Neo Aztec nuclear industry, was clear. Radiation: The new Sun God. Religionists in the employ of the nuclear industry sold the concept of nuclear power as something which could not affect Christians; only non-believers would die. People actually believed that. Small wonder that the nuclear and chemical industries, for short term monetary gain, were able to kidnap and sacrifice a planet.
Imagine a time when civilization was temporarily, catastrophically disrupted, Dr. Gofman told me. Future archaeologists, lacking historical information, would discover, dig and open burial places. In some of those burial places would lie caches of nuclear waste. The scientists would die immediately. It reminded me of the movie which scared me to death as a kid, “The Mummy,” with Boris Karloff rising from the dead and going on a killing spree.
We “New Aztecs” are sacrificing our children to Huitzilopochtli Inc., purveyors of chemicals and the poisons in our food and water, makers of guns for mass murder—now an afternoon’s activity at the mall; to unchecked capitalism in search of profit, minus few or no safeguards regarding the environment. The stockholders of Huitzilopochtli Inc. rely on passivity of people. Sinclair Lewis’s character Babbitt is the perfect metaphor. Huitzilopochtli Inc. relies on indolence. Television and now smart phones are the perfect metaphor for the ass-sitter class.
Few of us would, say, stand in front of a Chinese tank; step forward at a lynching and attempt to stop it; boycott a store because of its discrimination policies; speak out in a public place when we see injustice; place ourselves in harm’s way with certain death but feet away; march; or merely just cast a vote.
Twenty years ago, I wrote a short story, “The Last Tree.” With it would come the last flower, the last bee, the last child, the last memory. We would become Mars. It seemed so absurd that I erased it. Now it seems utterly possible.
Ironically, we will soon land people on Mars. Dear Martian bacteria: The Aztecs are coming.