World Peace Vigil
Presentation World Peace Vigil
South Country Peace Group
August 6, 2022
When I was writing Cold War Long Island with Professor Christopher Verga a few years back, I thought the subject was past history. Chris asked me to join him in writing the book because, as a Long Island-based journalist since 1962, I reported on many of the issues involving Long Island and activities here during the Cold War.
Now, with a hot war raging in Ukraine, and Russian President Putin talking about the use of nuclear weapons, with people highly knowledgeable about nuclear war warning about the possibility of it, and with the New York City Emergency Management office coming out with a public service announcement on what folks should do in the event of a nuclear attack, one must ask—are we going through a Cold War again on Long Island and the world? Or this time around, could it be hot nuclear war?
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists a while back gave warning. In 2020, it moved its “Doomsday Clock” forward to 100 seconds to midnight, with it defining midnight as “nuclear annihilation.” This was the closest to midnight the clock was set since it was created in 1947. It was kept at 100 seconds to midnight last year and again at the start of this year—before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in March: “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”
Reported a front-page story in The New York Times in June by its national security correspondent, David Sanger, and Times science writer including on nuclear issues, William J. Broad. “The old nuclear order rooted in the Cold War’s unthinkable outcome was fraying before Russia invaded Ukraine. Now it is giving way to a looming era of disorder unlike any since the beginning of the atomic age”
Here’s the cover of the British magazine, The Economist, in June: Headline: “A NEW ERA. Why the war in Ukraine makes nuclear conflict more likely.”
“Steel Bunkers, Iodine Pills, and Canned Food: Fear of the Nuclear Apocalypse Is Back,” was the headline of a March story on Vice.
And nuclear weaponry today—77 years after the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—involves yet more gigantic destructive power.
Consider the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines built across the Long Island Sound in Groton, Connecticut. As The National Interest, a middle-of-the-road publication, describes them: “If you do the math, the Ohio-class boats may be the most destructive weapon system created by humankind. Each of the 170-meter-long vessels can carry twenty-four Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles which can be fired from underwater to strike at targets more than seven thousand miles away…As a Trident II reenters the atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 24, it splits into up to eight independent reentry vehicles, each with a 100- or 475-kiloton nuclear warhead. In short, a full salvo from an Ohio-class submarine—which can be launched in less than one minute-could unleash up to 192 nuclear warheads to wipe twenty-four cities off the map. This is a nightmarish weapon of the apocalypse.”
That New York City Emergency Management office announcement declares: “So there’s been a nuclear attack….the big one has hit.” As to what people should do: “stay inside—move to the interior of buildings away from windows—and keep tuned to media for more information.”
Where energy must go, what people truly need to do, is to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an international agreement to negotiate a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, was adopted the UN General Assembly—with 122 nations in favor—in 2017. The aim is to ban the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.
“Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us,” said Guterres on the conclusion in June a “Political Declaration and Action Plan” for implementation of the treaty—“important steps,” he said, “toward our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The big problem: the U.S., Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom —–the five leading so-called “nuclear weapons states”—have not signed on to the treaty.
Can the atomic genie be put back in the bottle? Anything people have done other people can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.
There’s a precedent: the outlawing of chemical warfare after World War I when their terrible impacts were horrifically demonstrated, killing 90,000. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemicals Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare and to a large degree the prohibition has held.
There are some in the United States, in Russia, and elsewhere who think nuclear war is winnable. Exactly 40 years ago, in 1982, the book With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War by Robert Scheer was published. The title was from T.K. Jones, a deputy undersecretary of defense, who said that with a shovel, anyone could dig a fallout shelter—a hole in the ground with a door over the top and three feet of earth on top of that. Jones asserted: “It’s the earth that does it.”
Media attention is so important to educate people, to make them fully aware of the true consequences of nuclear war—how it is, in fact, suicidal.
An example of media, finally, enlightening people: climate change. I did my first TV program on climate change 30 years ago on my nationally-aired show, Enviro Close-Up. The title: “The Heat Is On.” I interviewed Ross Gelbspan, the author of a book by that name. But only in recent years, thanks to Al Gore with his film “Inconvenient Truth,” and Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and others have media done their job and focused on climate change—and people are now aware.
But on that key to ending the existential threat of nuclear war—the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—the press has not been there.
Yesterday, the organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting published my article which it headlined: “Why Is There More Media Talk About Using Nuclear Weapons Than About Banning Them?”
I wrote of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), a member of the Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative, charging that media are acting like the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “does not exist.”
As OREPA notes in its current newsletter, the last time The New York Times mentioned the treaty was October of 2020. It adds that “in all the coverage of nuclear weapons since then, including a surge since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the TPNW has not been mentioned once.”
National Public Radio, writes OREPA, “has had four significant reports about nuclear weapons in the last three months, including a seven minute report on March 27. None of the reports mentioned the TPNW—the last time NPR mentioned it was in January 2021…”
“CNN is marginally better,” says OREPA. “A search of the website for ‘nuclear weapons’ turns up almost daily reports; but the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons gets only one mention—an op/ed on May 3 from Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.”
FAIR for my piece did a search of the Nexis news database and found “U.S. newspapers have mentioned ‘nuclear weapons’ 5,243 times between February 24, when Putin began talking about their potential use in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and August 4. Only 43 of those times included a mention of the treaty; the great majority of these were letters to the editor or opinion columns.”
UN Secretary-General Guterres at the conclusion of the June meeting on implementation of the treaty said: “Today, the terrifying lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fading from memory….In a world rife with geopolitical tensions and mistrust, this is a recipe for annihilation. We cannot allow the nuclear weapons wielded by a handful of states to jeopardize all life on our planet. We must stop knocking at doomsday’s door. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an important step towards the common aspiration of a world without nuclear weapons.”
The Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative is calling for media to cover the treaty whenever reporting on the threat of nuclear weapons.
Please, Long Island peace groups assembled here, join the effort. The Collaborative’s website with contact information is at www.nuclearbantreaty.org/
My article published yesterday is at www.fair.org
Media activism – and getting the press to do its job is vital. But a variety of political actions—also very necessary.
Abolition of nuclear weapons globally has long been a top priority of the UN. Indeed, in 1946 the first resolution—Resolution 1—of the UN, adopted by consensus, called for the creation of a commission to “make specific proposals…for the elimination from national armaments of nuclear weapons.” That vision, the abolition of nuclear weapons, must become reality.
Pope Francis, in a visit to Nagasaki in 2019 during which he condemned the “unspeakable horror” of nuclear weapons, said: “A world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary.”
Indeed, it’s critical—if we and our children and their children are to survive.
Let us eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.
Gardiner's Island at Huntington Public Library
Robert David Lion Gardiner and Gardiner’s Island
Presentation by Karl Grossman
Huntington Public Library February 12, 2020
I’ve been to many beautiful islands—Bora Bora, Paros, Mykonos, Nantucket, Cuttyhunk, Tahiti, Moorea, Santorini, Virgin Gorda, Tobago.
But just off Long Island’s shores is a gem, splendorous, an exquisite island that rivals any. It’s been aptly called a paradise. And it’s a time capsule of what the best of Long Island once was.
Gardiner’s Island—an ecological and historical jewel.
According to East Hampton Town’s 1984 comprehensive plan, Gardiner’s Island “stands as a unique expression of unspoiled terrain, at a time when few such areas exist.”
The 3,300 acre island is home to hundreds of bird species, lagoons and freshwater ponds, 1,000-acre Bostwick Forest which is the largest stand of White Oak in the Northeast.
It is the oldest English settlement in what is now New York State.
I first went to Gardiner’s Island nearly 50 years ago.
Robert David Lion Gardiner, who always described himself as the “16th Lord of the Manor” of the island, which for nearly 400 years has been privately held by his family, welcomed a large camp-out of Boy Scouts on it in 1971.
I was a big Boy Scout, indeed an Eagle Scout, had seen the island from afar, and I thought this would be a great event. I covered the camp-out for the daily Long Island Press. And interviewed Mr. Gardiner for the first time, on the island.
The next year, 1972, I got to know Mr. Gardiner pretty well—when he ran for Congress in the lst C.D. on the Conservative Party ticket against incumbent Otis Pike as a protest to Pike’s effort to make Gardiner’s Island a National Monument under the U.S. Department of Interior.
Pike said: “if anyone can show me how we can preserve open space and trees and pure air and clean water in America without government action, I’ll be happy to recommend it.”
Gardiner was no Conservative. Indeed, he ran for the State Senate in 1960 as a Democrat.
It was quite a scene when he ran for Congress against Mr. Pike—this kind-of American aristocrat with his near-British manner of speech and sporting a blue blazer with breast pocket medallion—mixing with Conservative Party members, in Selden, Coram, and so on.
Mr. Gardiner told American Heritage magazine in 1975: “The DuPonts, Rockefellers and Fords, they are nouveaux riche. The DuPonts came in 1800; they’re not even a colonial family.”
Another great quote of Mr. Gardiner: “We have always married into wealth. We’ve covered all our bets. We were on both sides of the Revolution and both sides of the Civil War. The Gardiner family always came out on top.”
He accused Mr. Pike of a would-be “socialist” taking of Gardiner’s Island. He declared: “I certainly feel that as long as the Rockefellers can have Pocantico Hills we lowly Gardiners in the fourth century of ownership should be allowed to have our estate.”
Gardiner lost the race, of course, but there was also a letter-writing campaign—80,000 letters opposing Pike’s bill were sent to the House Committee on the Interior—and Pike withdrew it.
Mr. Gardiner was subsequently a guest on my weekly TV show, “Long Island World,” on WLIW/21, the Long Island PBS station. And I did more interviews with him on TV and in print.
Meanwhile, in the early 1970s, my family was living in Sayville, and I was seeing parts of that pleasant hamlet being hit by development sprawl, the sprawl that had enveloped so much of western Long Island.
Although raised in New York City, I always loved the country. My wife, Janet—we’ve been together ever since our first week at Antioch College in Ohio 61 years ago—grew up in the 1950s in what was then country-like Huntington Beach.
Inspired to get into journalism by an Antioch internship, I had come to Suffolk in 1961 to continue college at Adelphi-Suffolk College in Sayville, later Dowling, and work towards becoming a journalist. (At Adelphi-Suffolk, I started the first newspaper at a four-year college in Suffolk, The New Voice.)
We settled in Sayville but with the intense development that struck much of Sayville in the ensuing decade, we moved to Noyac outside of Sag Harbor, in 1974, with our two sons. (Our son Adam, an attorney, has gone on, incidentally, to chair of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, and he ran for town justice three years ago and got a strong vote.
I had roots in Sag Harbor.
My paternal grandfather, an engraver, came to Sag Harbor in 1900 from Hungary and worked at Fahys watchcase factory there. Engraving was an art for Hungarian Jews, and Joseph Fahys recruited Hungarian engravers, transporting them from Ellis Island to Sag Harbor. It was in Sag Harbor where my grandfather met my grandmother, who has staying with her sister who married into the Spitz family, also Hungarian Jews, many of its members watchcase factory workers.
Thinking about development in Suffolk as we headed east, I got the idea of making a TV documentary, “Can Suffolk Be Saved?”
Others were thinking the same. After Suffolk County Executive John V.N. Klein, raised in what was then country-like Smithtown, took a trip in a helicopter and, looking down, saw the sprawl blanketing so much of western Suffolk and then the green expanses of the East End, his innovative Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program got started in 1974.
Also concerned about the eastward tide of development was Peter Fox Cohalan, now the Suffolk County historian, then Islip Town supervisor. It was the first year Islip Town received cable TV fees and Peter called and said he would like to put those funds back into TV. I said I’d like to do a TV series, “Can Suffolk Be Saved?”—about this eastward tide.
I envisioned ten half-hour TV programs and starting the series on Gardiner’s Island as a sort of baseline. Mr. Gardiner graciously gave me permission.
In my stand-up on the island I describe it as a “time capsule” for Long Island, and ask whether Suffolk can be exempt the 100-mile swath of sprawl from Boston running through the New York area down to Washington.
Gardiner’s Island, its nature and history—breath breathtaking.
Lion Gardiner bought it from the Montaukett Indians in 1639 for—as has been reported—“one large dog, one gun, some powder and shot, some rum and several blankets.”
I wonder whether the Montauketts and their chief, Wyandanch, really knew what was happening as Native Americans never considered land something that can be bought and sold.
Another factor here: the Pequots of Connecticut and their war with the Montauketts and English settlers. There was an alliance between the settlers and the Montauketts to counter the Pequots.
Among the structures on the island is a windmill, brilliant white, built in 1795, by Nathaniel Dominy 5th of East Hampton, which is on the National Historic Register. There is a carpenter’s shed, built in 1639, said to be the oldest wood-frame structure in New York State.
There’s the Manor House, originally built in 1774, but it burned down in 1947. Its replacement built that year is splendid.
To witness the shoot, Mr. Gardiner invited actress Gloria Swanson, star of the film Sunset Boulevard, and her husband, William Dufty, author of Sugar Blues.
We all met at the Gardiner mansion in East Hampton where Mr. Gardiner proudly showed the portrait—“by Salvatore Dali,” he emphasized—of the stunning red-haired former British model, Eunice Bailey Oakes, whom he wed in 1961.
Then we took off from Three Mile Harbor on Mr. Gardiner’s boat, the Laughing Lady, Mr. Gardiner at the wheel, talking as he drove.
On the island, in what is called in TV a “stand-up,” I introduced the series and then interviewed him. And then we got on to the beds of two trucks for a tour of the island which Mr. Gardiner narrated.
He knew the island’s history in depth.
He told us how Captain Kidd came to the island in 1699, buried treasure in a ravine, said Gardiner, and warned John Winthrop Gardiner that if the treasure wasn’t there when he returned, he’d kill the Gardiner family. Captain Kidd then headed off to Boston where he was captured, put on trial for piracy and executed.
The Gardiners were ordered to return the treasure of gold dust, silver bars, gold Spanish coins, rubies and diamonds. One diamond somehow wasn’t immediately found to be returned, it’s been related in various historical accounts—perhaps it fell out of the bag of containing what was being returned. It was given later to daughter Elizabeth Gardiner. Also, a piece of cloth embroidered with gold had been given by Captain Kidd to her mother and is now part of the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Library.
(A recent twist in this historic account. Last year, Dr. Gary Rosenbaum, an infectious disease specialist at Peconic Bay Medical Center here in Riverhead, called me after hearing me on the radio talking about giving a presentation at the Suffolk County Historical Museum in Riverhead. He related an experience indicating that more than one diamond from Captain Kidd’s treasure was kept by the Gardiners. He said as a Boy Scout his troop from Commack camped on Gardiner’s Island in the 1970s, and Mr. Gardiner, with a security person present, in the Manor House showed the boys a ruby- and emerald-studded tierra and a large number of Spanish gold doubloons Mr. Gardiner said were from Captain Kidd’s treasure. I had Dr. Rosenbaum come to the county Historical Museum when I spoke to speak about this.)
In any event, on that 1974 shoot Mr. Gardiner took us to the marked site where he said the treasure had been buried.
He spoke about Julia Gardiner, born on the island, who became President John Tyler’s second wife and the First Lady of the United States in 1844.
As he continued with his fascinating talk and we traveled around the island, my director, Bob Civiello, told me we had run out of film—what should we do? Bob and I felt that Mr. Gardiner was having such a fine time—especially directing his words at Ms. Swanson, who he seemed to be in awe of—that the cameraperson should just keep rolling.
Then we had a gala lunch at the Manor House. At a centerpiece table was Mr. Gardiner, and he had positioned on one side of him, Ms. Swanson, on the other, the other woman in our group, on the other. I kind of got the feeling of being at a ceremonial meal of an English royal centuries ago.
In ensuing years, a feud developed between Mr. Gardiner and his niece, Alexandra Creel Goelet, who stood to inherit the half-share of the island that was held by her mother, Mr. Gardiner’s sister, Alexandra Gardiner Creel.
The battle continued for years.
Gardiner accused his niece and her husband, Robert Goelet, of planning to sell the island for development. He refused to pay his share of the $2 million a year in upkeep and taxes. At one point, Mr. Gardiner accused Mr. Goelet of trying to run him over with a truck on the island.
And, Gardiner changed positions and said he was not opposed to ownership of the island by the government or a private conservation group. Then Mr. Gardiner was barred, starting in 1980, by a Surrogate Court’s ruling from visiting the island for not paying his share. In 1992 this was overturned.
Also, because Mr. Gardiner had no heirs, he sought unsuccessfully in 1989—to smite Mrs. Goelet—to adopt as his “son” a Mississippi businessman, George Gardiner Green, Jr., a distant descendant of Lion Gardiner.
Mrs. Creel’s ownership went to her daughter when she died in 1990.
Mr. Gardiner died in 2004 at 93 at his mansion in East Hampton. His wife Eunice subsequently died.
And Alexandra Creel Goelet with her husband took full possession of Gardiner’s Island.
What will be future of Gardiner’s Island?
After Mr. Gardiner’s death, in 2005 a 20-year conservation easement covering more than 95% of the island was arranged with the Town of East Hampton.
Said my old friend, Tom Twomey, attorney for the Goelets: “This is a way for the family to keep their longstanding pledge not to develop the land for the foreseeable future.”
The easement deal was contingent on a promise from the town that it would not further upzone the island, change its assessment, or attempt to acquire it by condemnation. In 1993, the town upzoned the island from one to five acre zoning—an upzoning that Ms. Goelet opposed. And in 2001, there was a move by the town for more restrictive zoning—to 25 acres per house—which did not go through.
Also in 2001, Lee Koppelman, executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board and long-time Suffolk County planner, recommended that the “development rights” for the island be purchased by government—the basis of the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program.
Other options he discussed: the island could become a limited access national park or a national wildlife refuge. As Dr. Koppelman commented in an article in The New York Times headlined “Gardiners Island: The War of Wills,” that the island’s uniqueness and historic and environmental importance would make a federal commitment “not unlikely.”
Koppelman described Gardiner’s Island as “perhaps the most important offshore island on the entire Atlantic seashore from Maine to Florida.”
Koppelman emphasized: “The overriding concern is for the long-term future.”
Still, Mrs. Goelet, in the Times article, stressed that she and her husband had “willingly” supported preservation of the island and, “My children intend to carry on this tradition.”
Koppelman said the town’s proposed more restrictive 25-acre zoning was not a solution. Five-acre zoning would allow for 650 homes. Under 25-acre zoning, 130 homes. And, he said: “Even 130 homes would irretrievably change the unique character and environment of the island.”
Gardiner’s attorney, Joseph R. Attonito, said in the piece by my journalistic buddy John Rather, that Mr. Gardiner would welcome a government role in the island’s future. He was quoted as saying: “Mr. Gardiner has consistently said, almost like a mantra, that the island has to be preserved as it is today. He would be supportive of Dr. Koppelman’s proposals and even of a national park, provided that he would not want a Jones Beach because the ecology of the island is way too fragile.”
The lawyer went on, “The island is an extremely expensive place to run as a private second home.” He said Mr. Gardiner was “convinced that the Goelets would develop the island because they would be unable or unwilling to pay maintenance costs.”
But Mrs. Goelet said she did not foresee needing government help. She said: “I respect the concern of those who live in East Hampton for the long-term continuation of the current use of Gardiner’s Island. Nevertheless, the island is my home. Proposal for changes in ownership of it through governmental action, however well-intentioned and however limited, are very troubling to me and my family.”
Mrs. Goelet is a strong environmentalist. She has a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry. So was Mr. Goelet, who died at 96 last year. He had been president of the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Historical Society and the New York Zoological Society.
Mr. Gardiner and the Goelet family—there is a son and a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Goelet—all excellent stewards of Gardiner’s Island.
The 20-year easement expires in a less than five years, in 2025.
Here is the conservation easement document. It states: “So long as this Easement is effective, no plan for the subdivision and development of the Premises may be filed with any governmental authority without the prior written consent of the Grantee” (that’s the town of East Hampton). Both Mrs. and Mr. Goelet signed it.
As the obituary last October for Mr. Goelet in The New York Times stated: “The two children, who run the family investment office, say the island will be preserved through trusts as the family home and as a wildlife sanctuary in perpetuity.”
The Goelet family has enormous wealth with ownership of significant real estate in New York City. They have the bucks to keep Gardiner’s Island preserved privately.
The Goelets are descended from a family of Huguenots from France who escaped to Amsterdam in The Netherlands and from there came to what is now New York in 1676. Jacobus Goelet, a widower, arrived with his 10-year-old son, John. Sadly, he was lost at sea on a return business trip to Amsterdam.
A1969 New York Times obituary for a member of the Goelet family, Ogden Goelet, stated: he was “a descendent of one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the city.” It speaks of the Goelet “holdings…at one time to have included 55 acres stretching along the East Side [of Manhattan] from Union Square to 48th Street.”
But what about, as Lee Koppelman says, his “overriding concern…for the long-term future” of an island which, he emphasizes, is “perhaps the most important offshore island on the entire Atlantic seashore from Maine to Florida.”
Over the long-term, in life there are very few guarantees.
And Gardiner’s Island has not had a financially seamless history.
For example, the situation in the 1930s.
The 12th “Lord of the Manor,” also named Lion Gardiner, died in 1936. According to an article in the Long Island Historical Journal based on a 1937 New York Times piece, nine years earlier he had sold Gardiner’s Island to an uncle, Jonathan Gardiner—but held a $345,000 mortgage. Jonathan died in 1933 and had left the island to a great-nephew, Winthrop Gardiner.
However, Jonathan’s plan went “awry” because of that mortgage.
Lion’s widow, Ida Gardiner, was stuck with paying the mortgage, the piece went on, citing 1937 articles in The East Hampton Star, relating that the principal and unpaid interest amounted to $298,000 and $32,000 respectively.
That was big money in the middle of the Depression.
According to this account, “A plea to the Bank of New York and Trust Company, the executor of Jonathan’s estate, for a partial payment “went unheeded.” And, it continued: “Apparently seeing no other recourse, Ida and the executors instituted foreclosure proceedings against Winthrop and the Bank of New York and Trust Company…In March 1937 it was announced that Gardiner’s Island was to be put up for sale.”
“With the sale pending,” said the Long Island Historical Journal article, rumors circulated of—again citing The East Hampton Star—”‘widespread interest’ by ‘out-of-town parties,’ one of which, for example, ambitiously proposed to convert the island into an American Monte Carlo with a casino, hotel and race track.”
“The auction never came off,” said the piece. “A few weeks before it was scheduled to take place—Miss Sarah Diodati Gardiner came to the rescue.” She was an aunt of Mr. Gardiner and his sister.
“Although not of this opinion at first, she became convinced of the importance of keeping the island in the family” and “purchased it from the executors of Lion Gardiner’s estate.”
This article continued: “In this unexpected fashion, the island was retained by the Gardiners.” Sarah Diodati Gardiner, who never married, died in 1953 at 90, and by “the terms of her will, the island was to be held in trust for the benefit” of her niece, Alexandra Creel, and nephew, Robert David Lion Gardiner.
For nearly 400 years the Gardiners have preserved Gardiner’s Island. But what about the fate of Gardiner’s Island in the next 400 years—and beyond?
A wise future course to insure this exquisite and highly important island, ecologically and historically, would be, I believe, Dr. Koppelman’s suggestion of sale of development rights.
Even for the very wealthy, over the long-term—over centuries—there are financial ups and downs.
With development rights purchase, the Goelets and their descendants would retain full ownership and full control of the island. The only change would be—as it works with Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program—a covenant legally requiring the island have no development in perpetuity.
There would be, in effect, a permanent conservation easement for Gardiner’s Island.
The island, just as the Goelet family want—would be “preserved…in perpetuity.” And it would be air-tight preservation in perpetuity.
The Goelets would receive the difference between what the island is—I hate to use this word—“worth” as it is and what it would be “worth” developed, not that they need the money.
Optimally, the federal and state governments would join financially in this initiative to save Gardiner’s Island.
This way there would be a legal guarantee that this “most important offshore island on the Atlantic seashore from Maine to Florida” is preserved for all time.
Jews on the East End of Long Island
JEWS ON THE EAST END OF LONG ISLAND
Temple Adas Israel, Sag Harbor
September 1, 2017
It is a pleasure to speak before my community here in Sag Harbor, the bright spot in the history of Jews in this area. Jews came to Sag Harbor in substantial numbers after Joseph Fahys opened his watchcase factory in 1881.
Fahys recruited Jewish engravers from Hungary where engraving was a fine art among Jews. Fahys, the great grandfather of a current-day open-minded figure, Howard Dean, or Fahys’ representatives would go to Ellis Island and bring them to Sag Harbor.
My grandfather, Herman Grossman, came to Sag Harbor in 1905 to work at Fahys. In Sag Harbor, he met Stephanie Spiegel, also a Hungarian Jew.
Her sister, Ernestine, had married into the Spitz family, Hungarian Jews who had a store that sold appliances on Main Street—where Fisher’s Home Furnishings is today. Members of the family also worked at Fahys.
Over there on one of our old memorial plaques is Ernestine’s name.
Herman met Stephanie while she was staying with Ernestine. They fell in love and were married. And subsequently left Sag Harbor for New York City where my father and I were born and raised.
A few names down on the plaque is that of Ernestine’s nephew, Arthur Spitz, quite active in Sag Harbor government—he was a village trustee. He told me, after my family moved to Sag Harbor in 1974, that Herman and Stephanie made a big mistake leaving Sag Harbor. During the Depression, said Arthur, “we could glean potatoes from the fields in Bridgehampton”—and otherwise survive. While Grandpa Herman lost his job as an engraver in Manhattan and under financial stress had a heart attack and died.
My folks lived in Brooklyn, Queens and, after my father was making good money, on Gramercy Park in Manhattan for 50 years. So I’m a credentialed New York Jew.
And having lived out here for over 40 years, I think I know both Jewish worlds.
Now a wrinkle in the Sag Harbor Jewish story for any who might be unfamiliar with it: the deep division for years between the Hungarian Jews and the Jews of Sag Harbor with roots in Russia and other European countries.
I explore this at the start of a TV documentary I made four years ago as chief investigative reporter at WVVH-TV. It’s titled The (Unusual) Jewish History of Sag Harbor and can now be viewed on YouTube. Just type in my name and the documentary’s title or subject.
Right after the start of the documentary, in front of a display case downstairs, which exhibits my grandfather’s talit and tfillin, I explain that: “Hungarian Jews like Hungarians in general have considered themselves very special. Indeed, the language is unique, the food is very special…” And I discuss how, when the Hungarian Jews arrived in Sag Harbor, they didn’t get along with the other Jews.
In her well-researched 1986 work, Yankees in Yarmulkes: Small-Town Jewish Life in Eastern Long Island, the late Helene Gerard, a librarian from Eastport, writes about how in 1890 the Jewish Cemetery Association of Sag Harbor was formed “with six trustees, all of them Russian Jews. This is significant,” she goes on, because in Sag Harbor “there were two distinct Jewish communities.”
“The Jews from Russia and those from Hungary brought with them European social antagonisms and refused to worship, socialize, or be buried together.”
She writes: “The Hungarians formed their own Independent Jews Cemetery Association of Sag Harbor in 1899.” This was next to “the Russian Jewish cemetery. A fence…was erected between the two which still exists.”
In the documentary, in a stand-up at the cemetery, the fence in back of me, I comment “how dopey it was” that there was this division between Jews in Sag Harbor considering that Jews weren’t particularly welcome in neighboring East Hampton and Southampton.
Hungarian Jews might have thought themselves better amid the stratification of Jews—many a German Jew and Sephardic Jew also have had this notion—but for the Nazis it didn’t matter whether a Jew was from Hungary or Poland or Russia or Germany, and so on. They killed them all—including every member of the families of Herman and Stephanie—among them his four sisters—who remained in Hungary.
Mrs. Gerard writes about—and I explore at length in the documentary—our synagogue. She cites a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article on its dedication in 1900 describing it as “the synagogue of the Jewish Association of United Brethren of Sag Harbor” with “a membership of 36 persons, all of Russian origin.”
“Another Hebrew society, apart from the United Brethren, also exists….known as the Independent Jewish Association, and it is largely composed of natives of Hungary. The society has this week [rented] Engraver’s Hall…for their celebration of Rosh Hashanah.”
Mrs. Gerard also notes the Brooklyn Eagle article reporting: “Twenty years ago it would have been difficult to find a representative of the Hebrew race in Sag Harbor, but the establishment of the Fahys’ watchcase factory has brought large numbers. In business the Jews have pushed rapidly to the fore…upon the main business thoroughfares fifteen large stores testify to their industry.”
In 1918, Mrs. Gerard relates, “the [Sag Harbor] Jewish community had financial difficulties and the synagogue’s mortgage was foreclosed. Three members of the congregation bought it back at public auction” and later that year a “new certificate of incorporation was filed. From the names listed,” she says, “it is clear that by then the Russian and Hungarian factions had finally made peace and joined in one congregation.”
In terms of Jewish numbers in Sag Harbor, Mrs. Gerard cites a 1902 Sag Harbor Express article reporting “a recent census indicating a total population of 3,438” that continued: “Our population is cosmopolitan…there are about 650 adults of foreign birth….The Hebrew invasion, which is comparatively recent, sums up, men, women and children, about 500.”
Or put another way: nearly 15 percent of Sag Harbor’s population early in the last century were Jews.
The Express article went on that “some arrived from Ellis Island by steamer to be greeted at the docks by townspeople crying, ‘Jerusalem is coming! Jerusalem is here!’”
Over in East Hampton, no one was proclaiming “Jerusalem is here!” There were very few Jews.
Indeed, a 2009 story in The Southampton Press about the 50th anniversary of the Jewish Center of Hamptons in East Hampton reported that, “In the 1950s, the East Hampton Jewish community consisted of perhaps 11 families, most of whom ran local businesses.”
Indeed, a 2009 story in The Southampton Press about the 50th anniversary of the Jewish Center of Hamptons in East Hampton reported that, “In the 1950s, the East Hampton Jewish community consisted of perhaps 11 families, most of whom ran local businesses.”
It was at East Hampton’s exclusive Maidstone Club where Groucho Marx, after being told while playing golf as a guest that he wouldn’t be allowed to join because he was a Jew, famously commented: “My kids are only half-Jewish. Can they play at least the front nine?”
Deserving much credit for breaking the discriminatory flood gates in East Hampton is the late Evan Frankel, a scrappy, tough guy originally from the Lower East Side.
I vividly recall Evan telling me how he had become “the sole Jew living south of Montauk Highway in East Hampton.” And on an 11 acre estate, at that. South of Montauk Highway was and is—the most upscale part of the village.
Evan had come to the East End to build radar facilities during World War II. Steel was in short supply and he figured a way to use wood to build the frames on which the radar equipment perched.
Some of the few Jews in East Hampton had come to him in the 1950s, he related, wanting “to build a little shul.” Evan characteristically thought in a big way. He bought the stately Borden Estate, on the main entrance to East Hampton.
Some of the few Jews in East Hampton had come to him in the 1950s, he related, wanting “to build a little shul.” Evan characteristically thought in a big way. He bought the stately Borden Estate, on the main entrance to East Hampton.
Establishing Jewish presence in this way was very important to Evan. He wanted it shown, he told me, that “Jews had arrived” in East Hampton.
After acquiring the building and four acres on which it sits, he donated it for what would be the Jewish Center of the Hamptons. He worked closely with another wealthy Jew, J.M. Kaplan, who had a summer house in East Hampton—north of Montauk Highway.
Evan was central to getting Norman Jaffe, the late, great architect from Bridgehampton to design what’s now the sanctuary at the JCOH.
My family was a member of JCOH then because Temple Adas Israel had limited activities, and no Hebrew School.
Indeed, Gertrude Katz was recollecting this morning the many years that “after Hanukah we closed up for the rest of the winter.” Bravo to those who kept Adas Israel alive—David Lee, Donald and Gert Katz, Gert’s mother Nettie Rosenstein, Nettie’s brother Max Katz, the Kelmans—May Kelman is still with us at 103, Arthur Spitz and his wife Louise, among others.
A turning point came in 2010 when after more than a century Leon Morris, the last of several part-time rabbis, became the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. And in 2014, after he made aliyah, luckily we got Dan.
So our two sons were bar-mitzvahed at JCOH. And I helped on the sanctuary project putting Norman’s vision into words because of Evan’s concern that many in the congregation might not accept the bold, amazing design—for what turned out to be one of the most striking Jewish sanctuaries in the world—named Gates of the Grove.
As for Southampton, it is telling that the website of the Chabad Jewish Center of Southampton, which got its start in 1995, states: “Chabad of Southampton, the first synagogue in historic Southampton since its 1640 founding…” It took from 1640 to 1995!
“You can imagine,” related a subsequent story in New York magazine, “the consternation when…a family arrived that clearly hadn’t seen the membership brochure. The man…had a bird’s nest of a beard and wore dark suits all day long. He and his wife were young but had a bevy of children—two at first, five before long. They invited guests on Saturday morning—dozens of them.”
Being referred to were Rabbi Rafe and Chany Konikov.
The story went on: “Almost immediately, Southamptonites began whispering. Who are these people? What do they want? What do we do about them?…Soon enough complaints were registered. Letters were sent…Finally the villagers did what Hamptonites have done before them in the face of unprecedented change: They sued.”
It was quite a struggle for the Chabad.
My doctor and friend, Allen Fein, came to its aid. As Allen wrote in a letter to The Southampton Press, he was “proud” of this “fine addition to our community. Chabad has an outstanding record of positive service and incomparable warm hospitality.”
“Shalom Chabad!” declared Dr. Fein, articulating Jewish togetherness.
In Southampton there’s an historical equivalent of the Maidstone Club, the Meadow Club. As the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported in 1959 about “numerous” clubs in the New York area “closed to Jews and Negroes,” “Oliver Rodgers, president of the Meadow Club…said there were no Negro members but declined to say whether there were any Jewish members.”
When the Chabad of East Hampton was established, there was difficulty, too, but not anywhere as intense as in Southampton.
The Chabad North Haven in the Hamptons is the newest Chabad founded in these parts, in 2013. For years it held services in the living room of the home of Rabbi Berel Lerman and his wife, Brocha, in North Haven, and at the Sag Harbor Inn. But two months ago Chabad’s new spiritual home, the Center for Jewish Life, across from the Sag Harbor Post Office, opened in a huge space that had been the temporary location of John Jermain Memorial Library while it was being expanded and renovated. It is a remarkable development in Sag Harbor for Jews.
Seeing the Hassids walking to services on the bridge to Sag Harbor the other Saturday, I thought of being in Safed in Israel.
And this is Sag Harbor!
And there’s the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, established in 1999. Its website describes it as “a fully egalitarian, fully participatory synagogue—an ‘extended family.’”
Its origins involve in part, some members here who wanted to undo this synagogue’s Reform approach—after all, it began as Orthodox. But were successfully stopped in a hot election of officers by members led by David Lee, Donald Katz and our current now long-time president, Neal Fagin.
No presentation about Jews in the Hamptons is complete without discussion of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, Orthodox and established in what was an extremely gentile village, until recent years.
Founded in 1990 by Rabbi Marc Schneier of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue, there was strife between Jews in connection with the shul’s attempt to establish an eruv. An organization called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv was formed. The New York Times quoted Arnold Sheiffer, its leader, saying: “As a Reform Jew, I find it extremely offensive to create a distinction that this is a Jewish area.”
The battle brought out intense anti-Semitism below the surface in Westhampton Beach. In 2008, my former journalism student, Tim Laube, ran for mayor of Westhampton Beach, where he grew up. He had been a reporter for The Southampton Press, then went into government becoming clerk of the Suffolk Legislature, elected a Westhampton Beach trustee and appointed deputy mayor, too.
Running for mayor as the eruv battle raged, he supported it. He also pointed out what happened in Tenafly, New Jersey where all kinds of money were spent for a lawsuit that failed to stop an eruv—the same thing ultimately happening in Westhampton Beach. There’s an eruv there today.
Tim’s father was Jewish, although most people in Westhampton Beach didn’t know his family background. (His dad and mom ran the Hampton Arts movie theatre in the village.)
Tim told me that when he campaigned for mayor—as I wrote in an article in The Southampton Press—a village resident, a neighbor, said to him: “I don’t care what it costs: Keep the Jews out.” Another said: “You got to stand up to these damn Jews.” He received anti-Semitic phone calls. And eight days before the election, there was a full-page newspaper ad proclaiming: “A Vote for Tim Laube and John Roland Is a Vote to Turn Westhampton Beach into an Orthodox Jewish Community.” Tim and his running mate, John Roland, former New York Channel 5 anchor, were soundly defeated.
My story reported that in the wake of Tim’s exposure to virulent anti-Semitism in Westhampton Beach, he decided to move. He said he didn’t “feel this is where I want to stay the rest of my life.”
I called Tim recently for an update and he said he did move to East Moriches where, he emphasized, his son is growing up.
The experience still painful, Tim related additional stories about campaigning and going door-to-door and getting comments such as: “There are too many Jews here” and “I don’t want these Jews.”
Said Tim: “Westhampton Beach was not the place I thought it was.”
In 2013, The Jerusalem Post published a story headlined: “The Jewish Hamptons.” It began by telling how the Hamptons “have attracted” many Jews who have “established thriving institutions.”
That’s correct. But there has been plenty of anti-Semitism. As for the intra-Jewish divisions based on where one last landed in the Diaspora, this mishigas has also been in my family.
Grandpa Herman and Grandma Stephanie spoke Hungarian and German, not Yiddish. And Herman, the story goes, wasn’t happy when his oldest son, my Uncle Joseph, married a Galiciana. My father, too, married a woman, my mother, whose family was from the Galicia region of Poland. Oh, what tsuris this could cause for some Hungarian Jews.
The Hamptons have become a vibrant center for Jews. There are now plenty of Jews all over the Hamptons. And Jews have indeed thrived in the Hamptons.
Here in the Town of Southampton, the top-elected official, the town supervisor, is Jay Schneiderman, with his family, a member of our synagogue. His son, Ruben, was recently bar mitzvahed here, and before that his daughter, Magda, was bat mitzvahed here. Jay’s late mom, also Magda, left Hungary for the U.S. in 1938 and thereafter, Jay relates, “Hitler wiped out the rest of her family.”
A few blocks from the old watchcase factory, our son, Adam, went to elementary school, then Pierson High School—where Janet long worked as a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Adam went on to law school, became Riverhead town attorney, and last year ran for Southampton town justice, not winning but getting a strong vote. He’s chairman of the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, lives in Hampton Bays with his law practice in Riverhead.
The Hamptons have been, relatively—that’s the key word—good for Jews.
Parallel Atomic Universes
Professor, State University of New York/College at Old Westbury
PARALLEL ATOMIC UNIVERSES
Russian-American Women’s Leadership And Nuclear Safety Activism
Exchange of the Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia
Tomsk, Siberia May 24, 2002
We—the people of the United States and you, the people of Russia—live in parallel atomic universes. Our nuclear establishments rose from similar roots: the development of atomic bombs.
They continued and expanded for the same reason: to perpetuate themselves mainly. In the United States an additional interest was greed, money to be made through capitalism. In the former Soviet Union, an additional motive was communism’s worshipful commitment to technology.
As the 1958 book Atom For Peace of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences stated: “Atomic energy is a powerful tool of technical progress. The speediest and fullest utilization of this new source of power is thus in the interests of humanity.”
“Atomics, like science and technology in general, finds its natural home in socialism, which alone makes possible social planning, and, therefore, the use of productive forces for the benefit of the people,” declared the Marxist analyis Atomic Energy and Society published by International Publishers.
But whether atomic technology was developed under U.S.-style capitalism or Soviet communism, the end result was the same: nuclear pollution destroying life and contaminating the environment in both our nations.
In the United States, atomic technology began with a letter to our president in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt, from Albert Einstein—written in Peconic on Long Island, New York. (I live 15 kilometers away.)
In late 1938 fission was accomplished in Nazi Germany. Physicists Leo Szilard and Edward Teller, like Einstein refugees from the Nazis, fearing Hitler might develop a bomb based on the energy unleashed by fission, with others asked Einstein to write the letter. Einstein wrote to the president about information that “leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future,” how “it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium” and of “this new phenomenon” leading “to the construction of bombs…extremely powerful bombs of a new type.”
Out of that letter came the Manhattan Project run by the U.S. Army. Scientists and engineers were gathered and put to work at facilities secretly built at locations across the U.S. The biggest were laboratories and manufacturing plants in Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; Argonne, Illinois; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Large corporations and universities were retained to manage the facilities. Indeed, Einstein’s letter had suggested that “government departments” join with “university laboratories” and “industrial laboratories” for this crash program to beat the Nazis to nuclear weapons.
General Electric and Westinghouse—which were to become the Coke and Pepsi in the U.S. manufacture of nuclear power plants—got their start in atomic technology as Manhattan Project contractors.
By 1945 four atomic bombs had been built, one used for a test and two dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Also by 1945, 600,000 people had become part of a program on which two billion dollars, in 1940’s dollars, had been spent. The Manhattan Project had become a major part of the U.S. economy.
With the war’s end there was anxiety among many of those involved in the Manhattan Project. Many of the scientists and government officials didn’t want to see the endeavor and their jobs over; corporations didn’t want to see their contracts ended.
As James Kunetka writes in his book City of Fire about Los Alamos Laboratory, with the war over there were now problems of “job placement, work continuity…more free time than work…hardly enough to keep everyone busy…without a crash program underway.”
Some of the people and corporations could continue building nuclear weapons, and they did. And they built even bigger bombs—the “super,” the hydrogen bomb, Teller’s project. Nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to commercial spinoff. What else could be done with atomic technology to perpetuate the nuclear establishment that rose with the Manhattan Project? In the first nuclear reactors, built at Hanford to turn uranium-238 into plutonium-239, fissionable atomic bomb fuel, lay a clue for commercial use of atomic technology: use the heat caused by fission to boil water to turn a turbine and generate electricity.
There were other schemes: using nuclear devices as substitutes for TNT to blast huge holes in the ground. Indeed, the U.S. in the 1950s planned to string 250 nuclear devices across the isthmus of Panama to create a new canal—dubbed the Panatomic Canal. If would, though, rain radioactive debris on a large section of Central America. Finally, what the Manhattan Project became in 1946, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, withdrew the project because of “prospective host country opposition to nuclear-canal excavation.”
There was even a scheme to close the Straits of Gibraltar with nuclear devices. The Mediterranean would then rise and desalinate so its waters could be used to irrigate the Sahara Desert. Atomic scientist Glenn Seaborg who went on to become AEC chairman acknowledged that “of course, the advances of a verdant Sahara would have to be weighed against the loss of Venice and other sea level cities.”
There were plans, too, to use nuclear technology to radiation-expose food to extend shelf life, to build nuclear-powered airplanes and nuclear-powered rockets.
The nuclear establishments in my country and here pushed on and on and on…
In the U.S.S.R., it was a letter sent by physicist Georgii Flerov to Joseph Stalin in 1942 that, as the book Red Atom: Russia’s Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today relates, began your atomic program. “In the same way Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin Roosevelt gave impetus to the Manhattan project, Flerov’s letter convinced Stalin to pursue an atomic bomb,” notes Paul R. Josephson.
Out of that letter came your nuclear establishment. You know better than I of its devastating costs, costs that parallel the price we in America have paid in lives lost, parts of our nation left horribly polluted.
As Josephson states in Red Atom: “The physicists desired energy ‘too cheap to meter’ through power-generating reactors. They sought new ways to produce nuclear fuel—plutonium—cheaply through liquid metal fast breeder reactors…They built small nuclear engines intended to power locomotives, rockets, airplanes, and portable power plants…They sterilized various food products with low-level gamma radiation to prevent spoilage and increase shelf life. They pioneered the so-called tokamak reactor in pursuit of fusion power. And they used ‘peaceful nuclear explosions’ for various mining, excavation, and construction purposes. Nuclear technology was at the center of visions of a radiant communist future.”
He continues, “whether nuclear reactors or food irradiation programs, small nuclear engines or factories spitting out…liquid sodium or isotope separation equipment, each of these technologies developed significant momentum. As if divorced from human control, the programs expanded.” Just like in the U.S.
In 1954, in a race with the United States, the first Soviet reactor to produce electricity, Obninsk, started up—despite what Josephson says were problems causing the reactor to be “unstable and in need of constant attention.”
The first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., Shippingport in Pennsyvlania, started up in 1957. It was built by the U.S. government under the direction of Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father” of our nuclear navy. The private utilities in the U.S. were reluctant to build atomic power plants, fearing their exposure, their liability in the event of an accident. With the opening of Shippingport, Lewis Straus, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, declared that “it is the commission’s policy to give industry the first opportunity to undertake the construction of power reactors. However, if industry does not, within a reasonable time, undertake to build types of reactors which are considered promising, the commission will take steps to build the reactors on its own initiative.”
This was the stick to compel the U.S. utility industry to build nuclear plants. The carrot was the Price-Anderson Act, a law passed in 1957, supposedly as a temporary measure to encourage a nuclear industry to start, which severely limited liability in the event of a catastrophic accident. But the Price-Anderson Act continues to this day, indeed the U.S. Congress recently voted to extend it another 15 years. Meanwhile, also in 1957, the first U.S. report on the consequences of a nuclear accident was released. The AEC’s WASH-740 report projected the potential impacts as 3,400 killed, 43,000 injured and $7 billion in property damage.
That, however, was based on a nuclear plant with a fifth the power of those that actually were built in the 1960s and 70s. In 1982, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the successor agency of the AEC, issued a report reflecting the increased power. This analysis, Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences, projected consequences such as, for the Indian Point 2 and 3 nuclear plants 28 miles north of New York City—over which, might I note, one of the jets that crashed into the World Trade Center September 11 flew—46,000 “early fatalities” if Indian Point 2 underwent a meltdown with breach of containment; 50,000 “early fatalities” from a meltdown at Indian Point 3. Peak “early injuries” from 2: 141,000. From 3, 167,000. Cancer deaths, 13,000 from 2; 14,000 from 3. And as to property damage, the study estimated $274 billion—in 1980 dollars—as a result of a meltdown at 2; $314 billion as a result of a meltdown at 3.
Another important U.S. government admission, on the “likelihood of a severe core melt” accident, came in 1985: “In a population of 100 reactors operating over a period of 20 years, the crude cumulative probability of such an accident would be 45%,” said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Your nuclear whistle-blower Lydia Popova has written how “the Soviet nuclear industry began with the creation of deadly weapons in secret cities and secret laboratories.” Your counterpart to our governmental nuclear regulatory agencies, the Ministry of Atomic Power, as Popova states, “acquired the privileges of the [nuclear] weapons program—including its secrecy and total financial dependence on the taxpayer. Its commitment was to serve the interests of the industry and a select group of nuclear specialists at the expense of ordinary people.”
We had our Three Mile Island accident about which our nuclear establishment is still in denial. A TV documentary I’ve done is called Three Mile Island Revisited in which it is revealed that despite the claim of our nuclear establishment that “no one died” as a result of the TMI accident, the owner of the plant has quietly been giving cash settlements to people who suffered impacts including the loss of loved ones.
Here Chernobyl brought horrific devastation and as Popova has written, your nuclear establishment is also “unrepentant,” seeking to have Chernobyl “forgotten.”
And both Russian and U.S. governments are now pushing for a “revival” of nuclear power—many more nuclear power plants in both nations. As one official in the U.S. process, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, has said: “If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear power really is good.” Really.
Your government would establish Russia as a repository for much of the world’s nuclear waste. My government is now moving to dump U.S. nuclear wastes in Yucca Mountain which is on or near 32 earthquake faults and is 100 miles from Las Vegas. Speaking of a big gamble.
In their 1992 book Ecocide in the USSR, Murray Feshback and Alfred Friendly, Jr. wrote: “When historians finally conduct an autopsy on the Soviet Union and Soviet Communism, they may reach the verdict of death by ecocide…No other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water and people. None so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve public health and protect nature so degraded both. And no advanced society faced such a bleak political and economic reckoning with so few resources to invest toward recovery.”
They write about how the Soviet Union endangered “the health of its population—especially its children and its labor force—the productivity of its soil and the purity of its air and water.
Ten years later, the people of Russia are examining alternative systems. There are those in my country who would sell you on our system. Capitalism, they say, is the answer.
Life, I say, is the answer. To life, to the preservation of life—that is what a nation should aspire.
In my country, cancer is now epidemic. Nearly one in every two Americans is expected to get cancer. And analysis after analysis has attributed a majority of cancer cases to environmental pollution: the toxic soup of air pollution, water pollution, the impacts of dangerous chemicals and radiation.
As a Presidential Toxic Substances Strategy Committee reported: “Environmental factors…are significant in the great majority of cancer cases seen.”
As the First Annual Report to Congress by the Task Force on Environmental Cancer and Heart and Lung Disease stated: “The environment we have created may now be a major cause of death in the United States.’
Rachel Carson whose 1962 book Silent Spring sparked the modern environmental movement in the U.S. spoke of a “barrage” of toxics “hurled against the fabric of life” and causing widespread death. That barrage continues.
The government is of little use in protecting its citizens.
That’s the way it has always been
Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a physician known as the “father” in the U.S. of pure food regulation (there’s even a U.S. postage stamp bearing his likeness), came to Washington, D.C. in 1883 to become chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.S. was changing—from a rural to an industrial society—and dangerous chemicals had begun to be put into processed food. These chemicals, Dr. Wiley determined, were “real threats to health.” So he formed Dr. Wiley’s “Poison Squad,” a group of Department of Agriculture volunteers who under the gaze of the press ate doses of chemicals being used to color and preserve and otherwise treat food, to show their negative effects on human beings.
The populace became alerted and alarmed by Dr. Wiley’s campaign and the publication of the book, The Jungle, by crusading writer Upton Sinclair, about the filthy, unhealthy way meat was beginning to be processed in the U.S. And there was citizen action led by an early consumer group, the National Consumer League.
This led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. It could be regarded as the first environmental law in the U.S.
But passage of laws and their implementation are two different things.
Government inspectors did not enter food processing plants—unless allowed to do so by plant management. Penalties were light. Pesticides, including those containing poisons like arsenic, had come into use, but attempts to deal with pesticides under the law were beaten back by industry. In 1912, as a matter of conscience, Dr. Wiley resigned from U.S. government service. He decided he would be able to more effectively fight against poisons in food outside of government.
He wrote a book: The History of a Crime Against the Food Law. In it, he stated: “There is a distinct tendency to put regulation and rules for the enforcement of the law into the hands of industries engaged in food and drug activities. I consider this one of the most pernicious threats to pure food and drugs. Business is making rapid strides in the control of all our affairs….It is never advisable to surrender entirely food and drug control to business interests.” The Pure Food and Drugs Act had been “perverted,” Dr. Wiley declared.
This conflict, this dialectic—between efforts to protect the health of people from poison put into the environment and the power of those who do the poisoning—continues in my country. The big difference is that in recent decades the poisoning, the pollution has become far more severe. And the toll in illness and death, especially from cancer, has become more and more intense in the U.S.
As for U.S. government regulation of atomic power, forget it. Neither the Atomic Energy Commission or Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever denied an application to construct or operate a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S. Our regulatory agencies have been lapdogs not watchdogs.
One thing I have learned clearly in being an environmental journalist for more than 35 years is that virtually all polluting processes and products are unneeded. They can be replaced—indeed, many have been and are—by clean, unpolluting, safe, sustainable processes and products. The threat to peoples’ lives, the environmental destruction is unnecessary.
A classic example: PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls. The U.S. company Monsanto started churning out PCBs in 1929 producing 85 million pounds of the stuff by the 1960s, after it had become obvious that PCBs impact on health, were carcinogenic.
PCBs main use: insulating fluid in electric components such as capacitors and transformers. Insisted Monsanto in a press release in 1970 as it tried to prevent the U.S. from following Japan which in 1968 banned PCBs after rice oil became contaminated with PCBs and poisoned a thousand people, several fatally: “There are no substitutes available.” Monsanto insisted that PCBs have an “irreplaceable role” for industrial society.
Well production of PCBs in the U.S. was banned the following year. Industrial society in the U.S. has continued. What has been the major substitute for PCBs? Not an exotic substance at all but mineral oil.
In fact, whether it is production of electricity with cancer-causing, lethally dangerous nuclear power—for which solar, wind, geothermal, appropriate hydropower and a host of sustainable, safe alternatives can substitute—to agriculture with toxic, synthetic chemicals which increasingly is being shown to be counter-productive and highly expensive compared to organic farming, to the replacement of ozone-damaging chloroflourocarbons in spray cans, safe alternatives, substitutes in harmony with nature are here today. The central problem: the vested interests that gain from polluting processes and products.
Those on the left in my country like to point to big business, giant corporations as the cause of environmental destruction. Under capitalism, they say, the bottom line is profit. So what if people die and pieces of the planet are destroyed in the process? And the left is not incorrect.
On the other hand, look at the mess at virtually all the U.S. government-owned national nuclear laboratories in the U.S.—including Los Alamos and Oak Ridge.
No matter what the system—and we all have our preferences—whether it be the “market economy”/capitalism or socialism or communism (or nudism), foremost is that we must be ecocentric. Life first.
Life, and not to be anthropomorphic, all life, must come first!
What’s to be done? Democracy; transparency; independent, honest science; independent, honest epidemiology—desperately needed. In the U.S., we must end the current system of accommodating pollution. We must say “no” to death by contamination. We must eliminate bad environmental actors—and substitute processes and products in harmony with nature, with life. We must prosecute criminally those who cause injury and death by pollution. In the words of an American singer, U. Utah Phillips: “The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing her have names and addresses.”
Fundamental change is needed.
Citizen activism is critical. We must engage politically. We must organize, agitate and creatively litigate.
We must prohibit media ownership by corporate environmental wrongdoers. Nuclear plant manufacturer and corporate outlaw General Electric today owns the NBC, MSNBC and CNBC TV networks. GE should be watchdogged by the press, not own the press. A media that challenges power, that honestly and properly informs the public, is crucial. Conveying the information through the educational system, too, is vital.
Above all: democracy! Let an informed public make the decisions. They are far too important to be left to corporate executives and scientists and government bureaucrats.
Admiral Hyman Rickover, in the end, regretted what he had done. In a farewell address before a committee of the U.S. Congress in 1982 he said: “I’ll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth; that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin…Now when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Everytime you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliiminate it. I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation.” The man who built America’s first commercial nuclear power plant, recommended that “we outlaw nuclear reactors.”
Indeed, we must shut down every nuclear plant.
This is my fourth visit to Russia in four years. I have been working with the Center for Russian Environmental Policy and its leaders, Alexey Yablokov and Vladimir Zakharov. I have been impressed by the Center’s calls for the adoption of the precautionary principle here, the “greening of the economy,” establishing “an integrated system to assess human health and environmental health,” the stress on the paramount importance of health and development of clean, safe alternative energy sources.
I attended the Second Annual All-Russia Congress on Nature Conservation. There I heard Dr. Tamara Zltonikova of the State Duma declare: “To protect the environment is to protect life on Earth.” And I heard speaker after speaker—from all walks of life—espouse the kind of wisdom for which people here are known.
Sixty years ago, we of the United States of America and you of Russia were allies in the Great Patriotic War, what we call World War II, against forces that would destroy life. As during the Great Patriotic War, we and you again face the same enemies—forces that would destroy life.
Some of our experiences in the U.S. —our environmental successes (we do have a wonderful national park system) and our failures—might be helpful to you. We and you are again pitted against a common foe. We much achieve victory, both of us, to survive—for life to survive. There is a way: a wise, life-affirming, eco-centric, green way.
Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York who for more than 35 years has pioneered the combining of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He coordinates the Media & Communications Program at the State University of New York’s College at Old Westbury. A special concentration is nuclear technology. Among the six books he has authored are: Power Crazy; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet; and Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power.
He has given speeches on nuclear technology and other energy and environmental issues around the world. He gave presentations at the Center for Russian Environmental Policy’s International Conference on “Toward a Sustainable Russia: Environmental Policy” in Voronezh in 1998, at the Second All-Russia Congress on Protection of Nature in Saratov in 1999, and in 2000 at the conference on “Health of the Environment” at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He has long been active in television and is program director and vice president of EnviroVideo, a New York-based TV company that produces environmental documentaries and interview and news programs. He narrated and wrote EnviroVideo’s award-winning documentaries The Push To Revive Nuclear Power; Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and Three Mile Island Revisited. He is now in the process of putting together an EnviroVideo (www.envirovideo.com) documentary on the great strides in safe, clean, renewable energy technologies and how they are ready to be implemented. His EnviroVideo TV programs are aired across the U.S. on cable TV and via communications satellite by Free Speech TV.
His magazine and newspaper articles have appeared in numerous publications. He is a member of the board of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service-WISE Amsterdam. He is secretary of the board of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. He is a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations.