Just Testing - Derek Robinson - Introduction

Originally published in 1985 by Collins Harvill. In Derek’s words (from 1985):

“The book was about the twenty thousand British servicemen who worked at the sites where British Nuclear weapons were tested in the 1950s, and who witnessed those tests. They served at Maralinga and Emu in South Australia, at the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia, and at Christmas and Malden Island s thirty miles from the Equator in the South Pacific.

They have been called guineapigs. But, as one of them pointed out to me, if you are a guineapig at least you get good medical attention so they can see what has happened to you. These servicemen got no subsequent medical attention to see what difference, if any, the nuclear tests had made to them.

They were sent, they were used, they were released, and they were dropped from sight. A generation later, that official indifference is being challenged. The tests have brought many consequences that cannot be ignored. Far too many of the nuclear veterans are dead before their time. Exactly how many? Who knows? Certainly, the Ministry of Defence does not. But the research that I have done points to a minimum figure of two hundred. That is an estimate of excess deaths, over and above the normal expectancy. They were men who died before the age of fifty-five – often long before – of cancer, in particular the blood or bone cancers associated with radiation, such as leukaemia.

In addition, research indicates a figure numbering into thousands of men who are in constant need of medical treatment of some kind or other; while a substantial minority are gravely ill or disabled.

This is not a book about the horrors of nuclear war, or deterrence, or the morality of having the weapons at all. It is about what thirty years of official neglect can do. For thirty years, British governments of both political stripes have poured money into nuclear weapons and spent nothing on the special needs of the men who, in the fifties helped make these developments possible. And for thirty years, many of those men have suffered for their service, and suffered increasingly.

Before I wrote this book, I went around the country and heard the experiences of a lot of veterans at first hand. Much of what they have told me I have quoted: they were there, they should know. Memory can play odd tricks, and I did not accept absolutely everything that I heard. Nevertheless, one fact emerged that is beyond dispute. After the tests, these men were forgotten. Twenty thousand young e had been deliberately and many of them repeatedly made witnesses of nuclear explosions at a time when radiation medicine was in its infancy, and thereafter every British government down through the years repeated the same official formula (“Nobody was at risk”) without having the smallest step systematically to check its truth by examining the only evidence that matters; the health of the men.

There may be a case for defending the nuclear test on the grounds that we did not know any better at the time. But what has happened since – or rather what has not happened – is indefensible. It is the story of thirty years of violent neglect.”

We are now in 2021, 37 years after the book was published and we can now say that it is the story of 67 years of violent neglect.

Next blog – National Service

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