The Dragon that Slew St. George
Report from Radioactive Times Volume 4, Number 1, June 2000 (content not updated)
Along with the Bikinians, the Marshallese and the inhabitants of other remote nuclear weapons test sites, the principal victims of the Cold War arms race were the citizens of the states who built and tested the bombs. The Hanford and Aldermaston bomb factories have their "down-winders"; in the USSR test explosions affected the peasants of Kazakhstan, while the American Government used its Nevada site not only to test the explosive capacity of the bombs themselves, but also deliberately targetted the radioactive fallout on the local people, presumably to see what would happen.
A new half-hour documentary shows how the military would wait until the wind was blowing from the test site towards the conservative, compliant, and patriotic Mormon community of St George, Utah which lies 200 kilometres away to the northeast.
Archive film shows local people, lulled by official reassurances, driving into the desert to watch the explosions, and getting their cars Geiger countered and hosed down on the way back. They were told they were safe, but, as the film reveals, the director of the Atomic Energy Commission visited his daughter, who lived nearby, to urge her to move her family away. St George hardware store owner Elmer Pickett (who has himself died since the filming) tells that he has buried 14 family members from radiation related illnesses.
By the mid-'50s leukaemia was 2.5 times the average, and children of farming families grew up thinking that it was normal to see newborn animals with two heads. Total radiation related deaths are said to be more than 1600, in a town which had only 5000 inhabitants when the testing began, though the town has grown to 45,000 now.
The Dragon that Slew St. George deserves screening, but has not been shown in the UK.
Distributors areJane Balfour Films,
35 Fortress Road,
London NW5 1AQ
tel. 0207 267 5392
Many of the victims of the filming were local native Americans who were used as extras. The distributors of The Conqueror refused permission for The Dragon that Slew .. documentary to use footage but it includes amateur film of the extras riding back and forward through dense clouds of dust - it had to be radioactive.
A fallout victim
In 1954 13 weeks of filming for "The Conqueror", a film loosely (very loosely) based on the exploits of Ghenghis Khan, began in the desert near St George.
Within 20 years half the cast and crew, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and the Producer/Director Dick Powell, had died of cancer.
History does not, as far as we know, record what happened to the horses.
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