Director's Statement for In My Lifetime

Robert E. Frye

Robert E. Frye

“In My Lifetime” takes on the complex realities of “the nuclear world”, and searches internationally for an answer to the question is there a Way Beyond?  This documentary is part wake up call, part challenge for people to engage with the issue of ridding the world of the most destructive weapon ever invented.

In February 2008, I began a journey to film and report on the story of the inner workings of the nuclear world.  There has been a re-emergence of the realization that a world with nuclear weapons, including a proliferation of fissile nuclear materials, is a very dangerous place.  Of course this realization has been known since the creation of the atomic bomb.  It continues to be a struggle which has not been resolved.

This is a very complex issue with many voices, speaking from many perspectives, representing the forces and entrenched institutions in the nuclear states, not to speak of the rest of the world’s nations some of them with nuclear power capable of producing their own fissile materials and now there is the danger of so called “non-state actors”, who want to get their hands on the nuclear fissile materials necessary to create nuclear weapons. Today the materials and technology to make nuclear weapons are more readily available than any government who possess them would like one to believe.

At this writing it there are new developments in this parallel nuclear world, with a new emergence of the debate as to what has to change and steps need to be taken to move away from nuclear weapons.  Since over the past year there definitely has been movement towards dealing with the reality, as a result this project has been able to record the changes taking place.

Commemorative Dates

For the past four years I have been on a journey seeking answers to one of the greatest challenges facing humankind, the story of nuclear weapons. This blog is part of The Nuclear World Project which includes the feature length documentary “In My Lifetime” to be released in September 2011. There will further details about screenings on this website.

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This first blog entry is about the commemorative dates which define the beginning of the nuclear age. Today, August 9th is the third date relating to the events which took place in just twenty four days. Today is the commemoration of the second atomic bomb dropped in 1945, which exploded over Nagasaki, the city which ironically was chosen as an alternative to the original target, the city of Kokura.

When the B-29 carrying the second atomic bomb arrived over the target, the city was blanketed with clouds and fog, the rules were that the target had to be seen by eye and so the decision was to turn toward Nagasaki, not far away. There was urgency since fuel was running low; Bockscar arrived over Nagasaki on the late morning of August 9, 1945, covered by clouds except for one hole in the cloud cover where the crew could see the ground. The bomb was dropped exploding 2,000 feet above the ground at 11:02am Japan time.

“Fat Man”, as it was called, caused the deaths of at least 70,000 inhabitants in an instant, the destruction was limited by the fact that the part of Nagasaki where the explosion took place was away from the more heavily populated downtown area of Nagasaki.

Three days earlier on August 6th the first atomic bomb used in war was dropped over Hiroshima, an estimated 140,000 were killed as “Little Boy” found its target that early morning at 8:16am Japan time.

The birth of the nuclear age began on July 16, 1945 with the test explosion of “The Gadget” at what is known as The Trinity Site in southern New Mexico located on the northern end of The White Sands Test Range.

These events took place sixty six years ago and since then there has been a continuing struggle of what to do with this weapon, the most destructive force ever invented by humankind. The story is a complex one, with many different perspectives and arguments as to whether the nuclear weapon should exist. Regardless of one’s point of view, the reality is regardless, there is an estimated 18,500 nuclear weapons on the Earth. It is estimated that ninety five percent of the nuclear weapons that exist today are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. The other five percent are held by the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea all declared nuclear weapon states, along with the undeclared nuclear weapon state, Israel.

This first entry is not to go into detail about all the points of view and arguments, rather to begin an ongoing observation of what is unfolding when it comes to the continuing challenge of this struggle that is now sixty six years in the making.

As it turns out three years ago in 2008 I was filming in Los Alamos on July 16th, where the anniversary date passed and very little was made about that the moment which J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Scientific Director of The Manhattan Project, the top secret operation which created and built the first atomic bombs in just twenty seven months; Oppenheimer was quoted as saying while watching the test explosion of “The Gadget” atop a tower in the desert of southern New Mexico “We knew the world would not be the same. I remember the line from the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

That quote was on my mind twenty- one days later, for on August 6, 2008 accompanied by the camera team we were in Hiroshima, filming the commemoration event in the place which was on the receiving end of this invention. There the memory is quite clear, for those who survived the bombing, the Hibakusha; the survivors of the bombing continue to remind the world of the reality of the nuclear weapon. They experienced it, those fortunate enough to survive not only the “pillar of fire” explosion and blast, but also the radiation which led to many deaths over time.

Then we traveled by train to Nagasaki, located on the southwest tip of Japan, where on August 9, 2008 we filmed the commemoration event. What was extraordinary was that we filmed choral music written and performed by the Sunflower Choir, comprised of Hibakusha and led by choirmaster Kazumichi Terai, their message was quite clear “Do you hear us? The voices of Hibakusha. We are reaching out…

for you to hear. Please don’t make any more like us.”

This journey of filming followed the exact same time arc from July 16 to August 9 as the events which unfolded in twenty four days in 1945. This experience became a part of editing the documentary, but more importantly gives pause to think what happened in 1945 in just three weeks.

This year, 2011 Japan was hit by another tumultuous event, a combination of natural disaster of the earthquake and the tsunami which triggered the events at the Fukushima Nuclear power plant complex that were ultimately man-made.

What struck me in reading the New York Times dispatch from Hiroshima on this August 6th, is that the Hibakusha, those who survived the atomic bombing of sixty six years ago have come forward to take another stand, this as a result of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. It is another reminder of the continuing struggle of dealing with the invention of the nuclear weapon sixty six years ago.

August 6, 2011

Atomic Bomb Survivors Join Nuclear Opposition

NY Times

NAGASAKI, Japan — In 1945, Masahito Hirose saw the white mushroom cloud rise from the atomic bomb that incinerated this city and that left his aunt to die a slow, painful death, bleeding from her nose and gums. Still, like other survivors of the attacks here and in Hiroshima, he quietly accepted Japan’s postwar embrace of nuclear-generated power, believing government assurances that it was both safe and necessary for the nation’s economic rise.

That was before this year’s disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan confronted the survivors once again with their old nightmare: thousands of civilians exposed to radiation. Aghast at the catastrophic failure of nuclear technology, and outraged by revelations that the government and power industry had planted nuclear proponents at recent town hall-style meetings, the elderly atomic bomb survivors, dwindling in numbers, have begun stepping forward for the first time to oppose nuclear power.

Now, as both Hiroshima and Nagasaki observe the 66th anniversary of the American atomic attacks at the end of World War II, the survivors are hoping that they can use their unique moral standing, as the only victims of nuclear bombings, to wean both Japan and the world from what they see as mankind’s tragedy-prone efforts to tap the atom.

“Is it Japan’s fate to repeatedly serve as a warning to the world about the dangers of radiation?” said Mr. Hirose, 81, who was a junior high school student when an American bomb obliterated much of Nagasaki, killing about 40,000 people instantly. “I wish we had found the courage to speak out earlier against nuclear power.”

But speaking out, even here, was no simple matter. It would have required them to challenge Japan’s postwar establishment, a difficult position in a consensus-driven nation that had put itself on a forced march out of devastation and toward economic development. Their stance also made some historical sense in a country bent on not repeating past mistakes. One of the reasons resource-poor Japan went to war in 1941 was to secure new sources of energy, in that case oil, after an American embargo.

Even now, the pressure to adhere to what was the nation’s shared vision for energy security is strong.

As Hiroshima observed the anniversary of the bombing, which killed at least 70,000 people there, the city’s mayor on Saturday stopped short of calling for an end to nuclear power, remarking instead that opinions were divided.

“Some seek to abandon nuclear power altogether with the belief that mankind cannot coexist with nuclear energy, while others demand stricter regulation of nuclear power and more renewable energy,” said the mayor, Kazumi Matsui.

According to Japanese news reports, the mayor, too young to have witnessed the attacks, had considered making a stronger statement in the wake of the Fukushima accident, but pulled back in the face of opposition by business groups.

Such reluctance to speak out has made the stronger stance taken by the atomic bombings’ survivors all the more striking. Last month, the Hidankyo, the group representing the 10,000 or so still-living survivors of the bombings, appealed for the first time for Japan to eliminate civilian nuclear power. In its action plan for next year, the group called for halting construction of new nuclear plants and the gradual phasing out of Japan’s 54 current reactors as energy alternatives are found.

The group has been a vocal advocate of abolishing nuclear weapons since its founding in 1956. But it has been mute until now on the issue of nuclear power, which Japan continued to pursue even after the accidents decades ago at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania led many Western nations to shelve nuclear expansion plans.

“The bureaucracy, industry and the media were able to shut our eyes to the danger of nuclear power,” said Hirotami Yamada, secretary general of the Nagasaki chapter of Hidankyo. “We let them fool us, even in this country that was the victim of the atomic bomb.”

Mr. Hirose, who lost his aunt in the Nagasaki attack, played a leading role in the group’s shift on nuclear power after Fukushima.

He was swayed, in part, by his deep understanding of the fears haunting people exposed to radiation from Fukushima. His younger brother died 20 years after the bombing, in his 30s, while suffering from a half-dozen types of cancer.

Those still alive, he said, “are living testimony to the horrors of radiation.”

Mr. Yamada said many atomic bomb survivors, like other Japanese, accepted nuclear power because they had bought the argument put forward by the government, industry and the news media that Japan’s nuclear reactors were among the best in the world, and absolutely safe. This “safety myth,” as many here now call it, allowed Japanese authorities to dismiss concerns over Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, saying they were caused by poor technology or incompetent plant workers.

Some atomic bombing survivors ruefully admit that it took a disaster the size of Fukushima to free them from that myth.

“They convinced us that nuclear power was different from nuclear bombs,” said Mr. Yamada, 80, who was a teenager when Nagasaki was bombed. “Fukushima showed us that they are not so different.”

Tri-Corner News

Robert E. Frye

Robert E. Frye

A Destroyer Of Worlds

Thu, 10/13/2011
Documentary Film: ‘In My Lifetime’
By Marsden Epworth

Among the movies at FilmColumbia’s annual festival, Oct. 19-23 in Chatham, NY, is Robert Frye’s sobering “In My Lifetime.” This part-time resident of Millerton presents a disturbing history of nuclear weapons and the grim prospects for life on earth if nuclear weapons are not dismantled and their production halted. Entirely. 

The early minutes include a clip of Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who headed the Manhattan project in Los Alamos where the first atomic bomb was built, “The Gadget,” an odd, bulky, inexpert round of metal nailed and chained and taped together.

Click HERE for a pdf of complete article
Click HERE to read online

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Wayne Coe

November 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Dear Robert,

I greatly enjoyed your moving documentary, In My Lifetime, at the Chatham film festival. I loved how you used a restrained tempo to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to usually strident anti-neuclear voices but evoked all instictually cautionary concern, an incredibly inventive and timely document.

I mentioned after your screening I’d appreciate any guidance you and wife could give me on a feature-length documentary I’m cutting. It connects disparate communities, the Gay community, the Fine Art community, the aging baby boomers who’ve lived there for 30 and 40 years – through a very direct and simple street performance. It’s a film about community connectivity through performance and about time and memory and loss. May I send a 45 minutes cut to you, get your opinions on audience, money raising and distribution? I’m a director and a bit line producer with a lot of film marketing background but little experience in distribution or money raising. I’ve got the other half “in-the-can” but I see the upcoming hurdles of defining my audience, raising some money and awareness and distributing the piece.

Please send along an address and I’ll get it right to you, I live in Chatham.

Wayne Coe
67 Kinderhook
Chatham, NY 12037