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bouttime2x

The Conqueror And Other Bombs

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One of the funniest, strangest, and saddest movies of

all time is RKO's 1956 epic The Conqueror, starring

John Wayne, certified American Hero, as... Genghis Khan.

 

Believe it or not, that's the sanest part of the movie.

 

At least John Wayne could ride a horse. The Tartar queen who

steals Khan's heart is played by Susan Hayward, a pale Irish

woman with bright red hair. Imagine Nicole Kidman trying to

pass for Connie Chung, and you've pretty much got the idea.

 

Khan's mother is played by Agnes Moorehead, who went on to play

Samantha's mother on Bewitched. And Genghis Khan's "blood

brother" is played by Pedro Armendariz, a Mexican heartthrob

who doesn't look remotely related to John Wayne or the Mongols.

 

Bizarre enough? We haven't even started.

 

Ever try to cast an entire horde? It ain't easy, apparently.

The producers couldn't quite come up with several hundred

actual Mongolians to ride along as Khan's rampaging minions, so

they hired... a bunch of American Indians.

 

Who, translated through the magic of Hollywood, look exactly

like... a bunch of American Indians.

 

One of the most jarring moments in the entire film arrives

about halfway through, when two actual Chinese guys appear

briefly as extras. After a full hour of trying to convince

yourself that John Wayne and this weird menagerie of Europeans,

Mexicans, and American Indians are all from Mongolia, actual

Asians look positively otherworldly.

 

Hang on, this gets gets even better.

 

Given the Cold War politics of 1956, everybody couldn't exactly

fly to Mongolia to film the thing. Instead, they decided to

substitute... Utah.

 

Sure. Utah, Mongolia. Pretty much interchangeable. [image]

 

Enamored with Utah's Snow Canyon area, director Dick Powell

shot most of the film in the same exact chunk of the Utah

desert. So if you watch closely, there are several spots where

Wayne and Armendariz ride some great distance and wearily

dismount... almost exactly where they started.

 

And, since absolutely everything has to be wrong on a picture

like this, the script aims for a weird neo-primitive

Shakespeare vibe, giving John Wayne lines like:

 

"I feel this Tartar wo-man is for me, and my blood says: take

her!"

 

and

 

"She is wo-man -- MUCH wo-man!"

 

and

 

"Know this, wo-man! I take you for wife!"

 

and so on.

 

Let's sum up here:

 

Imagine, if you will, the full effect of two hours of watching

John Wayne and an Irish redhead doing caveman Shakespeare while

trying to look vaguely Chinese, while a Mexican guy and Endora

from Bewitched ride around in circles with a bunch of Indians

in the middle of Utah, and somehow this is all supposed to

represent a stirring epic on the life of Genghis Khan.

 

Man, it's fantastic. Trust me. You've got to rent this thing

sometime. It's a freakin' laugh riot. I pounded the table and

cried in places.

 

Honest. Incidentally, the film was financed by Howard Hughes,

who most biographers don't mention was completely out of his

mind. And even though the public laughed the film off the

screen, Hughes thought The Conqueror was a masterpiece. Hughes

wasted millions on this thing, then lost millions more

promoting it, and then later spent even more millions buying up

and hoarding every copy. As a result, the film wasn't seen

again by the public for decades, although Hughes himself

reportedly watched it in solitude literally hundreds of times.

 

The Conqueror was such a colossal disaster that RKO never

recovered. The Postman and Waterworld were bad, but Kevin

Costner still hasn't wiped out an entire studio.

 

Yet.

 

___________________________

 

So what does this all have to do with anything in the news?

Stay with me here.

 

The Conqueror was also a disaster in another, much more

horrifying way.

 

The town of St. George, where the cast and crew spent much of

their time, and Snow Canyon, where most of The Conqueror was

filmed, were about 100 miles downwind of the Nevada Test Site.

 

That's where the U.S. government tested various atomic weapons.

 

The government didn't bother to warn anybody about the fallout.

 

So the cast and crew of The Conqueror spent three solid months

immersed in contaminated air, food, and water.

 

You can guess the result.

 

Reviewing The Conqueror's credits, from the top:

 

* John Wayne? Died of cancer.

* Susan Hayward? Died of cancer.

* Agnes Moorehead? Died of cancer.

* Pedro Armendariz? Committed suicide while dying of cancer.

* Dick Powell? Died of cancer.

 

And so on.

 

By 1980, when People magazine did a headcount, at least 91

members of the cast and crew had contracted cancer.

 

People never found out how many of the Indian extras were

afflicted.

 

It's a brutal irony that John Wayne, the living embodiment of

American uperpatriot militarism, may well have died as a

casualty of the U.S. government's willingness to endanger its

own people.

 

___________________________

 

It gets much worse. The Conqueror is just a footnote to the

full story. he town of St. George, none of whose citizens were

big Hollywood stars, suffered a similar fate. Uninformed of the

danger, and exposed in their homes for years instead of months,

the residents of St. George eventually contracted cancers in

staggering numbers.

 

The Conqueror's crew numbered in the dozens.

 

St. George's population was in the thousands.

 

You probably wouldn't recognize any of their names. They

weren't the sort of bigshots you'd read about in People

magazine. They were ordinary folks, just like you and me.

 

And they were expendable.

 

___________________________

 

Fast forward 40 years...

 

St. George is now a popular tourist gateway to Bryce Canyon and

Zion National Parks. A steady stream of tourists passes through

the town, on their way to gorgeous scenery and carefree skiing.

 

Utah's web page now refers to St. George as "Utah's Hot Spot."

 

Nobody seems to catch the irony.

 

Not only is The Conqueror forgotten; the only people who seem

to remember the atomic cancer cluster are the descendants of

the victims.

 

The full death toll of American civilians from U.S. atomic

weapons testing may never be known.

 

___________________________

 

OK, India and Pakistan have now tested some big big bangs, and

everyone's worried about how their future nuclear stuff might

visit all sorts of horror on their enemies.

 

Which is scary, yeah. But how about we pay a little attention

to what they've already done to some of their own people?

 

India tested their nuclear weapons literally walking distance

from several small villages where some of their own

unsuspecting citizens live and work. And already hundreds of

Indians are showing some of the classic symptoms of radiation

poisoning.

 

The Indian governnment says it's all perfectly safe, of course.

Officials say the sick folks are just looking for a handout.

 

Which doesn't explain why livestock is keeling over as well.

 

Even if Pakistan and India avoid a hot war, innocent casualties

of their conflict have already begun to mount.

 

You wouldn't recognize the names of the villages, nor would you

know the names of the people who live there. But they're

ordinary folks.

 

Expendable.

 

___________________________

 

If you or I knowingly, recklessly, and needlessly kill a single

innocent person, we then stand guilty of manslaughter and

deserving of contempt.

 

Does it not follow, then, that if a government knowingly,

recklessly, and needlessly kills an innocent person -- or

indeed, hundreds of innocents: in fact, the very people said

government is supposed to represent -- then this government

stands equally guilty and contemptible?

 

___________________________

 

The danger of nuclear weapons lies not only in their

detonation. It also lies in their testing, their maintenance,

and their disposal -- indeed, in every phase of their very

existence.

 

Humankind will someday abolish nuclear weapons.

 

Or vice versa.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

 

Bob Harris is a political humorist who has spoken at over 275

colleges nationwide. To subscribe to The Scoop by email, just

send the word "subscribe" to :TheScoop@earthlink.net The latest

edition of the Scoop can always be found at

http://www.westsong.com/bobharris/ along with an archive of

recent columns. The Scoop's back archives are maintained by

Patrick Combs and The Good Thinking Company at

http://www.goodthink.com/harris.html

 

The Scoop is also available online in RealAudio at

http://www.webactive.com/webactive/soapbox/monday.html

 

Common Courage Press will soon begin publishing my Jeopardy!

memorization tools for various subjects, along with essays

linking the mnemonics into a coherent text. Imagine Chomskyish

but funny Cliff's Notes you can actually remember, and you've

got the idea. The first volume will be on American History, and

if people like it, more will follow. Common Courage publishes

some marvelous stuff. Check out their list at

http://www.agate.net/~comcour/

 

The Scoop is also often carried in the following monthlies,

which I vigorously endorse for the great articles written by

everybody else:

 

* The Humanist,

http://www.infidels.org/org/aha/publications/humanist.html

* The Progressive Populist,

http://www.eden.com/~reporter/current.html

* The Funny Times, http://www.funnytimes.com/

* OZ Magazine http://www.lbbs.org/zmag/

 

______________________________________________________________

Keith Hammond Mother Jones magazine

News Editor 731 Market Street, Suite 600

The MoJo Wire San Francisco, CA 94103

www.motherjones.com (415) 665-6637, fax -6696

______________________________________________________________

"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the

facts."

-- Will Rogers (1879-1935)

 

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our

monied corporations which dare already to challenge our

government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws

of our country." -- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

 

From a differant source:

 

The rest of the story on this one remains to be told; That

Hughes in his maddness realized that nothing could protect him

from radiation from Nevada bomb tests, even the looney crap he

did to protect him from germs. That Hughes felt personally

responsible for all those deaths of the crew, and from that was

born typical Hughes' action.

 

After moving to Las Vegas in 1966 Hughes attempted to buy the

State of Nevada and the White House in an effort to stop

nuclear testing in Nevada, offering LBJ $1,000,000 if he would,

and pouring out the bucks on Dick Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and

Paul Laxault.

 

In fact it was money from Hughes for exactly that purpose that

ended up being the infamous $100,000 in Beebe Robozo's safe

that helped bring Nixon down. In fact during the time from

1966-1971 close to $20 million in Hughes money went pooff and

disapeared in the Hughes-AEC battle. Much of it ended up in the

pockets of politicans from EVERYBODY running for president in

1968, to a former Utah Governor, and a Salt Lake City Mayor.

 

The man hired by the Hughes organization to run the Hughes ban

the bomb tests in Washington, DC was none other than Larry

O'Brien, and it was concern over how much he knew of the

Hughes-Nixon nuke-tests bribes that lead to the witch hunt

among Nixon's aides that sent the burglars into O'Brien's

office, and the plumbers into trying to open the safe of Las

Vegas Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun. Thus it is so fitting the

memo flashed to Hughes from his cheif lawyer the night before

Nixon resigned, "Nixon will resign at 12:00 EDT tomorrow to

save both himself and his friends."

 

Hughes money poured out of the cage of the Sands in

non-discript $10 and $20 bills and into a wide variety of

efforts to stop the bomb tests, including the Utah Peace and

Freedom Party in 1968, WILPF and involved such well know

figures as Barry Commoner and Linus Pauling, Funded covertly a

march down Salt Lake City's State Street of over 1,200 carrying

signs, "Ski Utah the Hottest Snow on Earth". And on and on!

 

It was also this raging battle between Hughes and the AEC that

gave birth to the downwinders'-fallout victim's movement in

southwest Utah, and all of us orginal community activists who

started it go back in one form, or another to those days, and

that battle. Eventually we won! We got the media's attention

locally, regionally, statewide, nationally, and finally

internationally, AND ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE MEDIA ACTIONS WE

TOOK WAS TO LEAK THE STORY OF POOR JOHN WAYNE AND THAT DAMNED

MOVIE TO A BRITISH TABLOID JOURNALISTS AND STOOD BACK AND

WATCHED THE MEDIA FREAK SHOW, KNOWING THEY MAY NOT GIVE A ****

ABOUT THOSE OF US WHO LIVED AROUND SNOW CANYON, BUT THEY'D HOLD

THE PRESSES FOR GOOD OLD JOHN WAYNE. AND WHEN THEY DID WE WERE

THERE WAITING TO LINE UP THE SURVIVORS FOR PEOPLE MAG, LIFE,

AND THE MORNING TV SHOWS, AND THE HUNDRED OR SO OTHERS, TO HIT

THE TV TALK SHOWS, AND TO DEMAND CONGRESSIONAL ACTION.

 

Trouble is the real rest of the story behind this is that it

wasn't just Snow Canyon, St. George, or John Wayne, as the

National Cancer Institute fallout report forced out last summer

and fall clearly shows, it was all 160 million Americans living

during those "hot years". Those 160 million American's all got

just about the same fallout levels as did we folks in St.

George, AND JUST AS MUCH AS DID GOOD OLD JOHN WAYNE! AND WHAT

HAPPENED TO JOHN WAYNE AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PEOPLE IN ST

GEORGE HAPPENED, AND STILL IS HAPPENING ALL ACROSS THIS

COUNTRY.

 

The NCI fallout report was only concerned with ONE radioactive

isotope produced by the bomb tests -- Iodine 131. There were

359 others, and many of them were far more deadly than Iodine-

131, and unlike the thyroid cancers the Iodine caused, the ones

they did were not 95% treatable, and survivable. The NCI report

said the Iodine alone caused 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer

nationwide. Add the toll from the other 359 not discussed, AND

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF AMERICAN DEAD, INCLUDING JOHN WAYNE, WOULD

REACH INTO THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS AT THE LEAST AND INTO THE

MILLIONS MOST LIKELY.

 

People should rent that movie, should watch it, and should

quickly learn to understand the full meaning behind it, and the

tragedy of it all for not only John Wayne, or the people in St.

George, but for themselves where ever they live, and for this

nation as a whole. Absent such an understanding, we have no

hope of ever surviving the endless nuclear crisies of which

India and Pakistan are todays current chapter. Because only the

truth of how many of our own we have already killed will ever

make us free of the nuclear testing demon!

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Yea...I hear you...nuclear fallout is a bummer.

 

But most of your post really belongs on some other forum.

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Speaking of nuclear power, the H.M.S. Conqueror became the first nuclear submarine to carry out an attack when it torpedoed and sank the aging Argentine (and former U.S.) cruiser General Belgrano during the Falkland Island Crisis of '82. Just thought I'd bring it up. [dumb smiley face]

 

I must say, though, the original topic post here was grotesquely overlong and utterly pointless. I especially didn't like the bleeding heart whining towards the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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